Versus: Slim Spam Sliders

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Marination Mobile's Spam sliders
Versus is a big fan of Hawaiian cuisine, due in no small part to the fact that it's the ultimate brown people food. Hawaiian food, just like the islands' population, is a rich mash-up of Polynesian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, and Portuguese. Hawaiian menus can read like a greatest hits list of Asian foods (adobo, gyoza, kimchi, tonkatsu) and also include dishes that, upon further inspection, reveal layers of seemingly divergent cultural influences. Take, for instance, the Spam slider.

Spam is the unofficial state food of Hawaii, which leads the nation in annual consumption of this porky canned meat product. It was introduced into Hawaii (as well as other Pacific islands like the Philippines, Okinawa, and Guam) during U.S. military occupation in World War II, when it was used in mass quantities to feed troops. Surplus Spam worked its way into the native diet, appearing in bowls of saimin and, most notably, wrapped up with nori and rice in the form of musubi. It also nestled its way into buns of sweet bread (which was brought to Hawaii via Portuguese sugar plantation workers). The Spam slider has crossed the Pacific to Seattle, where you can sample this salty delicacy at Marination Mobile and Luau Polynesian Lounge. But which Spam slider is better? Versus investigates.

At Marination Mobile (location changes daily, check the website or Twitter feed, @curb_cuisine for info), Seattle's fancified shiny wonder of a Korean-Hawaiian taco truck, Spam sliders will set back two bucks a piece. And it's worth those two dollars to see how Spam can be transformed so nicely when it's treated so respectfully. The Spam is cut into perfect pink squares then cooked over the grill, where it picks up some nice char and smokiness. It's sandwiched into beautifully toasted (but disproportionately large) sweetbread buns slicked with Marination's slider sauce, something akin to a sweeter and tangier version of Kewpie mayonnaise. Marination tops it all off with their signature slaw, a balanced and bracing mix of cabbage, carrots, and cilantro, which is a perfect foil to the Spam's softness and saltiness.

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Luau's Spam sliders
Luau (2253 N 56th St, 633-5828) gives its Spam the same careful treatment, slicing them into wee triangles and grilling them over the flame. Luau is able to treat the Spam to a higher temperature of fire, and the result is an even better tasting piece of pork meat product, with big fat grill marks and flavor, and a crispier outside to contrast its pre-formed mush interior. The sliders ($6 for three, available at Happy Hour, 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. weekdays, noon to 6 p.m. weekends) come tucked inside toasted King's Hawaiian sweet rolls also lined with a sweet mayonnaisey sauce, and you have the option of adding slices of American cheese. (Do it.) Also be sure to make use of the pickled red onions that accompany the sliders; they add a delightful, unexpected pop.

Verdict: Spam is the real winner here, elevated to the status of importance on the mainland as it enjoys on the islands. Both sets of sliders are solid, with appropriate measures taken to both enhance and balance Spam's strong flavor. While Marination cuts Spam's salinity with acid, Luau mutes it with creamy melted cheese. Though the almost 2:1 ration of sweet roll to Spam is irritating, Marination's slaw gives it a flavor and texture boost that puts it ahead of Luau. Marination Mobile for the win--but just by an inch.

 
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