Sushi, Squared

I am so proud. My cell phone and computer both got their bluetooth cherries popped by each other last night so there will be many fuzzy cell phone pics coming your way. Get ready!

Last night was a first for me, too. I ate Spam.

The only other time I ever came close was when I was 6 years old and we went on one of our many family visits to western North Carolina. My Dad had spent his late twenties there, in a mountain shack; philosophizing, writing a book and eating beans out of a can. In the process, he met and befriended his only neighbors, the Anders family- Bob and Janet, their four kids, and a dozen hunting dogs.

The Anders’ house was humble, but there were fresh baked biscuits on the table at every meal (made in a woodburning stove). Janet would open a jar of green beans or cabbage, made with vegetables they grew on a patch of land beside the house, and we would feast. I was pretty young, so I don’t remember much about what was discussed around that rustic kitchen table, but I imagine it was a mix of local legend, hunting stories, and cursing.

One day we went to Grandma Anders’ house for lunch. It was a beautiful little place a mountain or two over, with a fresh little stream rambling by. She had set her table with a simple linen cloth, white china, and an entirely different spread. Everything was store-bought, and included coffee for the adults, a stack of buttered white bread, mixed pickles, and a small, smooth pink brick on a plate. It reminded me of modeling clay.

Raised in D.C.’s suburbia, I’d never seen Spam face to face, and waited for someone else to cut a piece before I dared to try. Unfortunately, not a single person touched the thing and I left just as mystified as ever.

So, how could something as inedible-looking as Spam be made appetizing? How could something so ridiculed be taken seriously?  And who really eats this stuff?

I first heard about musubi in Linda Stradley’s genius I’ll Have What They’re Having, Legendary Local Cuisine – part cookbook, part anthropological survey – featuring our most beloved, multi-cultural American snacks, from California date shakes to New York knishes. According to the book:

“Residents of Hawaii consume more Spam than populations anywhere else in the world: More than four million cans every year, or an average twelve cans of Spam per person per year.”

Stradley offers a recipe for musubi, a Hawaiian “sandwich,” or slice of fried Spam layered on a square of rice with a strip of nori to hold it all together.

I was intrigued. I’d tried and liked onigiri, the triangular japanese rice balls filled with fish or meat, and musubi was like its tanned, beach bum cousin.

Last night, my friend and fellow sushi-lover Malika and I went to St. Mark’s Place. Since we are both on a budget, she suggested we try Park Sushi – a place she frequented in her NYU days – where they offered 50% off specials. It turned out to be right next door to Pommes Frites, and is now called May’s Place. Just look for the place with the schoolgirl-clad waitresses (sorry; knee-length).

We took our seats in the back of the long, busy, wood-paneled room, ordered sake, and opened our colorful menus. 

Something about the phrase “dollar menu” sends my cheapskate heart a-flutterin,’ and when I saw that page, I thought “this is my kind of place.” Among the same-old miso soup and edamame selections was $1 musubi! Now was my chance.

We each ordered a salad off of the regular menu (seaweed and tuna-avocado), and an assortment of $1 sushi. And at the last minute I excitedly ordered my musubi.

spam musubi

 

The musubi arrived and looked quite appetizing. The meat (can I call it that?) was slightly charred around the edges and gleamed with a think layer of fresh grease. The rice was seasoned and plump, and the taut nori completed the package.

It took some muscle to pick the thing up with my chopsticks, but I managed to get it from the plate to the soy sauce and up to my face. My first bite was juicy and flavorful. Spam tastes like a tangy hot dog when grilled, and the wasabi I put in the soy was perfect for balancing out its subtle brininess. The next two bites went by much too quickly…and then it was gone.

It was a fun, yummy and memorable snack.

The salads tasted a little off. The $1 sushi was $1 sushi. The sake was gone too fast. But I will be back for more musubi.

Next time, I’ll grab a few to go, order some fries from Pommes Frites, and have a sidewalk picnic. Or walk over to Thompson Square park.

This would also be a fun accompaniment to the six pack of beer you are bringing to a party…especially if that party is at my house!

May’s Place Sushi

121 2nd Avenue, between 7th and 8th

East Village

 

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6 responses to “Sushi, Squared

  1. OK, Deed, I’ve got it now. You have to fill in the mail and website fields. Picky picky!

    Anyway, thanks for writing up Janet Anders’ wood stove biscuits. She would be so pleased. Your blog got me reminiscing about my Whole Earth days so I decided to contribute a few of my Appalachian recipes (“beans out of a can” indeed!) to your website…

  2. Mile High Breakfast

    bacon
    potatos
    onions
    strawberry preserves
    coffee
    eggs (optional)
    bread (optional)

    One of the great things about dropping out of society is that now you have time for a good breakfast. I basically ate this every day. Cholesterol, sodium, vitamins, etc. ? Bah! That mountain air made up for everything! My sister used to come all the way from DC to visit me primarily for this breakfast.

    Make the coffee in one of those old stove-top percolaters where you have to turn the heat down at just the right moment or it boils over. My electric stove allowed this luxury. The Anderses could only manage instant on their woodburners.

    Fry the bacon in a cast iron skillet. Pour off the excess grease into a can and save it for frying other stuff. Cube the potatos, leave the skin on, and fry in the bacon grease. Add an extra potato for the dog. When the potatos are about half done add the cubed onion (skinned). Scramble some eggs in the same skillet if available and desired. Season with plenty of black pepper. Serve with cold strawberry preserves on the side (toast optional).

  3. Simple Chili

    dry kidney beans
    onions
    canned tomatoes
    chili powder
    meat (optional)

    I didn’t have much to do but I was lazy, so I favored things that I could make a big pot of and eat for several days. I still make chili this way even though I’ve been a petty bourgeois suburbanite for 30 years.

    Soak the beans and skinned, cubed onion overnight at room temp or for a few hours on top of the heater in winter (preferably a woodburning heater). This saves cooking time/money. DO NOT ADD SALT BEFORE COOKING BEANS (it makes them irreparably crunchy). Boil until soft (~1 hour). Add the tomatoes (cube if necessary). Add plenty of chili powder (about an inch in one of those conventional large shakers it comes in). Optional: fry some meat and add. Nowadays I serve with a generous sprinkle of grated cheese. Cheese was not big in Appalachia in 1974.

  4. Peanut Butter Crackers and Hound Dog

    peanut butter
    saltine crackers
    one hound dog

    Bob gave me a redbone hound dog named Brownie to keep me company and scare off trouble makers. (Brownie had a reputation as a biter, and he was not much of a hunter, anyway, so I could “ruin” him by treating him as a pet.)

    Put a big dollop of peanut butter on a cracker and give it to the dog peanut-butter-side-up. The peanut butter will make it stick to the roof of his mouth and you will laugh yourself silly watching him try to lick it off. With entertainment like this, who needs television?

  5. Thanks for the recipes Dad! XOXO

  6. Pingback: In the Name of the Father « A Cheapskate’s Guide to Sublime Snacking

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