Saimin is Hawaii's favorite noodle soup dish. This post covers: what is saimin, origins of saimin, different types, and most important...where to eat saimin!
Saimin at Zippy's (all islands)
Fresh noodles, hot, clear broth, and all the good local toppings. Don't forget chopsticks! Let's dig into that bowl of saimin ^_^
What is Saimin?
Saimin is Hawaii's noodle soup dish. The Chinese have wonton mein, Japanese have ramen, Hawaii has saimin! There are three main parts to saimin (more detail about each part further down the post):
- Broth - clear, dashi-based broth
- Noodles - wheat noodles, light and springy
- Toppings - kamaboko (fish cake), char siu, and green onions
We eat saimin for lunch, dinner and even breakfast. It's clean and light (but still flavorful) and is good at all times of the day. You can find classic saimin at local restaurants on all the islands, fancy versions at fine dining restaurants, and not-fancy version at the local 7-11 and McDonald's Hawaii. Or you can buy saimin noodles at the supermarket and make it at home. Saimin is accessible, tasty, and very Hawaii.
Origins of Saimin
Saimin was invented during Hawaii's plantation era in the late 1800s. During this time, different ethnic groups worked together on the sugar plantation fields. The Chinese made mein/noodle soups, the Japanese made ramen, and Filipinos made pancit.
Dining in groups and eating communal meals were typical, and all the different noodles and soups were shared between the ethnic groups. Ingredients and cooking styles were traded, flavors were adjusted, a bit of this was added and then a bit of that...and from that came the creation of saimin, Hawaii's noodle soup!
The Special Saimin + bbq stick at Hamura Saimin (Kauai)
How is Saimin Different from Ramen?
Saimin gets compared to ramen more often than any other kind of noodle soup. This is because the base of saimin soup broth is dashi (a Japanese soup stock made from konbu/dried kelp and bonito flakes). But saimin and ramen are different in many ways:
- Saimin noodles are made of wheat flour and eggs. Ramen noodles are made of wheat flour but do not include eggs.
- Saimin broth is generally a lot lighter than ramen broth.
- Samin noodles are softer/less chewy and not as curly.
Saimin at Blue Ginger Cafe (Lanai)
The most basic saimin broth is dashi. Dashi and a bit of salt can go a long way. But from there, people make more complex broths by adding ingredients like dried shrimp, dried shiitake mushrooms, chicken and pork bones, and even dried scallops. Ginger is also a common addition.
The saimin aisle at Times Supermarket (1290 S Beretania Street, Honolulu)
Saimin noodles are soft wheat and egg noodles. You can find fresh saimin noodles easily in Hawaii (and at many Asian markets on the mainland). These are the three main brands you'll see:
- Okahara Saimin (white/red bag) - Okahara Saimin Factory is based on Waiola Street in Honolulu. In addition to plain saimin noodles, they also sell a fried saimin kit and ready-to-eat saimin containers (just add hot water).
- Sun Noodle Original Saimin (white bag) - Many people don't know Sun Noodle is from Hawaii! It's funny when my NYC friends talk about Sun Noodles, and I'm like hey, we grew up eating Sun Noodle. They make many different types of noodles in addition to saimin noodles.
- S&S Saimin (green/red bag) - fyi, Sun Noodle bought S&S Saimin from Itoen in 2006. They also sell ready-to-eat saimin containers like Okahara. Full post on Sun Noodle here.
Sun Noodle Saimin at Costco Hawaii
All the saimin noodle packages include seasoning packets (which is basically a dried dashi powder) with the noodles. All you have to do is boil the noodles and add the seasoning. Add your own toppings. OR you can toss out the seasoning packet and make your own saimin broth.
Kalua pig and mushroom saimin at Merriman's Waimea (Big Island)
Though each place has their own style and preferred toppings, we can agree these are the standard saimin toppings you see most often:
- Kamaboko (the pink and white Japanese fish cake)
- Char siu
- Bean sprouts
- Scrambled, sliced egg
- Green onions
If you go to a place that has "fancy saimin," you may also find these toppings:
- Kalua pig
- Shoyu egg or hard boiled egg
- Fried shrimp / shrimp tempura
Fried Saimin at Star Noodle (Maui)
Variations on Saimin
Popular variations on traditional saimin include fried saimin and dry mein:
- Fried Samin is made of saimin noodles that are boiled then stir fried (with the same toppings as regular saimin). No broth.
- Dry Noodles (also called Dry Mein) is made of saimin noodles that are boiled, tossed with a seasoning sauce, and topped with regular saimin toppings. This typically comes with a cup on broth on the side for drinking, dunking, or drizzling. Sam Sato's (Maui) is most famous place in Hawaii for dry noodles.
The Special Saimin at Hamura Saimin (Kauai)
Where to Get Saimin
There are so many places to eat saimin in Hawaii, but this list should get you started (and covered on all islands). We'll keep adding on to this list over time so that it will always be updated ^_^
- Zippy's (all islands) - Always reliable, always good. A afternoon snack pairing I like is: one small saimin and one order of chili fries. So good. At the locations with full table service you can go all our with the "Zip Min" which includes all the saimin toppings plus won tun, fried shrimp, and choy sum. It's basically like a deluxe saimin.
- McDonald's Hawaii (all islands) - Super neat how McDonald's Hawaii has a lot of Hawaii-only dishes including saimin! If you try McDonald's saimin, please also try the saimin at other local gems so you can taste and compare.
- Liliha Bakery (Oahu) - This is where my grandma likes to go for saimin (specifically the Ala Moana location). They add corn and nori in addition to the standard topping (kamaboko, ham, green onions).
- Palace Saimin (Oahu) - One of the old school classics in Kalihi. Opened since 1946!
- Shiro's Saimin Haven (Oahu) - The saimin noodles are housemade daily at Shiro's, and the menu is long. We love the classic saimin best, but there are over 60 different topping combinations to choose from.
- Shige's Saimin Stand (Oahu) - A local favorite in Wahiawa. Also has homemade saimin noodles. Go-to order: saimin, teri cheeseburger and a bbq stick. They also make a super good fried saimin. Full Shige's post here ^_^
Teriyaki chicken saimin at Saimin Dojo (Kauai)
- Merriman's (Big Island) - Come here for fancy saimin, topped with kalua pig and mushrooms.
- Blue Ginger Cafe (Lanai) - The classic saimin with all the right toppings.
- Sam Sato's (Maui) - A Maui institution opened since 1933. Famous for dry noodles / dry mein.
- Star Noodle (Maui) - They make their saimin noodles in house. Try the "local saimin" for a taste of the classic, and the "Fried Saimin" for the fried version.
- Saimin Dojo (Kauai) - Six kinds of saimin! Including a vegan version.
- Hamura Saimin (Kauai) - A must for any Kauai visitor. Open since 1952, lots of saimin offers. I like the "Special Saimin."