Young and Hungry: SPAM rules at Aloha Eats

July 12, 2010

SPAM musubi from Aloha Eats in Chicago
SPAM musubi from Aloha Eats (photo by Katherine Bernot)

Today I'm turning over the blog to my intern, Katherine Bernot, a recent Northwestern grad, who is always on the lookout for cheap and filling food that also happens to be tasty.

SPAM occupies a prominent, if not always glamorous, place in American food history. As the ultimate budget meat, SPAM has sold more than seven billion cans since it was created in 1937. SPAM fed GIs during World War II, made it into an Edward R. Murrow radio broadcast and finally earned its own museum in 2001.

But really, who eats SPAM? Apparently David Chang does. His 2009 Momofuku cookbook, named for his wildly successful New York City restaurant, includes a bizarre recipe for SPAM musubi, a Hawaiian riff on the sushi roll. A friend and ardent SPAM defender, Jeremy, told me that not only was musubi delicious, but I could find it right here in Chicago at Aloha Eats in Lincoln Park.

Skeptical, I ordered it (a $4.10 investment for two rolls) and began my assessment. I stared at it. I poked it with my fork. I sniffed it. And finally, I just had to eat it. Surrounded by all the rice and nori, the SPAM's flavor still comes through: salty, processed, fried. This is where the debate begins. Jeremy says it's delicious, and I might concede that SPAM satisfies the most carnal of gastronomic desires. But even though I love other dishes that will certainly take years off of my life span (poutine, pork belly, chili dogs) I still can't quite warm up to SPAM. Though the texture was better than I expected, the copious levels of salt and vaguely ham flavor put me off.

Hungry for something else, I ordered the mini grilled mahi-mahi plate ($7.00), with sides of delicious macaroni salad and cabbage. The fish was perfectly seasoned with light lemon and pepper, and I was a much happier diner. So the debate raged. Jeremy said I was lying, and there was no way I didn't secretly revel in the fatty, processed goodness of SPAM. I stuck to my guns though. The SPAM musubi, SPAM saimin (egg noodle and vegetable soup) and SPAM Loco Moco (grilled SPAM, eggs and gravy) may be popular at Aloha Eats, but they're not for me. I prefer to get my dose of Americana in the form of apple pie.

Aloha Eats, 2534 N. Clark Street, (773) 935-6828. Open 7 days, 10:00 AM until 11:00 PM.