Spam spinoffs make a showing in S.F.


By Tara Duggan

Spam has a terrible rap — both as an industrial food and as an onslaught of unwelcome e-mail — yet chef-made versions of the canned ham are popping up on San Francisco restaurant menus, thanks to a revival of interest in Hawaiian flavors.

“I love Spam, but I don’t love what it is,” says Ravi Kapur.

The chef and co-owner of Liholiho Yacht Club was born and bred in Hawaii, home of Spam musubi, an island sushi roll.

“Texturally and flavor-wise, it’s frickin’ amazing,” he says. “I have so many fond memories of it. But I can’t eat it anymore.”

Kapur no longer eats commercially made Spam because he is not a fan of the type of meat that goes into it — which is why he spent so much time developing his own version for his Hawaii-inspired restaurant. He serves it on top of rice with pickled cucumbers and furikake, the Japanese seasoning mix.

His technique involves a vacuum sealer and a low-temperature combi steam oven. It’s a recipe he won’t share because he thinks it would be stolen and copied immediately.

“There are so many people trying to do Spam. Mine actually tastes like Spam,” he says.

Greg Dunmore of Nojo agrees that Kapur’s creation tastes like the original Hormel Foods product, which, incidentally, is going through a rebranding phase with social media and a food truck.

“He hits it on the actual Spam texture,” says Dunmore, whose version is more rustic. Dunmore serves it at weekend brunch after a three-day process that involves marinating pork shoulder, grinding it with just the right amount of fat and then forming it into a terrine that he holds overnight in the refrigerator.

“It’s so important for it to set and glue overnight,” Dunmore says.

From there, he cooks it and lets it sit again. He puts the finished slices onto skewers for the grill and serves them with fried eggs, or on top of rice balls with nori sauce.

Another revelatory house-made “seared pork terrine” was on the menu at Aina, Jordan Keao’s short-lived Bernal Heights brunch pop-up. Keao plans to serve it at the San Francisco Street Food Festival in August.

Keao browns the thin slabs and serves them over rice with a fried egg, showering it all with furikake.

Dense and creamy in the middle, then crisp on the outside, it has all the qualities that are giving the Hawaiian staple its big comeback.