A study released this year claimed that eating hot dogs can cut down one’s life expectancy by a number of years. Imagine my shock when reading that study did nothing to dissuade me from an inexplicably fierce wiener craving that very day. I went out and bought a pack, eating a couple that afternoon while reveling in this wonderful thing called life.
My friends channel the same nanny energy of that hot dog study whenever I cook with Spam. “How could you?” someone will ask when I post my cooking process to social media. Listen, y’all: I realize Spam isn’t the best for me, but I don’t want to feel shame for a dish that is part of my culture, a dish that is uplifting on the worst days.
I’m here for a good time, not a long time.
My fellow Filipinos and Filipinx of the diaspora can likely relate. The shelf-stable canned meat was introduced to the Philippines and other Pacific colonies during World War II, a staple for U.S. troops. After the war, it remained a luxury status item associated with the States’ colonizing power. These days, Spam and rice are inextricably linked in the Filipino diet, specifically in the dish spamsilog.
Silog is the name for a category of Filipino breakfast: A fried egg, white or fried rice, and a breakfast meat. Longsilog features longaniza, adosilog highlights adobo, and so on. At its most basic, silog is just an assemblage of starch and protein, but it can be so much more.
“My memories of silog are serving it to my American friends when they spent the night,” Chance Anies of Tabachoy told me recently. “We’d wake up to the smell of my dad making fried rice. Ninety percent of my friends thought that having rice for breakfast was strange, but when they realized we were still having a carb, meat, and eggs, they realized it wasn’t that weird, after all.”
Similarly, my Saturday alarm clock growing up would be the sharp sizzle of garlic hitting a hot pan, the pungent aroma permeating every room. I’d find my mom in the kitchen, frying up rice from the night before In another pan, she’d keep lacey, olive oil-fried sunny-side eggs, and sizzling slices of Spam warm until ready to plate. On the table would be some vinegar and Jufran-brand banana ketchup, and breakfast would be ready in under 10 minutes.
There’s no trick to spamsilog, but don’t be fooled by the name: The real star of the show is the endlessly comforting garlic-studded fried rice. You can go the straightforward route — ”here’s a pan, just cook!” — but some tweaks can help you enjoy an even lazier morning.
The main trick is making fried garlic ahead of time, by heating sliced cloves swimming in oil in the microwave. The resulting garlic-infused oil is a wonderful way to fry and flavor leftover rice, without risking burnt garlic whilst blearily making coffee. And making it ahead of time means you’ll always have extra fried garlic on hand for other foods, like savory oatmeal or a crunchy topping for avocado toast.
My one concession to health-minded friends (and readers) is refraining from adding additional salt or soy sauce to the dish, because of Spam’s already high sodium content. While the rice cooks, whip up sawsawan, a vinegar-based condiment whose bright kiss of heat and acidity cuts through the fattiness of the Spam and eggs. In lieu of salt, sawsawan is the flavor cavalry, adding a lift of tang and touch of heat to the savory mix. If you’re feeling feisty, seek out Jufran’s banana ketchup, another staple of Filipino kitchens and available online, which adds a tasty, sweet component that balances the whole shebang.
Spamsilog with sawsawan (Spam and fried garlic rice with vinegar sauce)
¼ cup thinly sliced garlic (about 12 cloves)
½ cup chopped tomato
¼ cup finely chopped shallot or red onion
1 small jalapeño or Thai chile, seeded and chopped (optional)
½ cup white distilled vinegar
½ cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups leftover steamed rice
Black pepper, to taste
1 can Spam or other luncheon meat brand, sliced and cooked according to instructions
1-2 eggs, sunny side up
Sliced green onion for garnish, optional
Place the garlic in a microwave-safe bowl and add enough oil to cover (at least 3 tablespoons). Microwave for 1 minute, then stir. Repeat these steps in 30-second increments until the garlic begins to brown. At this point, microwave-and-stir in 15-second increments until the garlic is burnished gold. (Depending on your microwave, this could take 2-3 minutes.)
In a sieve set over a bowl, drain the garlic, reserving the oil. Transfer the garlic to a plate lined with paper towels and season with a pinch of salt. Set aside to cool.
In a bowl, combine chopped tomatoes, onions, chile pepper (if using), and vinegars. Stir to combine and set aside to allow flavors to meld.
Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the reserved garlic-infused oil. Add the rice to the pan and stir continuously to break up any lumps, avoid scorching, and also coat in oil.
Cook the rice for about 5-7 minutes or until the rice is hot. Add 2 tablespoons of the fried garlic and mix until well-blended. Add a pinch or more of fresh-cracked black pepper, to taste, and toss with rice.
Transfer the garlic-fried rice to a plate along with the cooked luncheon meat and fried egg. Serve with sawsawan on the side.