To say that most Filipinos really like Spam, the popular American canned cooked meat brand, is a total understatement. It’s this exact sentiment that makes one wonder: “Why DO Filipinos love Spam so much?”
There are several factors that lead to the loving relationship between Spam and the Philippines. It all started during World War 2.
Spam, a canned cooked meat created by Hormel Foods Corporation, was first introduced to the public in 1937. The “classic” variety of Spam is made up of pork shoulder, ham, salt, water, potato starch, sugar and sodium nitrate.
The cooked canned meat rose to popularity among Americans after the United States military used the product as a main source of meat for soldiers stationed in Asia and the Pacific during World War II.
U.S. soldiers are believed to be the first to introduce Spam to the taste buds of Filipinos during World War II. Many believe that Spam was given to the locals as some sort of reward. This was also the time when hamburgers and hotdogs were introduced to the Philippines.
After the war ended, Spam became a very popular brand as well as a cultural symbol between the U.S. and the Philippines.
However, Spam doesn’t have the same love in the West as it does in Asia. Rappler reporter Sherina Ong elaborated in an article in 2014 that the processed meat has become a part of her family and culture – but her non-Filipino friends were, sadly, appalled by the canned food.
In 2004, a fast food chain dedicated to Spam emerged in Makati City, Philippines. The chain, called SpamJam, offered a menu based completely off the canned processed meat, including Spam burgers, Spam Spapghetti, Spam poppers, among many others.
For breakfast, Filipinos love to partner Spam with friend rice and egg – sunny-side-up or even scrambled. This traditional meal is usually called Spam-si-log (Spam, Sinangag, Itlog). Meat, egg and fried rice creates the trifecta of the perfect local Filipino breakfast.
Spam with locally baked bread is also a go-to of many Filipinos in the morning, particularly for people who are not big into heavy meals for breakfast. This can also be eaten as a mid-afternoon snack partnered with cold, sweet instant orange juice.
And of course, there is the most common way: hot rice and Spam. Fried Spam sits on cooked rice with any favorite condiment added, such as banana ketchup or just plain, ordinary ketchup. The All-Around Sarsa (condiment) Mang Tomas is also good with the processed meat, but not everyone prefers this very odd combination.
Spam is also commonly found in the lunch boxes of kids from grade school to high school.
So, Why Do Filipinos Love Spam?
Since it was introduced by American soldiers in WW2, over generations, the love for Spam has been passed down, solidifying the canned good as a cultural staple.
There is also this stigma in the minds of Filipinos that any imported products from the United States – or any other Western countries, for that matter – should taste really good. Spam is considered to be one of those imported products, especially where “balikbayan boxes,” or gift boxes sent back to families from overseas, are concerned, thus giving it some sort of prestige level. Spam is also considered to be expensive in the Philippines – its price ranges from 120 to 135 Philippine Pesos ($2.38 – $2.68).
Another factor is the taste of it. Spam, in all of its gloriousness, is very salty. Surprisingly, the saltiness is one of the many reasons why Filipinos love the brand. Others may also find the texture of Spam to be quite unique. It has that right consistency of not being too soft, and not too rough to chew.
Convenience is also another key factor in answering the question of why Filipinos love this food so much. It can be eaten as is – or fried in a pan. For a busy person who can afford a can of Spam, this is a sure fire way to have a very tasty meal without the complexity and hassle of cooking.
So what about you kaibigan (friend), what’s your story?