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Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Spam Musubi:
Our National Sandwich?

President Obama spent his teen years in Hawai‘i, an island state where no racial group is a majority and where Asian culture strongly impacts everyday life. In his first trip back after his election as president, the press widely publicized his choice of a “Spam musubi.” This local luncheon specialty consists of grilled Spam on a bed of rice, all held together with a dried seaweed wrap.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media lag slightly behind Mr. Obama in his sophistication about Asian- and Pacific Islander-derived cuisine. The actual food item described by reporters was but one variant of Spam musubi. A more accurate description would have mentioned that the president ordered a Spam musubi (the meat and dried seaweed on rice) with tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet) on top. To bundle all types of Spam musubi together is like using the term kimchi to describe the many variations of the Korean delicacy that can be made with cabbage, cucumber, radish, and more.

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