Spam is a big deal here. We were confused when we were gifted two huge boxes of Spam, tuna, and canola oil from our school for the Chuseok holidays. I don’t think I’d ever tried Spam before, and had a very negative and judgmental perception toward it. After all, it’s canned meat. But around holidays gift boxes pop up like weeds at all the local grocery stores, and the boxes of Spam, in very nice decorative boxes, are found everywhere. And they’re expensive. I’ve seen gift boxes with 10 cans of Spam for sale for 30,000 Won, or about $30.
After receiving two more huge gift boxes with Spam and tuna for the Seollal, the Lunar New Year celebrations here in Korea, we came across a newly-published NY Times article about the popularity of Spam, particularly for gifting, in Korea: In South Korea, Spam Is the Stuff Gifts Are Made Of
The article explains the movement of Spam into Korea with the US military during the Korean War, when meat was rare to come by and Spam was a luxury item. Fast forward to today, and the article explores the enduring popularity of Spam here in Korea, including its use in restaurant dishes (in a stew called budaejjigae, which we haven’t yet come across).
A man in the article explains that Spam is gifted “on occasions of importance when one wishes to pay special honor and proper respect.” So we are grateful for our stored-up Spam, if for nothing else than the thought behind it.