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This tofu musubi is a vegan twist on the popular Spam musubi. It’s just as flavorful, easy to make, and perfect for vegan lunchboxes, a protein-packed snack, or a hearty vegan appetizer.
What is spam musubi?
Spam musubi is a popular Hawaiian on-the-go snack or lunch food inspired by Japanese rice balls, onigiri. It is typically prepared with a slice of teriyaki-flavored spam stacked on top of a block of rice, then wrapped in a convenient handheld sandwich with a nori sheet. The exact origin of spam musubi is debated but largely believed to have become popular in Hawaii following World War II when canned spam was the most widely available meat option.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Tofu – To replicate the same texture and consistency of spam, it is essential to use extra firm tofu or super firm tofu. Reserve softer varieties of tofu for making recipes like our Tofu Ricotta, or Creamy Tofu & Vegetable Stir Fry.
- Soy Sauce – Canned Spam is notoriously salty. We used soy sauce as the base of our tofu marinade to give our vegan spam that same salty, umami taste. If you are gluten-free, opt for tamari.
- Sugar – For this recipe, you’ll need both brown sugar and granulated cane sugar. Use certified organic granulated sugars to ensure it’s made using vegan-friendly processing. We use and recommend Wholesome.
- Garlic & Ginger – Garlic and ginger makes the flavors in the tofu marinade pop! We highly recommend freshly grated garlic and ginger for the best results.
- Mirin & Rice Wine Vinegar – Mirin is a fermented Japanese sweet rice wine that balances the savoriness in the vegan “spam” marinade with its acidity. You should be able to find mirin in your local grocery store near the other rice vinegars, or online. If you can’t find it, opt for Sake or additional rice wine vinegar.
- Agave – Lightly sweetens the tofu marinade. If needed, substitute the agave with another liquid sweetener like maple syrup or brown rice syrup.
- Liquid Smoke – A small splash of liquid smoke helps replicate the smokiness of canned meats while keeping this musubi completely vegetarian. We use Stubb’s Mesquite Liquid Smoke.
- Oil – Used for pan-frying the tofu. If you’d like to make this tofu musubi oil-free, omit the oil and pan fry the tofu in a nonstick pan to prevent sticking.
- Nori – Nori sheets are the edible wrap that hold the tofu musubi together. If you have leftover nori after making musubi, you may enjoy using it in our Vegan Miso Soup or Sushi Buddha Bowls.
- Rice – Sushi rice is the best rice to use when making musubi because it’s naturally sticky and easily molds into your desired shape. In a pinch, Arborio rice is a good second choice.
How to Make Tofu “Spam” Musubi
- Press the tofu. This is going to remove the excess moisture from the tofu and help the tofu to soak up the marinade. If you don’t have a tofu press, check out our favorite hack for pressing tofu without a tofu press.
- Prepare the marinade and nori. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, mirin, agave, and liquid smoke and set aside. Cut the nori sheets width wise into 2” thick strips.
- Cook the rice according to package instructions. If you are new to cooking sushi rice, follow the detailed instructions in our Sushi Donuts post.
- Slice the tofu. Cut the block widthwise into ½” thick slabs, about 9 pieces.
- Pan-fry the vegan “spam.” Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the tofu pieces and fry until lightly crispy, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Pour in the sauce and cook for 5-6 minutes until the sauce thickens. Stir and flip the tofu frequently to prevent burning, and evenly coat all sides of the tofu. Set aside to cool.
- Season the sushi rice. Once the rice is fully cooked, add the rice wine vinegar and sugar to a small bowl and microwave the vinegar mixture for 45 seconds. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the mixture to the cooked sushi rice and mix through.
- Assemble the tofu musubi. Lay down a piece of saran wrap on your work surface. Place about ½ cup of the sushi rice on top of the saran wrap, then fold the saran wrap around the rice. Mold the rice with your hands into a rectangular shape that’s roughly the same width and length as the tofu pieces. Unwrap the rice and carefully place it on top of one of the cut nori strips. Lay a piece of tofu over the rice. Tightly wrap the nori around the rice and tofu, then use a bit of water to seal the nori onto itself.
- Repeat until all tofu musubi is wrapped and ready to eat!
Musubi is often served for lunch or as an easy snack. You may enjoy serving vegan spam musubi with some of our favorite vegan snacks like Tokyo street fries, salad in a jar, or with a side of the best vegan coleslaw.
Musubi is best enjoyed shortly after preparation but can be stored in an airtight, reusable container for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. If refrigerated, reheat the musubi in the microwave with a teaspoon or two of water poured on the rice to rehydrate it.
Tofu Musubi FAQ
Unfortunately, we do not recommend freezing tofu musubi. Doing so would significantly change the texture of the tofu and cause the water in the tofu to drain out of the tofu upon defrosting.
More Japanese-Inspired Recipes You May Enjoy:
- Vegan Japanese Curry – a great cozy comfort meal!
- Tofu Katsu – Super crispy and perfect to pair with the curry above.
- Teriyaki Tofu Bowls – Make for a simple lunch and also great for meal prep.
- Vegan Miso Soup – Perfect for cold winter nights.