Derided in the West, spam is so beloved in Asia that one company has invented a meat-free version of it

Spam, there's more to it than you think.

Hong Kong (CNN)In a brightly lit restaurant in downtown Hong Kong, the meaty smell of fried spam fills the air.

As other staff prepare for the lunchtime rush, a cook is putting the finishing touches to a bowl of instant noodles, egg and spam, a dish so popular and iconic of local cuisine that it has its own shorthand in Cantonese (chaan daan mihn).
But this bowl is different: despite being topped with two pink slabs of luncheon meat, it doesn't actually contain any animal products. The "spam" is vegan, a meat-free alternative developed by OmniFoods, a Hong Kong-based food producer and social enterprise.
    Like its US-based competitors Beyond Meat and Impossible, OmniFoods targets both vegetarians and meat-eaters with its plant-based foods, seeking to provide an ethical alternative that is less-environmentally damaging than meat.
    While Beyond and Impossible started out focused on beef, "from the beginning, it was very obvious that in Asia, the most-consumed meat is pork," said OmniFoods founder David Yeung.
    According to the OECD, on average, Koreans eat 31.2 kilograms (69 lb) of pork per year, while people in mainland China eat 24.4 kg, both well above the international average of 11.1 kg.
    After selling a "minced pork" product to both consumers and chains like Starbucks in China, Yeung said a plant-based alternative to spam, or luncheon meat, was always the clear next step.
    That's because while it has a less than stellar reputation in many Western countries, spam is beloved in much of Asia. According to recent market research, the Asia-Pacific region accounts for some 39% of luncheon meat sales, with China, South Korea and Japan among the top consumers.
    "Some people eat (spam) like five times a day," Yeung said, as staff served the meat-free spam noodles, along with two other products, "Omni Luncheon and Eggless Toast" and "OmniPork Luncheon Fries" -- admittedly, the name doesn't quite roll off the tongue like "spam."