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Posted on Mar 11, 2008 in Bento, Curry, Equipment, Food Jar, For Kids, Lactose Free, Meat, Onigiri or Sushi | 40 comments

Spam musubi bento lunches

Spam musubi bento lunches


I first heard of the Hawaiian classic Spam musubi when I was in college a long time ago, and I have to admit I was pretty skeptical. Come on, Spam? In sushi? Hmm… So when some of my Hawaiian friends decided to hold a proper luau here in California about seven years ago, I volunteered to make a party-sized batch of Spam musubi, almost as a joke. Funny thing, though. Once I started cooking (frying the Spam, flavoring it with homemade teriyaki sauce, putting wasabi furikake on sushi rice for some kick), it started to smell amazing and I tried some. Wow! I’ve been a convert ever since, and I’m never looking back. I’m putting the finishing touches on a recipe and tutorial, so stay tuned for that.


Spam musubi bento lunch for preschooler

RomanescoContents of preschooler bento lunch: Mini spam musubi (teriyaki-sauced fried spam sushi), steamed carrots, shrimp, mushrooms and romanesco broccoli from a local farmers’ market. Romanesco is a wild, alien-looking form of broccoli with spiral florets in a fractal pattern. While it’s tender enough to eat raw, you can also cook it in dishes where you’d use broccoli or cauliflower.

Steaming carrots with rice in a rice cooker

Morning prep time: 14 minutes, using leftover Thai curry, frozen rice, leftover carrot that I’d steamed with rice in my rice cooker, leftover teriyaki spam and nori seaweed that I pre-cut for speed. I had made a spicy Thai curry the night before with shrimp, mushrooms and Romanesco (master recipe here), so to make it palatable for my three-year-old I plucked out the good parts and rinsed off the spicy curry sauce in a sieve, and resauced with a mild vinaigrette. (Read on for lunch details and equipment notes.)

Reusable plastic food cupsFood cutters for packed lunchesPacking: I stacked two layers of mini spam musubi on top of each other to make a filling lunch that was manageable for little hands. Reusable hard plastic food cups held the vegetables without touching the rice, and the whole lunch is packed in a 350ml Geki Rangers bento box with both subcontainers removed. (Click any photo for a larger view.)

Equipment: I used a little plastic cutter in the same shape as the dog-shaped food cup to cut the steamed carrots (both available at Daiso). Nice added touch: the cutters have extra small cutters on the top for cutting out eyes and noses — I’m not energetic enough to actually decorate the carrots, but if I were this would be a handy shortcut. I picked up the pack of three cutters for US$1.50 at the Daiso in Daly City, but the Japanese discount store has branches internationally.

Verdict: Pretty good. Bug polished off all of the spam musubi, the shrimp and the mushrooms at preschool, but decided he didn’t want the carrots or romanesco. Oh well, win some, lose some.

* * * * *

Coconut vindaloo curry bento lunch

Contents of my dinner: Coconut vindaloo vegetarian curry with cauliflower, fresh corn, eggplant, bell peppers and onions. Spam musubi (with spam sandwiched inside two layers of rice), wrapped cheese, apple slices and Moro blood orange slices.

Afternoon prep time: 12 minutes, using leftover curry, frozen rice, and leftover teriyaki spam. I pre-warmed the thermal food jar with hot tap water while I microwaved the curry, cut the fruit, and assembled the spam musubi with leftover food elements.

Packing: I dipped the apple slices in lemon water mixed with some Splenda to cut the sourness while preventing the fruit from browning. The meal is packed in a 560ml insulated lunch set that allows the packing of both warm and cool foods in the same container.

* * * * *

Coconut vindaloo curry bento lunch for preschoolerContents of preschooler bento dinner: The same as mine, but with LOTS of Greek yogurt stirred into the curry to cut the spiciness. Because this was a dinner that Bug didn’t take to preschool, I didn’t need to avoid yogurt that’s against his school lunchroom restrictions.

Insulated Shinkansen lunch bagPacking: Bug’s dinner went into a subdivided 350ml box from a Lock & Lock lunch set; the non-removable subdividers come up to the lid, keeping the thick curry in place. To keep the yogurt cool and safe, I packed his bento box in an insulated Shinkansen lunch bag with tiny ice packs cut from a flexible ice blanket.

Verdict: Good. Bug ate it all with me, so I was there to encourage him to eat everything in his bento before I’d let him have any of the snacks at our running club. Motivation!


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  1. That spam musubi looks cool.
    I’ll definitely try this sometime - I adore sushi but can’t get fish fresh enough to make my own.
    Thanks for the idea!

  2. wow! that romanesco broccoli looks amazing! Never seen anything like that.

  3. Romanesco is sooo pretty :)
    And as for simplicity and some disbelief, my favourite sushi remains tamago sushi (egg or omelette sushi). The fish is too lousy here to make decent sushi, we live inland, too far for fresh fish to travel to be of the quality needed ot make good sushi. Either great sushi or I abstain and “just” do with the taago and some playing and tinkering around (a sushi chef would faint). Bresaola or thin slices of sashimi style beef on sushi rice… Well, that’s how it goes :)

  4. Thats really cute :)
    I like how you did the Spam musubi. I do it slightly different here. What kind of Spam did you use?
    My family is all on cardiac/diabetic diets so once in a while I make it, but I use Lite Spam. It tastes practically the same.
    I know you don’t normally decorate that much, but one thing I find fun to do because I always have leftover rice is make mini-shaped Spam musubi. I use my tiny onigiri mold (heart, star, triangle, and circle) and my small cookie cutters. I also use mamenori because it comes in different colors. It makes a really cute meal for kids.

  5. I’m not sure I could bring myself to use Spam. But the idea does open up other possibilities… Wrapping some sort of sushi in bacon instead of seaweed perhaps. :)

    @fossettes: Spam is “a tinned meat product consisting chiefly of ham.” It comes in a can and resembles a block of meat. Like hotdogs in square form.

  6. I bet purple cauliflower would work steamed like the carrots, too - last time I cooked it it bled all over the place, which was sad, because all that yummy nutritious purple had to go down the sink.

    Hmm. Beets (candycane beets? yellow beets?) would also be effective at staining the rice (and everything else in the creation, but also the rice.).

    Still can’t get past spam, though. It’s _spam_ - supposedly delicious, but having grown up mocking it relentlessly … _spam_. Is it really worth getting over my spam-prejudice?

  7. mmm…sounds delicious. I think I’ll try it for lunch today.

  8. Guys, seriously, don’t any of you knock SPAM until you’ve tried delicious, delicious SPAM musubi.

    I marinate the slices in soy sauce/sriracha/sugar and then fry them up. I’ve converted two people by sharing it with them.

    You just have to try it!

    Anyway Biggie, I think cutting the spam into thirds is a fantastic idea. Great stuff as always.

  9. @1 from Lilletia: Well, at least there’s a huge variety of cooked onigiri fillings open to you — have fun exploring your options! Better that than sub-par raw fish (uh oh!).

  10. @2 from Tami: Isn’t the Romanesco trippy? I first stumbled upon it via a photo on Flickr a while back, and have kept my eyes open for it ever since. So cool-looking, I couldn’t resist!

  11. @3 from fossettes: SPAM is a spiced ham product from Hormel that comes in shelf-stable tins — think hot dogs or head cheese. It fills me with simultaneous fascination and horror, and inspired a Monty Python skit and a musical play (“Spamalot) — not to mention the e-mail words “spamming” or “spam”. More info than you’ll ever want on Spam is here:

  12. @4 from Jessika: Gosh, your fusion sushi sounds intriguing. I guess since there’s ‘basashi’ raw meat sashimi in Japan, it wouldn’t be such a stretch to make meat sushi. Now I’ve got a craving for bresaola… Mmm!

  13. @5 from reece: I use the Lite Spam as well, and usukuchi soy sauce so it doesn’t get too salty (very easy when you combine a salty ham product with soy sauce). Now that you mention mamenori, I have some in the pantry — I should pull that out and play with it. Nice idea on using cutters to shape the musubi! Probably too fiddly for me except for special occasions, but it’s still a great idea!

  14. @13, Biggie, of course we could put the rice in a bowl along with the meat etc, sprinkle it with some vinegar and a light shot of furikake and call it a donburi if that would keep the sushi chef on his feet ;)
    I have a wonderful donburi-recipe which involves avocado and, unfortuately, fresh tuna. Canned smells like cat food to me. Not that I can’t eat a kind of a donburi on avocado alone.

  15. I can’t wait to see the spam musubi recipe - I’ve never heard of making it with sushi rice before. All the ones I’ve had (and believe me, I’ve had plenty!) have been with regular rice (like you would use to make a regular onigiri).

  16. Woohoo! Being from Hawaii, this entry makes my day! Spam musubi is the absolute best…:)

  17. I had a veggie that looked like that a few years back at an upscale restaurant here in NYC and didn’t ask the name… it was good though, think it was the same thing! Thanks for shedding light on that topic!
    Also, funny, I’ve been thinking about spam musubi. I have spam-prejudice as well but everyone I know and trust has said it’s delicious (in musubi form) so I’ve wanted to try for a while… a friend in LA sent me a musubi maker (square shaped etc.) as well! And then a week or so ago I stumbled across “spam singles” - a single slice of spam - in a dollar store, of all places. I’m not sure if it’ll fit into the musubi maker, but - I guess I’ll be trying this sooner than later, eh? Spam is shelf stable so if I make musubi, no cold pack necessary for bento right? Thanks Biggie :D

  18. I love Spam musubi, I made some for my bento just a couple weeks ago. I use soy paper though-I don’t really care for nori on anything other than sushi.

    People who look down their noses at Spam need to GET OVER THEMSELVES! ;)

  19. I don’t know if it’s the same as Lite Spam or not, but Turkey spam is wonderful! It’s reasonably low fat, and is yummy fried. It was my standby meat in college, where its shelf-stableness was a great selling point. Plus, my roommates wouldn’t steal it, because it was Spam. Thanks for the recipe Biggie!

  20. When my wife and I visited Okinawa, we realized how other people see Spam. After WWII, the island was pretty devastated, and food was pretty hard to come by. So ANY kind of meat was nearly impossible to find, much less buy, but there was these tiny cans of ham available from the US. No refrigerator needed! Shelf-stable, store at room temperature, safe, could be shipped by boat, what’s not to love?

    Okinawans still use it a lot (but to be fair they also like Goya). And many people around the world still use a lot of Spam, even though we Americans tend to scoff at it.

    Realize that when you’ve got endless cold-cases of a wide variety of fresh meats in your grocery store, you don’t so much need a canned product like Spam.

    Anyway, I ask people to not knock Spam. It’s nourished millions of people with high-quality protein (stop snickering) that might otherwise not be so available.


  21. @6 from Elfir: Mmm, bacon sushi or onigiri. Sounds decadent. :-)

  22. @7 from Boosette: I think Flickr user One More Bento Fan (now Obiwan Bento) has steamed highly colored vegetables with rice to get colored rice before; that or someone in the Vegan Bento community on Flickr. Very pretty!

    On the Spam front, I too used to mock Spam when I was a teenager. You know, how appalling that my dad likes fried spam! I didn’t get over this prejudice until I tasted spam musubi. I figure that many others around here have the same prejudice, so when I make spam musubi for a party, I make minis like I did in the first lunch above so that people can start out with just a little (and not waste so much if they find it’s not their cup of tea). What has happened every time I make a huge batch for a party, though, is that people dare each other to eat one (ew, Spam sushi?!), realize they actually like it, and take up positions near the tray to inhale more and more. It’s definitely a conversation starter!

  23. @8 from Nichi: So what did you think of the spam musubi? Did you wind up making some for lunch?

  24. @9 from Nicole: Thanks, Nicole. I started making the mini musubis (by cutting a spam slice into thirds, as you say) for big parties to help overcome the widespread spam prejudice. You know, so they could dare each other to eat one little piece (not wasting much if they don’t like it). What’s happened each time is like that potato chip commercial — can’t eat just one. Always a big hit, to everyone’s surprise.

  25. @25 Actually, yes I did…but I didn’t have spam at the moment so I used ham instead, so, on the next grocery store visit I’ll definately take a few spams off of their shelves.

  26. I also was skeptical after hearing about musubi the 1st time, but am a HUGE fan now!!! It was the closest thing to sushi hubby has ever eaten and he is hooked and ready for me to make more.

  27. @27 from nichi: When you pick up the spam, try the low-sodium kind if they have it. I checked and that’s what I use — keeps the musubi from getting too salty with the soy sauce in the teriyaki.

  28. @28 from pammiedoodle: Tell me about it! I made a batch on Thursday so I could take pictures for the tutorial I’m working on, and they were gone in what seemed like an instant. My husband inhales them! Between him and Bug, I barely had time to take photos before they were eaten.

  29. Can you believe it?
    I’ve never had spam before!

  30. So, does the romanesco turn yellow after it is cooked? Or is it just that the lighting is different? Very cool.

  31. @31 from Cindy: I can totally believe you’ve never had spam before! It’s something you can live without, but spam musubi has absolutely converted me to the occasional bit of spam (not on a regular basis, though).

  32. @32 from snappiness: I cooked the Romanesco in a yellow Thai curry, so it’s possible it turned yellow because of that. It’s not the lighting — it really did lighten up and lose some of its green.

  33. Love your site, especially the page on bento box size. I wanted to comment on this entry because, being from Hawaii, I am a fan of Spam. It’s good in fried rice and saimin. They also make Portuguese sausage shaped for musubi now. Put it into a musubi with some egg and it’s a winner.

  34. @36 from Shelly: Where do you put the egg in a spam musubi? I’m curious.

  35. Under the spam. If you google image search ‘spam egg musubi’ there are some pictures.

  36. That delicious looking musubi looks quite full (I notice three layers of various ingredients, although I don’t really know what musubi contains). Was this for a pre-schooler? Maybe the bento box looks bigger than what it is on the website!

  37. @39 from maria: The lunches that say “Contents of preschooler bento lunch” were for my son, and the one larger lunch in the middle that says “Contents of my dinner” was for me. Both preschooler bento boxes are 350ml, and the one for me is 560ml.

  38. I was just recently in Hawai’i visiting my relatives and all I ate for most of the trip was Spam Musubi. I tried making it back on the mainland, but it’s just not the same. I like mine fully wrapped in nori, but yours look ono!

  39. Did you ever post the recipe for your spam musubi? I’m really excited to try it!

  40. @42 from Kim: Not yet, Kim. I’m sitting on a bazillion photos, though, just need to get the lead out and write them up. Sorry about the delay!