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What is Spam Musubi?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Spam musubi is a popular treat in the American state of Hawaii, where it has become a bit of a cultural icon. For mainlanders, Spam musubi may seem a bit mysterious, since the star ingredient is Spam, a processed meat product which meets with derision in many parts of the world. For Hawaiians, however, Spam musubi references the rich cultural history of Hawaii, integrating the regional love for Spam and Hawaii's Japanese influences in one dish which can be found on every Hawaiian island, from convenience stores to gourmet restaurants.

Before delving into the specifics of the Spam musubi, it may help to explain the cult of Spam in Hawaii. Hawaii, after all, hosts an annual Spam festival, and the Islanders take their Spam very seriously. Spam became widespread in Hawaii during the Second World War, when an influx of soldiers introduced Hawaiians to the canned meat product, as fresh meat was rather scarce. Hawaiians acquired a taste for Spam, pairing it with other regional specialties, and it worked its way into the hearts of many Hawaiians.

The Spam musubi is based on a Japanese dish which is also known as musubi or onigiri. Onigiri is made by compressing salted rice into a block, mounting a piece of raw fish on top, and then wrapping the assemblage in nori to make it into a neat packet. Onigiri is technically not sushi, because the rice is not seasoned with vinegar, but it is a popular offering in sushi restaurants, and it is a very common food in Hawaii, thanks to the big Japanese population.

To make Spam musubi, cooks compress a block of rice and then add a piece of Spam which is often fried or baked to bring out the flavor, before wrapping the musubi in nori and serving it. Flavored Spam may be used, along with a fried egg, and sometimes Japanese seasoning or teriyaki sauce is added to the mix. Many Hawaiians use a musubi press, which is designed to compact the rice to the necessary density.

This Hawaiian snack food can literally be found everywhere. Some adventurous mainlanders try a piece of Spam musubi when they visit Hawaii to get a taste of local culture; they may also try an assortment of other dishes which include Spam. Spam musubi has also achieved gourmet status, showing up in some very classy Hawaiian restaurants as a cornerstone of Hawaiian cuisine.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Sep 21, 2011

@simrin-- Sometimes spam musubi is also made with two layers of rice and a layer of spam in the middle. It doesn't have to be one layer of each, it depends on preference.

I've never tried the Japanese one, but I love Hawaiin spam musubi. It's the best way to have spam in my opinion and it's like a small meal in one because it has a starch, protein and also nori which is good for you. It might not be the healthiest food on earth, but it's not bad either, especially when the spam is grilled and has little oil.

I've had spam musubi for many meals when I was a student. I know it's meant to be a snack or appetizer but it manages hunger well when you're in a rush.

By SteamLouis — On Sep 20, 2011

I've had Japanese onigiri lots of times when I was in Japan. Onigiri is one of the most popular snack foods there, it is sold everywhere, in convenience and grocery stores and as street food.

It's so nice that Hawaiians have made their own version of onigiri that's closer to their taste. Aside from the spam, the only difference I see between them is the way it is put together.

Musubi is a block of rice with a block of spam on top bind together with seaweed. Onigiri is put together a little differently because the meat is placed inside a ball of rice and then wrapped with a piece of seaweed. Onigiri also comes with a variety of fillings whereas, musubi is just with spam.

The idea is still the same though, both are tasty and healthy on-the-go snack!

By mitchell14 — On Sep 19, 2011

A friend of mine went to Hawaii for a while and really liked musubi. I think if I went to Hawaii, though, I'd be eating things like local fruits and vegetables...but I guess this is considered a local delicacy too.

By afterall — On Sep 18, 2011

@vogueknit17- I have to agree with you to some extent. I don't really eat meat now, but when I was a kid we occasionally had spam, since it was pretty cheap, and I never was that into it. If my mom had known a spam musubi recipe, though, maybe it would have been different; I wouldn't count on it, though.

By vogueknit17 — On Sep 17, 2011

I really do not find spam appetizing, but I admit musubi makes it sound totally different and a lot more exciting to me. It would be hard for me, though, to really think of Spam or anything other canned or Hormel foods as anything other than cheap lunch meat.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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