Monday, March 8, 2004

When there's nothing else in the cupboard.

3/8/04: Ian won't post this, so I will. We walk by this place and just shake our heads.

All-Spam restaurant is serious business for the Philippines (11:01 a.m.)
MANILA -- It may sound like a bad comedy sketch but a restaurant specializing in Spam -- the much maligned tinned pork product -- has opened in the Philippines and is doing a roaring trade in variations on pressed meat.
Located at the upscale Ayala Center shopping mall in the financial district of Makati, "Spamjam" has been a rousing success since its soft opening in December and looks to do even better since its formal opening in late February, says managing director Philip Abadilla.
He already been approached with numerous requests to franchise Spamjam. Hormel Foods, the US firm that originally produced Spam, hopes to eventually set up branches in other Spam-eating regions like South Korea and Southeast Asia.
"It only shows that people really like Spam, whether they are at home or outside," Abadilla says.
Located not far from a restaurant offering California nouvelle cuisine, Spamjam is decorated to resemble a moviehouse snack counter to appeal to the mall's cinema crowds.
The menu is definitely one of a kind: there is a Spam hero sandwich, Spam club sandwich, Spam spaghetti, Spam macaroni, Spam potato chowder, bean soup with Spam, Spam Ceasar salad, Spam poppers and Spam meals with rice for the Filipino palate.
The only items not containing Spam are the French fries and the hotdogs, which use Hormel's "Wrangler" brand instead.
Abadilla says the restaurant's menu and decor were all approved by Hormel first. He hopes to introduce even more Spam-oriented dishes but he notes that their biggest seller so far is the "Spamburger," a simple hamburger sandwich using a patty of Spam instead of ground meat.
Spam has spread around the world since it was developed in 1937. It was a source of protein for Allied soldiers in World War II and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was quoted as saying "without Spam, we wouldn't have been able to feed our army."
But Spam has also garnered an unfavorable reputation as a poor substitute for fresh meat, and jokes circulate about Spam being used to repair the soles of shoes.
The biggest insult came when the ubiquitous unsolicated e-mail advertisements that clog the Internet were labelled "spam" -- without the consent of Hormel.
Yet Spam is highly valued in some countries. The Philippines is one of three nations outside the United States that produce Spam, and cans of the product are a staple in any Filipino cupboard.
Ernie Tan, a Filipino migrant to Canada, says that even there, the ethnic Filipino community keeps itself well stocked with Spam.
"Most Filipinos love Spam. It tastes good, even when cold," he says, giving Spamjam high marks for its imaginative use of the product.
A life-long Spam eater, manager Abadilla says he came up with the idea of a Spam restaurant on his own, only to find that Hormel had been considering the same project.
"When I approached them, they decided to let me be the one to launch it," he recalls. He believes his restaurant is a testbed for possible Spam restaurants abroad.
He licensed the name from Hormel, which approves the recipes and presentation, provided some input on quality and supplies the meat -- a lighter uncanned version with less preservatives -- to the restaurant.
Spamjam, named after an annual festival that Hormel holds in its corporate headquarters, will eventually expand the variety of Spam products on its menu, Abadilla says.
The restaurant will hopefully counter the negative connotations that have been attached to the word 'spam' he says.
"We will show the world the opposite: that Spam can be a good thing."
He has heard of the infamous skit by the British comdey troupe Monty Python about a cafe where all the food on the menu contains Spam but he has never seen it.
So don't expect to see men in Viking costumes, singing "Spam, Spam, lovely Spam..." AFP

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