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Edwina Beyond Antarctica

My Scholarship entry - Understanding a Culture through Food

WORLDWIDE | Friday, 23 March 2012 | Views [387] | Scholarship Entry

Life on an Island means more than surfing and sunbathing, but the regular tourist may not take seriously the spam offerings at the local Hawaiian McDonalds. “Oh, honey, look, Spam, and Coconut Pies! How Cute. I’ll have a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese…”

The Spam is there because during WWII fresh meat was scarce, instead the economically friendly canned SPiced hAM product made its’ way to US bases stationed in the Pacific, and from there into the regular diet of native populations, where it remains a serious part of the culture, so much so that McDonald’s configured it’s menu to attract the locals as much as the tourists. Those who shun the commonly perceived cheap meat substitute in favor of the over-the-top Luau buffets starring the ever popular and decedent kalua pig will never know the true Hawaii.

Because my mother is from Oahu, what she really wanted me to experience, more so than seeing the home where she grew up, my grandfather’s grave, the volcanoes, or the ocean, was the Spam, preferably a version of Spam corn chowder that is among her favorite recipes, creamy and bright canned corn with thin crispy slices of Spam placed on top that kept her well nourished as a child. I wasn’t able to find this on any restaurant menu, so I settled for culturally connecting through the McDonald’s breakfast value meal featuring Spam, Rice, Pineapple and Eggs.

As important as Spam is, Poi goes back even further. Poi is a traditional native Polynesian dish of steamed taro and corn. Like Spam, it is seen as a culturally oddity by most tourists who find it too sour for their tastes and don’t partake beyond the tiny obligatory spoonful from the overpriced Luau buffet. It is sour, but the depths and variations of sourness that can be achieved with family Poi recipes are astounding. Combine this with salted fish in a home served meal you will have the true Hawaii experience.  Kona coffee will help wash it down.

Tags: travel writing scholarship 2012


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