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Saimin for Dummies

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So I just had my first bowl of Saimin....

.... from McDonald's

............... Yes, McDonalds'

.... no not some cutesy place named Chun McDonald's Bowl of Saimin

I mean McDonalds... WASP McDonalds.... like red headed Ronald... in the U.S.

(Well granted Hawaii is really a foreign country)

I mean how can you go into the Temple of Evil Junk Food Imperialism and not order it... right? Yes, I know its bound to be a terrible version... heck they can't even make Burgers well there right?

But what is done is done. My first bowl of Saimin... clear.... very, very clear broth with a bunch of noodles, a few floating pieces of Nori & the red & white swirl slices of processed seafood (can't remember the name). My first impression is that it had a strong fish smell... very plain & clean... and neither the noodles or broth had much flavor to it... they were just aromatized with some kind of fish flakes. I didn't like it at first.... so I went on & finished my Double Cheeseburger & Taro Pie... but as I sat there waiting patiently for my wife & daughter to finish eating... I kept going back and having some more... it started to grow on me.

Please educate me on what I can expect if I go have an exceptional bowl of Saimin.

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  1. Saimin? Taro pie? So how come the McDonald's "Choose a Country" drop down menu on their website doesn't list Hawaii? Do they have lau lau on the menu? I'm miffed!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Caroline1

      No lau lau at McD's, that I know of, but they do have portuguese sausage (spicy sausage), eggs and rice in the morning and they used to have a portuguese sausage egg McMuffin. YUM.

    2. Here's my take: saimin should have a nice, light, flavorful, salty, shoyu and shrimp (fish?) based broth. Some take issue with MSG in the broth, but it is common. The noodles should be fresh, not dried and should be chewy. You can buy instant saimin that's frozen in the supermarket. The red/white fish cake you had is kamaboko, which is common, along with spam (right out of the can, not fried), egg (thin strips), green onion, char siu, and sometimes greens (boy choy, napa cabbage), wontons, etc. I also like a teri beef stick (which is usually draped across the bowl and not in the soup) with saimin. YUM. Saimin is a comfort and convinience food, primarily, and is, imo, best as a treat at a UH football evening game, late in the day after a (cold) day at the beach, etc. The zipmin at Zippys has all of these condiments and shrimp tempura, I think, but there are many other versions that are probably better.

      31 Replies
      1. re: akq

        Thank you very much... a couple of questions:

        > Is Saimin a Hawaiian thing... meaning its based on a traditional Oriental dish but doesn't exist in its "home" country... much like Chop Suey would be a San Francisco thing?

        > At UH... are there vendors that dispense Saimin during the football games etc.,?

        > Is the Zippy's version one of the best in Oahu? (I am hoping it isn't because I have vowed to never eat there).

        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          There are a few places you should try.

          1) Palace Saimin at 1256 North King has been recommended by several people.
          2) Boulevard Saimin at 1425 Dillingham is a Honolulu institution. Some say not as good as it should be, others say it hasn't changed at all.
          3) 49er Fountain in Aiea, at the Corner of Honomanu St. and Kamehameha Highway.
          4) The king of saimin stands (although maybe not the best saimin).... Shiro's Saimin Heaven in Waimalu shopping plaza. 98-020 Kamehameha Highway.
          5) Shige's in Wahiawa is supposed to be very good, but I haven't been there in ages.

          akq pretty much described what to expect, and yes, it is a local creation based mostly on Japanese style ramen. If you add won ton it becomes won ton min. No, Zippy's is not the best version... but its not a bad version, little bit too satly and too much MSG for my taste. You can buy saimin noodles in the grocery, S&S is the most common, some people prefer Okahara. (i hope i got that right).

          1. re: KaimukiMan

            "...it is a local creation based mostly on Japanese style ramen."

            To me, if ramen & pho had a baby, saimin would be it.

            EDIT: Here's the wiki take on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saimin

            1. re: OCAnn

              Saimin is a cousin to both ramen and pho rather than the love child. All three have Chinese grandparents.

              Hasn't saimin been around longer than Japan's ramen?

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                From wiki alone, it appears that ramen has been around since the 17th century (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramen) and considering that saimin was developed in Hawaii from asian settlers (Japanese udon, Chinese mein, and Filipino pancit) in the 19th century, I'd say from that, ramen has been around longer than saimin by 200 years.

                1. re: OCAnn

                  The 17th century claim doesn't hold much weight even as presented in the wiki. The Meiji period of 23 October 1868 to 30 July 1912 is more likely for the blossoming of ramen in Japan served in Chinese restaurants.

                  1. re: OCAnn

                    Depends entirely on what you are calling "ramen." If you're talking the noodles that you cook from their original form, either dried like pasta or fresh, then they are indeed quite old. If you're talking about the ramen that comes in those little packages with a packet of dehydrated vegetables to drop in before filling to the mark with water and nuking for a few minutes, that kind of ramen (which is what comes to mind for most Americans) was not developed until the 1950s (56?) when, in Japan, Mr. Maruchan figured out he could "dehydrate" the noodles by French frying them, then put them in packages for cheap and people could pour boiling water over them and let them sit until edible. Microwaves have enhanced the process.

                    There is one HUGE fat content difference between the orignal "cook from scratch" ramen and "instant" ramen. And now I see, from TV commercials, that Maruchan is offering instant ramen in cheese sauce? Now, THERE'S an authentic Asian dish for you. Good grief!

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      The 50th anniversary of the 1958 invention of instant ramen by Momofuku Ando, the founder of Nissin Foods, was in August.

                      Chowhound Andy Raskin has a book coming out about him in the spring, The Ramen King and I: How the Inventor of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life.
                      http://www.npr.org/templates/story/st...

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        "Depends entirely on what you are calling "ramen.""

                        Well, since I referred to stuff that's been around a couple hundred years (per wiki), most would deduce that I was talking about "fresh" ramen, not "instant" ramen. =)

                        Though it's easy to disdain instant ramen, it was a staple of mine, at $0.10 ($0.25?)/package, during university. And for that, I'm thankful!

                        1. re: Caroline1

                          "Now, THERE'S an authentic Asian dish for you. Good grief!"

                          Gastronomic Cultures is not a monolith... if you have ever been to a Japanese Bistro, you know that Japan has incorporated elements of Italian cuisine into its own.. making a unique style of cusine that is very distinct from the Italian and also quite attractive for us non-Japanese.

                          If you have never been to Japanese Bistro... these are places where a meal might consist of:

                          > Euro style Salad Greens in a Citrus Ponzu dressing (one of the world's great salads without a doubt).

                          > Spaghetti topped with Shrimp & Mussles in Japanese Curry

                          > Pan Fried Fish served over vegetables poached in seafood broth.

                          > Green Tea Mousse

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            Well, I guess it's my day to be misread. OC, I didn't intend that there is anything wrong with cheap noodles. They've saved more than their share from starvation.

                            EN, I do understand fusion, and the examples you've mentioned are some of the better ones. I just don't subscribe to the school of thought that says deep fried noodles loaded with fat in combination with a (probably fatty) cheese sauce is the paved road to fine dining!

                            At the personal preference leve, Maruchan is not my first choice. Nissin and Ajinomoto both make some truly good instant meals, but admittedly some of them cost over a dollar. A couple are even more than two bucks. But hey, many of them come with TWO packets plus noodles. The vegetable packet AND a sauce packet with "essential oils" like sesame oil, and one even has a third packet of crushed peanuts! I don't know if the trend is any healthier, but it sure tastes a lot better.

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              No, I didn't mean to say YOU disdain instant ramen...but that sometimes, *I* secretly do. =) I'm sorry for not being clearer.

                              Wow...$2/packet! That's expensive! I don't think I could afford to be a university student now.

                              1. re: OCAnn

                                hmmm... Inflation has hit! It was only last year they were $2 a throw. But even at the new prices, they really are worth the price diffence between them and Maruchan. I haven't tried them all because my supermarket runs out of them about an hour after they stock the shelf! Take a look:

                                http://tinyurl.com/4arfp4

                        2. re: OCAnn

                          yes, but if you read the article, the chinese contribution was the noodles/broth. everything else varied on what happened to be available that day via communal sharing. Sai min is derived from Chinese noodles, and by this name only exists as a Hawai'ian dish. BUT this dish exists as other names in other countries (saimian = chinese) (somen = japanese), but the name refers to the noodle/broth combo only. the ingredients change depending on the creator, region, and country.

                          My source: great grandfather that owned island famous Sai min shop on Maui.

                          1. re: discojing

                            While I'll agree that various forms of noodle soup exists in other countries with different names, I would disagree that saimin and soumen are the same....

                    2. re: KaimukiMan

                      Although my experience is limited entirely to Kauai, I know that the owner of Hamura Saimin in Lihue was supposed to be receiving her James Beard Award the day we ate there...and she had declined the invitation to go to New York for it, as she'd have had to close the restaurant! We were very grateful for her decision.

                      It's on Kress St., a block south of Rice, on the corner of Halenani. Lihue Barbecue on the other side of the street has some really good local food as well.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        Hamura's always a sure stop for us in Kauai!

                        1. re: OCAnn

                          We were at a corner of the counter facing the kitchen and found ourselves almost knee-to-knee with another mainland couple. They had just gotten of the plane, and said this is where they always go as soon as they've landed. As it was our first time there they were eager to set us straight on what to order, and I'm glad they did.

                    3. re: Eat_Nopal

                      Full disclosure - since moving to the mainland, I miss Zippys. When I go to HI to visit, I always eat at least one meal there, and it's usually a zip pack, chili or fried chicken. It's comfort food that was a special treat when I was a kid. A lot of CH'rs are down on Zippy's, but I, personally, think a lot of that is undeserved. Zippy's isn't fancy food, but it isn't bad and what they do well, I think they do really well. That said, KM is right, Zipmin is not the best version, but an easy to find one that a lot of locals eat and it has just about everything thrown in there. As an aside, I hope you'll try Zippys at least once - get a zip pack, some chili with rice and fried chicken and have a picnic on the beach! YUM.

                      10-15 years ago, the last time I went to a UH football game, you could get saimin at the stadium. It's also not the best - powdered flavor packet + noodles + kamaboko/spam/green onions + hot water - in a styrofoam cup.

                      Saimin is a Hawaii thing - like KM said, it's based on asian noodles like ramen, etc. but the particulars of saimin are a local tradition.

                      1. re: akq

                        Regarding Zippy's... my chowdar warns me that its local food, not as good as the small mom & pop / hole & the wall places, for a higher price... in an asceptic, safe, middle class environment. Is that a wrong intuition? If that is what Zippy's represents than I have absolutely no interest in it at all.

                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                          that's pretty much it. a "local" denny's. but maybe wednesday morning 3am, its probably gonna be the best you will find. The sushi at the Kahala and Waimalu restaurants is downright good.

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            Zippys isn't really any more expensive than most mom & pop places for the same food. There's also a lot of history there for locals. Plus, imo, it's way better than McD's.

                            1. re: akq

                              I mean this in the most respectable way possible... could you please enlighten me on the history component of Zippy's?

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                In addition to what KM pointed out, a lot of the history for me is in locals' collective experiences with Zippys. In particular, I think about all the chili fundraising - lots of schools and other organizations would sell coupons for Zippys chili as a fundraising item. My mom would buy the tickets for small orders of chili and rice and I'd get to redeem them once in a while as a treat after swim practice. Also, I have great memories of picking up zip packs on the way to the beach park to have a picnic, and the zippys party trays were common at casual parties. Zippys, to me, is a place that is an example of "local done good", a place operated by locals for locals, that has roots in and does a lot for, the community at large. It's your choice whether to try it out, but I think, personally, that Zippys establishes a pretty good baseline for a lot of local food.

                                1. re: akq

                                  Okay... I am convinced... I will set aside my snobbery & give it a try. I particularly liked your analysis: "but I think, personally, that Zippys establishes a pretty good baseline for a lot of local food."

                                  I share that same philosophy with regards to Sanborn's

                            2. re: Eat_Nopal

                              I'm sure akq will have history to share, but you might start out with this

                              http://archives.starbulletin.com/2004...

                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                Ah I get it... thanx. I like this Higa character. Not sure how I "feel" about Zippy's the only chains I tend to respect are those that cook from scratch on the premises... which I think many Mom & Pops do.

                        2. re: akq

                          FWIW the saimin I've had in SoCal Hawaiian joints doesn't have a strong fish/bonito flake flavor, perhaps due to the convenience factor. It usually has green onion, udon type noodles, char siu, bok choy and other veggies, fish cake, optionally won tons/gyoza in a clear chicken/veggie broth. No Spam. I've never had a resto version with linguica, but it's on my fridge 'to do' list.

                          Good links here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saimin

                          E_N, Mar Vista isn't too far from Gardena :-). What's the back story?

                          1. re: DiveFan

                            "E_N, Mar Vista isn't too far from Gardena :-). What's the back story?"

                            Huh?

                            1. re: DiveFan

                              Er, just my obtuse way of asking why your excellent nose didn't sniff out saimin before. Hard to beat on a cold day, or when you are sick. Hawaiian penicillin :-).

                              1. re: DiveFan

                                =) Ah... you know in L.A. when I was sick... it was all about a bowl of Caldo de Res / Pollo, a Jugo with beets, carrot, orange etc, and a nice glass of Tequila con Limon!

                          2. Congrats EN. I've been waiting for you to expand your Chow ways in Hawaii - a Pacific post of many Asian cuisines that have evolved, made some mixes, some mis-matches, and have produced some things unique to the Islands. While you will undoubtedly increase the awareness of your new neighbors as to what is Mexican, I'm glad you're exploring the bakeries, the saimin, the Hawaiian Asian foods ... an' by all mean, brudda, you canna be Hound kine if no go try Zippy.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              You will be proud... I am toying around with the idea of holding a Spam Cooking competition at work. Should I go Chez Pannisse and present Spam on the Half Can... or maybe I can go Naco with a Fideos Secos Spamados?

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                "High class" French preparations! Yes, you have to do it.

                            2. personally, the saimin at McDonalds isnt great - but its eddible. unfortunately, it was your very first time eating it from a mediocre source.

                              and its not unusual that McDonalds in Hawaii has saimin on the menu - McDonalds is a large and smart company that goes with the food that does well regionally. for example, in Inida they sell curried and vegetarian products - in japan they sell a shrimp type burger. so really, its not weird at all for McDonalds to have such things as saimin, taro pie, spam and eggs breakfast or anything like that.

                              ALSO, i do not think that saimin is like ramen and pho's love child..... i've always known saimin as just another name for ramen. and pho? completely different dish altogether. just b/c they both have noodles and broth, doesnt make them the same - that is like saying chicken noodle soup is like saimin.... when its not.

                              and i think we all rely on wikipedia a little too much - afterall, the info on there isnt the most reputable.....

                              12 Replies
                              1. re: kimcheesoup

                                my information is anecdotal, but my brother used to work at the Aina Haina McDonald's. He also learned that Hawaii was the first place that McDonald's considered modifying their standard menu (remember, this was back in the 60's). All the adaptation that McDonald's has undergone around the world (allegedly) started with that first bowl of saimin.

                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                  The curious thing is that on the McDonald's website they have a drop down menu in the upper right corner where you can choose from somewhere around 50 different countries' and regions' menus, but NO Hawaii...! Ya gotta go to Wikepedia for that. Go figure?

                                2. re: kimcheesoup

                                  It's my understanding that saimin noodles are egg-based and the soup is dashi stock. Ramen noodles do not have egg in them and the soup is based on pork. I don't think they're the same.

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    i've seen packaged "ramen" that is chicken flavored, miso flavored, etc..... same goes for the type of noodles - the type of noodles (egg or other wise) and the type of broth, or shiro as my mother calls it (dashi, pork, or otherwise) does not make the dish "ramen" or "saimin" - whoever told you that information must have been mis-informed.

                                    1. re: kimcheesoup

                                      If ramen vs. saimin doesn't have anything to do with the type of noodles or the type of stock, then how would you define them? Please inform us.

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                        as i said before in a previous reply (see above, Oct. 17th, 08) i've always just known "saimin" as another way of saying "ramen".

                                        the only people i ever hear using the term "ramen" are native Japanese or from the mainland. anyone who is local to Hawaii usually uses "saimin" as the term to refer to the same dish known as "ramen" - thus making the term "saimin" probably some slang that started years ago, whereas "ramen" is a Japanese term addressing the same dish.

                                        its like saying "jumpers" or "cover-alls" vs saying "over-alls" its different terminology for the same thing.

                                        i was trying to express this "local terminology" through my past reply (Oct. 17th) when i was talking about how McDonald's puts regional dishes to increase sales in different places; appealing to different customers.

                                        as i recall in this string - you should have already read what i have previously written b/c you replied to me on Oct. 18th - see above.

                                        keep in mind - this is just how i happen to know it..... if I am wrong, please inform ME. and maybe we shouldnt take this so personal..... like i said before, i have SEEN packaged "ramen" with different types of noodles and broths - so obviously "ramen" and "saimin" are probably the same thing b/c there is NO clear distinction of any particular broth OR noodles.

                                        1. re: kimcheesoup

                                          Ramen and saimin are two different types of noodle soup....

                                          1. re: OCAnn

                                            please elaborate. i tend to agree that saimin and ramen are inherently different, but with only 30 years living here, i could very well be wrong. If as Melanie Wong asks, ramen can be different kinds of noodles and broth, but simply means "noodle soup" then saimin could be considered a form of ramen. please educate us.

                                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                                              Maybe the confusion stems from that folks from the islands interchange ramen and saimin. But as Melanie Wong noted earlier, saimin noodles contain eggs, ramen noodles do not.

                                              Put it this way: pizza (or noodle soup), has its basic ingredients: crust, sauce & cheese (noodle & soup for noodle soup). However, there's a difference between NY & Chicago style pizzas: thickness of the crust being the biggest factor. However, if you grew up outside of those two areas, you'd consider a pizza a pizza, regardless of the style of crust. While they're both pizzas, they're not the same type of pizza. So while ramen and saimin are both noodle soup, they're not the same thing. And primairly, saimin pasta/noodles contain egg; ramen does not.

                                              1. re: OCAnn

                                                i understand all of these replies - the people commenting on here are trying to make a distinction between ramen and saimin - i get that. so far the general consensus from what i am reading is that what separates ramen and saimin are what the noodles are made of, and possibly the type of broth, correct?

                                                so i ask - why is it (as i've said twice before) i've seen packaged "ramen" with egg ingredients and varying types of broth?

                                                i'm just working with what i've experienced, so in my opinion (not fact, but my personal opinion) they are the same.

                                                and another question - i know where the word ramen comes from, but where did "saimin" come from? maybe that will help clear things up a bit.

                                                1. re: kimcheesoup

                                                  Instant ramen isn't necessarily the same thing as what you find at a ramen-ya. I think "ramen" has become a term that, confusingly, is used to describe many different types of packaged noodle products than can be Japanese, Chinese, Korean or other.

                                                  1. re: kimcheesoup

                                                    since my above reply - i have found this article today in the advertiser.
                                                    Wanda Adams, i find, is a reliable source. if you want to get "specific", according to her, "Saimin" is a local hybrid - "Sai Mien" is Chinese and "Ramen" is Japanese. either way, good article - read on.....

                                                    http://www.honoluluadvertiser.com/art...

                                  2. OK, so I woke up at quarter to three this morning and all I could think about was saimin. Next thing I know I'm at zippys with a small saimin, extra garnish, and a slice of teri beef.

                                    I'm blaming all of you....hahaha

                                    ps: while i was sitting there eating it, I couldn't help but wonder what EN was doing at McDonald's in the first place (but glad you tried the taro pie too.)

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                      Ha, ha! A 2 year old who has lost interest in food.. I remembered she once scarfed down a McD cheeseburger so it was worth a try.

                                    2. My mom's mom (my grandma) and her family are hawaiian filipinos. Saimin is common snack and festival food. born iSaimin should have noodles that are not too soft- kind of like good pasta. The broth should be flavorful like good pho. Go where the locals go. Ask random people and they will probably gladly tell you where they're favorite saimin place is.

                                      1. I'm rebooting this old discussion for a reason. I finally got around to trying Jane's fountain in Liliha. I got the small won ton mein and one bbq stick. The noodles were really good. not overcooked, and nicely chewy. The won ton was also good, don't know if they make it in house or not. I thought the broth was tasty, if a bit weak. While it isn't overly salty, its not got much flavor at all. There was a generous number of won ton, although I didn't count, and there was plenty of luncheon meat/spam along with a slice of kamaboko and a little roast pork.

                                        The bbq stick was fine, three or four decent slices of beef marinated in teriyaki sauce. Maybe nothing to write home about, but it hit the spot. For the won ton mien and bbq stick it was just about $7, not a bad deal.