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.
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