I walked through the SPAM Museum backwards. Not on purpose, of course.
Last Thursday morning, I drove an hour northeast to Austin, MN the home of Hormel’s headquarters and an entire museum dedicated to SPAM.
I’ve never eaten SPAM before. Or at least, I can’t officially confirm that I have.
The first contact I had with SPAM occurred the summer before I met Jake. Near the end of my online dating adventure I started communicating with a man who hailed from Austin, MN. We must have exchanged 75 emails within the course of a week, finally meeting at a coffee shop in Bryn Mawr. He presented me with shiny can of SPAM wrapped in a big, red ribbon.
The date didn’t go well. When I revealed I did not understand a common football term, he asked, “Are you kidding me?” and abruptly ended the date. I brought the can of SPAM home and placed it in the cupboard where I am 80% sure it is still sitting today, ribbon and all.
Just because I haven’t eaten SPAM before doesn’t mean that I have anything against it.
When I entered the city of Austin, I noticed the Hormel headquarters immediately. The museum is located along main street, several minutes away.
Museum admission is free, though drivers must check in at the welcome kiosk. A friendly woman directed me to park in the visitor parking spaces labeled with the word SPAM.
Then, I entered through the gift shop and wandered through the SPAM Museum backwards. This meant following the life size timeline of SPAM’s history from the present to its inception. One could pause along the timeline to watch videos or participate in interactive activities like “can the rubber SPAM.”
There were lots of cardboard cutouts like this.
Honestly, my favorite part of the museum was the gift shop. It sold everything from clothing to wine glasses, all branded with SPAM or another Hormel subdivision. I settled on a flexible cutting board for $5.
When I walked outside, the SPAM food vendor seemed ready for business and I could smell hot griddles. My original plan was to visit Vietnamese Top Noodle for lunch. I had found this restaurant online and was fascinated to find a Vietnamese restaurant in Austin, but a phone call pulled me back to Mason City for a meeting so I ordered from the SPAM truck. It felt right to eat SPAM while I was at the SPAM Museum.
The thought of deep fried SPAM curds made my stomach turn somersaults, so I ordered the SPAM burger, instead ($4.50). The gentlemen gave me the choice of plain, hickory smoked, or black pepper-flavored SPAM and I chose black pepper. The burger also came with my choice of chips.
After a few minutes, my SPAM burger was ready. A gridded slice of SPAM sat in between a high quality, toasted bun with fresh leaf lettuce, a juicy slice of tomato, crisp onion and cheese.
Honestly, the burger wasn’t bad and the flavor of the SPAM was far from offensive. It tasted like salty, savory loaf meat. The caramelization helped.
Many of the burgers I order turn out to be well-done hockey pucks on cheap, crumbly buns. I’d rather eat a SPAM burger. The high quality toppings made this sandwich especially memorable.
Would I eat SPAM again? Certainly. I can see myself adding a little to fried rice or scrambled eggs and I’ve always wanted to try SPAM musubi. I can’t say it will make regular appearances on our dinner menus at home, but I’m glad I could finally try this iconic food. Generally, I aim to try everything at least once and think it’s best to not yuck someone else’s yum.
Watch the Chow.com Supertaster try 10 varieties of SPAM in four minutes.
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