As Singapore celebrates the Mid-Autumn Festival today, South Korea celebrates its Chuseok – when they pay respects to ancestors and visit the family. While we gift people with mooncakes here in Singapore – the more outrageous the merrier – people in Korea go ga-ga over expensive gift packs of… SPAM.
Yes, it’s the same SPAM you see in supermarkets, shelved under ‘canned meat’. According to its distributor, CJ CheilJedang, South Koreans consumed the equivalent of 24 cans per person. To the average South Korean, it’s “the most universal” present.
SPAM gift sets are the norm for the holiday, with prices ranging from 30,000 to 40,000 won (SGD35-SGD46). A premium Black Label hamper – with six cans of SPAM and two bottles of olive oil – will set you back around 90,000 won (SGD105).
Unsurprisingly, there’s a SPAM factory in Chuncheong Province in South Korea, producing more varieties of SPAM than you’d care to consider: Classic Spam, Mild Spam, Bacon Spam, Garlic Spam, etc. “If you’ve got SPAM” the slogan on the can proclaims, “you’ve got it all!”
First launched in the US before WWII, it became not only a staple diet for soldiers, it became a status symbol for South Koreans. In fact, South Korea is the biggest consumer of SPAM outside the US (where Hawaiians are the biggest consumers). It’s the high salt and fat content that complement the spicy, tangy elements of Korean food – like kimchi – very well.
So if you want to gift Korean friends – or you just want to practise Korean culture – you can simply send them a hamper full of SPAM. The kind that people actually enjoy receiving.