Rick Cooks Home Chancho Chino
Korean SPAM

Anyone who lived in Chile in the 1970's will recall the food shortages that existed as a result of government price-control policies. Chileans were already accustomed to meat rationing brought on by misguided anti-inflation measures, but they eventually found their supermarkets' meat counters permanently bare, and had to resort to the the black market to find any meat at all.

Except for canned meat. Americans and Europeans faced a similar condition during World War II, when Hormel's canned processed pork product called SPAM provided an entire generation with an inexpensive and readily available meat product to fulfill the demand for protein. Americans stationed in the Pacific during and after the war took their SPAM with them, and eventually SPAM entered the diets of nearly every Pacific Rim nation. Today, Hawaiians are the biggest consumers of SPAM.

Koreans also love SPAM. In Korea, it's considered a delicacy, and is sold in the finest food stores. But not just the original SPAM (actually a Hormel-licensed product produced by Cheil Jedang), but also numerous Korean knock-offs such as Normeat, and a Danish version called Tulip, considered superior by Korean SPAM snobs.

A few of the cheap Korean knock-offs made it into Chilean supermarkets during the prolonged meat shortage, and shoppers snapped them up. The can labels were covered with oriental lettering, except for the English words "luncheon meat," and the product quickly became known in Chile as chancho chino, or "Chinese pork," even though the Chinese didn't begin exporting their own version of SPAM for another couple of decades.

Just as SPAM evokes particular memories for a certain generation of Americans, "chancho chino" evokes similar ones for a generation of Chileans. The fact that stereotype-loving Chileans got the country of origin of this cheap product wrong, and that few will admit to having developed and maintained a fondness for it, adds more interest and significance to its history.