Fans of Spam know that it can actually be pretty great stuff. Sure, it's a chunk of gelatinous, salty meat in a little blue can, but when you put it in the hands of trained professionals, or your grandmother, it can be pure magic.
If you didn't grow up eating Spam, or consider it mystery meat, let's get a couple things straight. What's really in that blue can is a mix of pork shoulder, ham, salt, water, potato starch, sugar and sodium nitrate. Whether you're looking to give it a try for the first time, or you consider it a family staple, we've got seven great Spam dishes for Spam lovers, new and old, to try.
Deep fried spam musubi: Spam musubi is a delight on its own. Slices of Spam are rolled in sushi rice and seaweed to form a sort of irresistible Spam sushi. The folks at Aloha Cafe in Little Tokyo are taking the classic and bumping it up a couple notches by deep frying it. The musubi is dunked in an egg wash, flour and panko bread crumbs before hitting the deep fryer. The end result is the Spam musubi you know and love, with an extra crisp coating and a drizzle of sweet teriyaki sauce. You'll think you're eating a rice doughnut with a Spam surprise inside. Three large pieces are served on a bed of shredded cabbage, so at least you can pretend it came with a salad ($3.95). 410 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles, (213) 346-9930, www.eatatalohacafe.com.
Spam banh mi: It's Spam on white bread, but Roy Choi is putting his own spin on the classic at Pot. Instead of a baguette, Choi uses a soft toasted roll and slathers it with a spicy, creamy Sriracha sauce. Pieces of caramelized Spam are layered with matchsticks of pickled radish and carrot, jalapeno slices, fried shallots and a ton of Thai basil and cilantro. The pickles are definitely banh mi-ish, but the herbs bring to mind the flavors of ground chicken with Thai basil, a dish you're likely to find at your neighborhood Thai spot. The sandwich is served with a mound of seasoned fries and some good old-fashioned ketchup ($12). 3515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 368-3030, www.eatatpot.com.
Country Spam breakfast: It is possible to find Spam at a restaurant on the Westside. At Jack n' Jill's Too, they're using Spam in their country Spam breakfast with eggs. The meat is pan seared until crisp around the edges and served with sweet brown rice. It's topped with a fried egg, similar to the Hawaiian dish Loco Moco, with no gravy ($11). But if you're really craving the Hawaiian classic, the kitchen will kindly add a couple ladles of gravy on top. 8738 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (310) 858-5922, www.jacknjillstoo.com.
Caramelized Spam bread pudding: No, you're not dreaming. There's a tiny bakery in Sherman Oaks making a traditional bread pudding with caramelized Spam ($5). And it's not just bread pudding with a little Spam on top. The dish is actually 40% bread pudding, 60% Spam. The meat provides a bit of texture and salt, and the bits of Spam on top are just the right amount of caramelized, creating a sort of meat candy topping. Each order comes with a side of salted caramel sauce to drizzle over the hot bread pudding. Remember dunking your bacon in maple syrup as a kid — or if we're being honest, as an adult too? This is better. 14849 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 949-8352, www.cremecaramella.com.
Spam fried rice: If I had a Hawaiian grandmother, this is what I'd imagine her making. Chicken Day's Spam fried rice is a large bowl of white rice, wok-fried with scallions, carrots, onion, peas, green beans, corn and diced Spam. The rice is cooked to perfection, with a couple crispy bits throughout, and just a hint of pepper. It's nothing fancy, but when you need a comforting bowl of fried rice, this is the answer. Each bowl comes with a side of miso soup and some radish pickles ($7.99). 301 S. Western Ave., Suite 107, Los Angeles, (213) 387-9933, no website.
Loco Moco with Spam: This is the classic Hawaiian dish at its best, served in the coffee shop at the Gardena Bowling Center. Mounds of fluffy rice are topped with three slices of pan-seared Spam (the restaurant also makes its own Portuguese sausage); two fried eggs, over easy, or however you like them; and a rich brown gravy. Something about eating this dish to the tune of crackling bowling pins just makes it taste better. ($7.95). 15707 S. Vermont Ave., Gardena, (310) 352-0820, www.gardenabowl.com.
Kimchi Spam musubi croissant: Sugarbloom Bakery chef and owner Sharon Wang thought it would be a good idea to combine Spam and a croissant. And we're sure glad she did. The result is a flaky, buttery croissant stuffed with a slice of Spam and a spicy, tart kimchi puree. She also throws in a little Sriracha for good measure. This mini Spam pocket is topped with strips of crispy nori and sesame seeds. The croissants are available at coffee shops around town, including Stumptown and Demitasse in downtown ($5). www.sugarbloombakery.com.
Of course I'm a Hello Kitty Spam musubi fan. Follow me on Twitter @Jenn_Harris_