Quickly is on this map because it is the only place in Oakland where you can find a meal with Spam. Although customers cannot buy a Spam musubi (basically Spam sushi) Quickly's menu offers a bowl of rice topped with two slices of freshly cooked Spam and two fried eggs. A classic, mouth watering breakfast combo for anyone craving a true taste of local Hawaii food.

Note that this is not what people from Hawaii consider Hawaiian food. Discussing cuisine on the islands, Hawaiian food and local food are two distinct things. Hawaiian food served mostly on special occasions like graduation parties, weddings, or a baby’s first birthday, includes poi (a paste made from cooked and pounded taro), servied with well cooked taro leaves, kalua pork which is traditionally cooked in the ground and rice as starch base. Sides include lomi salmon, ahi poke, chicken long rice, and for dessert haupia and pineapple with li hing mui. In his book A Ride Over the Rocky Mountains, Henry John Coke describes Hawaiian food which he observed on his visit in the 1850’s:

“[The Hawaiian’s food] consists almost entirely of poe, a paste made of taro root, and eaten after it has undergone fermentation and is become sour. They use no spoons, but sit cross-legged around the poe-tub, and dip their two fore-fingers into the paste, which is thus conveyed to their mouths. Generally, they eat raw fish at their meals; when thi is the case, each person has a small pan of fresh water by his side, wherein he carefully washes his fingers after each mouthful of fish, before he sticks them into the poe-jar. Bananas and cocoa-nuts are also ordinarily articles of food; sometimes, but more rarely, rice and sugar-cane(Coke, 337).

--An original copy of Coke's book can be found in the Mills College Library in the special books collection --

 Obviously, Spam is not included on this list of traditional Hawaiian food. Spam musubi is an example of local fusion food which grew popular due to a complex history of World War II, militarization of the islands, Japanese influence via plantation labor, and American business influence.

In Hawaii, the rise of SPAM occurred as a direct result of the United States’ attempt to control Japanese Americans in Hawaii. At the time of World War II, Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) were preparing to take over Hawaii’s fishing industry from their forefathers, who had established themselves and other Japanese Americans in Hawaii as the driving engine for Hawaii's fish market.

An American wartime policy banned Japanese fishermen from going out in boats to fish. The wartime policy grew out of the American military's fear that Japanese American fisherman residing in Hawaii were trading war secrets with Japanese vessels out in the ocean. This policy significantly curtailed the supply of fish for local consumption and for local tuna canneries. The cans of SPAM, brought to Hawaii on the backs of US military personnel, filled in the gap left by wartime fishing restrictions. Hawaii residents replaced fish with SPAM.

The consequences have been numerous. Since World War 2, Spam has become enormously popular in Hawaii thanks to its yummy taste, and because it is a low cost meat product in a place 3,000 miles from a source of meat production (excluding the ocean full of reletively expensive fish). In the National Geographics article "How Spam Helped Shape Hawaii" April Fulton explains "Hawaiians like SPAM so much, they consume an estimated 5 million pounds of it per year." Fulton is making the common mistake of referring to all people in Hawaii as “Hawaiians” rather recognizing the label as one used to describe people who are actually Native Hawaiian (Kanaka Maoli). Per capita, Hawaii residents consume more SPAM than anyone else in the nation. SPAM is a culture. It is consumed in Hawaii and almost fetishized. Spam musubis are a trademark of local food in Hawaii, and eaten regularly by locals as a snack or a part of a meal. People on the mainland laugh at the canned meat’s poor quality and scoff when they hear how popular it is in Hawaii. There is, however an obvious but dark truth the SPAM’s popularity in Hawaii.

The fact is that Spam is a cheap source of protein sold in a state where over 90% of food is imported and a gallon of two percent milk can cost about $6. People eat SPAM because they are they don't have money to buy better quality meat, and one can of SPAM costs about $1.79. One Hawaii blogger claims “SPAM is not poor people’s food in Hawaii” because everyone eats it “rich and poor, old and young.” However, Spam consumption is higher among lower and middle class people. Parents who can afford it buy fresh or frozen chicken, fish or meat and prepare meals for their families, but in a state where the minimum wage is $7.75 per hour and is also one of the most expensive places to live in in the United States, parents who work at blue collar jobs do not have time to prepare healthy meals for their children, or their hanai-ed family and SPAM is a quick, cheap option. But don’t let me kill your Quickly vibe, enjoyed every once in awhile, Spam is a great snack and can take the islanders on this tour back home, at least for a few bites.

Street Address:

609 E 12th St
Oakland, CA 94606 [map]

Cite this Page:

Natanya Friedheim, “Quickly,” Street Stories: Oakland, accessed October 16, 2018, http://streetstoriesoakland.com/items/show/45.

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