Apr 30, 2012

Saipan Sweet Shrimp Kelaguen

When John and I are traveling we like to experience the local cuisine. We were surprised to find that Spam is a popular food item in Saipan. Saipan is the part of United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The native islanders are called Chamorros but over the years their culture has been infused with aspects from Spanish, Japanese, and American cultures. We found an interesting American addition to their culinary culture – Hormel’s Spam. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency and just a short walk away is the American Memorial Park and Museum detailing the Marianas Campaign of World War II.

On the walk back to the hotel from the museum we stopped for lunch at a small cafĂ© and had the local favorite food – kelaguen. I opted for the Chicken Kelaguen but one of the choices was Spam Kelaguen. Micronesians love Spam which was imported by the U.S. Army during World War II and unlike other meats it wasn’t rationed and required no refrigeration consequently it made its way into the diets of local people where meat was not common. Many WW II soldiers who survived on Spam three times a day for months on end returned to the US vowing never to eat it again but it is popular in other parts of the world. The residents of Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Mariana Island consume the most Span to the rate of 16 cans per person per year. In Hawaii, Spam is so popular it is sometimes referred to as "The Hawaiian Steak.” The Hormel’s Chinese division that produces Spam is one of the most profitable parts of the company. It is so popular in Saipan that McDonald’s offers Spam with eggs and rice for breakfast.

At the Hyatt Regency our dinner started with a Saipan Sweet Shrimp Kelaguen appetizer for $11. It was served with delicious coconut flat bread. They offered to share their kelaguen recipe and invited us to watch Chef Zenn make coconut flat bread at one of the buffet’s show stations. To make coconut flat bread substitute coconut milk for regular milk in the recipe.

One day John and I took a 10-minute flight to the nearby island of Tinian, rented a car, and toured the island. Tinian is home to North Field which was the world’s biggest and busiest airport in 1945. It is from Tinian that planes departed with the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan. Today North Field is a deserted weed-choked area with glass coverings over where the bombs were stored, some Japanese bunkers, and a few memorials. We stopped at a small restaurant near the airport for lunch – beef kelaguen for $7. We never tried the Spam kelaguen but the beef, chicken, and especially the shrimp kelaguen at the Hyatt, were excellent.

Saipan Sweet Shrimp Kelaguen

1/2 lb fresh shrimp whole, peeled, deveined, and par blanched (can substitute Spam, beef or chicken.)

Juice of 5 medium lemons

Salt to taste

1 1/2 tbs fresh coconut, grated

2 tsp scallions, chopped fine

3 red chilies, finely diced

In a mixing bowl marinate the shrimp with lemon juice and salt. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Add half of the coconut, scallions, and chili to the marinated shrimp and toss. Refrigerate another 30 minutes. Place in serving bowl. Garnish with remaining coconut, scallions, and chili. Serve with coconut flat bread.