Saipan is an interesting blend of tropical sun and beaches, memorials to WWII, and terrific food.
The island is the largest of the archipelago of 15 islands that makes up the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana. It’s located in the western Pacific Ocean about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines. The native islanders are called Chamorros, but over the years, their culture has been infused with influences from Spanish, Japanese, and American cultures.
When John and I visited, we found an interesting American addition to their culinary culture – Spam, that canned meat product so common in Hawaii. Micronesians love Spam which was imported by the U.S. Army during World War II. Unlike other meats, this canned food product wasn’t rationed and it required no refrigeration. Consequently, this salty canned meat made its way into the diets of local people, even in places where meat had not been common. While many American GIs who survived on Spam three times a day for months on end returned to the U.S. vowing never to eat it again, this canned meat is so popular in Saipan that McDonald’s offers Spam with eggs and rice for breakfast!
War Memorials and Spam
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency and, just a short walk away, is the American Memorial Park and Museum detailing the Mariana Campaign of World War II. On the walk back to the hotel from the museum, we stopped for lunch at a small café and had the local favorite food – kelaguen, a simple dish consisting of a pickling marinade of lemon juice, fresh coconut, green onions, salt, and red hot chilies with cooked chicken, or raw shrimp, fish, or beef. Much like South American ceviche, the acidic marinade “cooks” the fish, shrimp, or beef. I opted for the Chicken Kelaguen, but one of the choices was Spam Kelaguen.
Later, at the Hyatt Regency, our dinner started with a Saipan Sweet Shrimp Kelaguen appetizer. It was served with delicious coconut flat bread. The hotel offered to share their kelaguen recipe with us and invited us to watch Chef Zenn make coconut flat bread at one of the buffet’s show stations.
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 and tried their beef kelaguen. While we never tried Spam kelaguen, we found the beef, chicken, and especially the shrimp kelaguen at the Hyatt, were excellent. For their Shrimp Kelaguen recipe.
— by Sandra Scott, RFT Contributor