In 1937, canned, gelatinous meat became as much an American cultural institution as a culinary one, when the Hormel Food Corporation spawned Spam in an Austin, Minnesota, food lab.
The product — a paste made from pork shoulder and potato starch, with some ham — quickly became the most popular “luncheon meat” in the U.S.
Spam gained even more traction with the onset of World War II, when Hormel would ship 15 million pounds to Allied forces weekly. U.S., British, and Soviet dignitaries supposedly credited the foodstuff with helping defeat the Axis, according to official company history.
Postwar, a group of company-backed female vets, the “Hormel Girls,” formed a music troupe. They would travel the country — and eventually land a radio show — to sing the patriotic praises of Spam, according to Jill M. Sullivan and Danelle K. Deck, who authored a paper on the orchestra.
Because of its Depression-era release, Hormel had trouble shaking Spam’s less-than-luxurious image in the U.S.
So the processed food giant branched into other markets. Commercial success in Europe eventually prompted worldwide distribution and Spam-centered approaches to non-Occidental cuisines — hence dishes such as Spam and egg ramen.
Tea Magic, located at 2878 Broadway, serves up a steamy bowl of the questionable concoction.
This Morningside Heights boba hangout offers the $5.50 pick all winter, along with hot dog and egg — and fishball — noodle soups.
The first thing you notice: The café’s offering does look rather off-putting.
Two porcine-pink slabs — still shaped like the can that birthed them — float almost menacingly on top of the clear broth. Green onion, broccoli florets, and a yellowed, boiled egg — on a ghoulish bed of noodles — don’t exactly help its cause.
Visually, the dish has a bilious vibe — like something conceived by Mary Shelley in her most experimental writings.
These ingredients, however, wind up combining quite successfully.
Because the broth has a subdued simplicity — not quite bland, but hardly seasoned — the salt from the Spam gives the liquid a rich, robust flavor. The noodles have a workmanlike texture, but do achieve a pleasant balance between chewiness and sogginess.
The vegetal elements also minimize the tinniness characteristic of canned basics.
Spam, ever the imitation of spiced ham, actually tastes like the object of its mimicry here — which is probably the nicest thing you could say about the product.