SPAM is a canned meat product made by Hormel Foods since 1937. This preserved chopped pork shoulder and ham concoction became popular during World War II, when it became part of American soldiers’ food supplies and aid packages to Britain and Russia. SPAM remains popular in Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines. Served with garlic fried rice and eggs, it became a morning comfort food for Pinoys who love the savory, hearty meat to fuel their day.
Tocino is another meat product, which sends Pinoy hearts racing (pun intended). It is Spanish for bacon and is made from pork belly. Hispanic countries have different versions of this sweet-savory meat. The Filipino version is cured for three days with sugar, salt, annatto (achuete) and water (the original version has saltpeter). It is first boiled with water and cooked in oil.
When eating SPAM, I’m reminded of visiting my lola (grandmother) for the weekend. After a long day of playing with my cousins, she’d serve us a plateful of SPAM and freshly toasted pan de sal (bread roll) for merienda (afternoon snack). We’d never go hungry when lola was around.
My earliest memory of tocino was on a road trip to Baguio and we stopped at a restaurant in Tarlac for lunch. We were served this sweet mystery meat, which became my instant favorite (after bacon). I asked mom why couldn’t we have that at home. She said we can’t have that every day (because of the preservatives). So whenever we went to Baguio, I’d always look for that special plate of tocino.
The Pinoys earliest idea of SPAM tocino is glazed SPAM, SPAM with brown sugar. Oh yes, lola made that too.
When SPAM Tocino hit the Internet, Pinoys gushed with joy over this amazing amalgamation of breakfast memories. “OMG!,” “Get it in my belly!,” “I love you, SPAM” and similar exclamations filled Facebook walls and twitter feeds, but the most posted comment was “Where can I buy it?!!”
As of early March, it was only available on the online SPAM store. The Official SPAM Facebook account says it is a limited edition for the Philippine market. My Facebook friend Kris, who’s a digital marketer, felt it’s SPAM’s way of honoring its Filipino fans. There are other SPAM variants, which were launched for the different ethnic consumer groups, SPAM Teriyaki for the Hawaiian market and SPAM Chorizo for the Latino market.
I couldn’t find any in the stores so I had to turn to the website and buy SPAM online with the expensive shipping cost—$7 up (more expensive than a can of SPAM).
I decided to buy two, one to shoot for documentation and one to eat.
It took a week before it actually arrived. My mind was burning with anticipation. Did it really exist? Was it the latest Internet hoax? When it finally arrived, I jumped with joy.
Before I eagerly popped open this marvelous meat, I bought myself ingredients for a proper tocilog dinner, complete with garlic fried rice and eggs.
As I gleefully tinkered around the kitchen, steaming the rice and chopping up the garlic. I noticed directions on the back of the can.
The directions for cooking SPAM Tocino is different from cooking regular SPAM. SPAM can be plopped straight to the pan. But SPAM Tocino has to simmer water to get the sugar out to form a syrup. Add a little oil and caramelize. It’s like cooking tocino or longganisa. The cooks at Hormel did their homework!
In my excitement to make the perfect Pinoy comfort meal, which included sunny side up eggs, I kept breaking the yolks and ended up with scrambled eggs. I really wanted to taste this new product and let all those wonderful food memories drench my soul.
One bite led to another, and I let out a little smile. It really tasted like tocino. You could definitely stuff happiness into can.
After having my fill, I sadly wrapped up the uncooked leftover SPAM Tocino to put into the freezer. I remembered what my mom said: “You can’t have that every day.” Those words bring a different meaning now, having it all the time diminishes the special times you had while eating it with your loved ones.
In the days that followed, news spread that SPAM Tocino was no longer available online. A lot of saddened Fil-Ams left queries on its Facebook wall, asking when the product would be back. The Facebook administrator assured fans that the product would be back.
Just this first week in April 2014, there were smartphone photos reporting the first sightings of SPAM Tocino in Philippine stores. Despite being sold only in select stores, one thing is certain, the happiness has come home.