Okinawan’s consume an estimated 7.2 million cans of canned pork annually, more than one can for each person per week. It is an indispensable ingredient in popular local dishes such as “po-oku tamago” (pork and eggs) and “goya chanpuru” (bittermelon stir fry), and can be found in virtually every home or restaurant pantry on island.
“In Okinawa, (canned) pork is a kind of soul food,” says Asuka Ganeko of Tulip Food Company, Japan, one of the island’s leading sellers of canned pork. “It is used in virtually everything that’s cooked, not only for goya chanpuru. It is put in miso soup or cooked as stir-fried vegetables, sandwiches, rice balls, noodles and rolled sushi.”
As the mainstay of local comfort foods, most restaurants could not do business without it.
It’s no mystery, however, how this canned delicacy became so popular.
“Okinawans have a long tradition of eating pork,” says Masaki Akamine, an Okinawa native who works for the meat wholesaler, Tomimura Shoji. “But during the war meat was scarce on the island, making it hard to obtain until the U.S. military brought Spam to Okinawa in its rations and introduced their overstock into the local market.”
Last year, Okinawa imported 6,200 tons of canned pork – 3,600 tons from Denmark and 2,500 from the United States, according to national customs data. It’s perhaps the latest score in an ongoing canned-pork war between U.S. Spam maker Hormel Foods Corporation and Danish rival Tulip Food Company.
Although Spam is just a food product, it is also a part of modern Okinawan culture, not unlike the Okinawa sanshin (three-stringed guitar). The same is true of the package.
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