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Saimin, Hawaii's Noodle Soup

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Saimin is Hawaii's favorite noodle soup dish! Made from wheat and egg noodles and a dashi-based broth, this is a clean, refreshing dish with many great toppings like spam, egg, kamaboko, and green onions. Learn everything you need to know about saimin (history, where to eat, recipe, and more) in this post ^_^

Bowls of saimin, ready to eat.
Saimin, ready to eat!

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.

Bowl of saimin at Zippy's
Saimin at Zippy's (all islands).

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.

Saimin at Liliha Bakery.
Saimin at Liliha Bakery (Oahu).

Origins of Saimin

Like many iconic Hawaii foods (Spam musubi, shave ice, malasadas, etc.) saimin was born from a blend of many cultures.

Saimin at Zippy's.
Saimin at Zippy's (all islands).

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!

Saimin from Hamura Saimin Stand.
The Special Saimin + bbq stick at Hamura Saimin (Kauai).

How is Saimin Different from Ramen?

Saimin is 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).
Saimin at Blue Ginger Cafe (Lanai).

Saimin Broth

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 in Honolulu.
The saimin aisle at Times Supermarket in Honolulu.

Samin Noodles

Saimin noodles are soft wheat and egg noodles. You can find fresh saimin noodles easily in Hawaii (even at the local drugstore and Costco 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.

Packages of saimin noodles and seasoning powder from the supermarket.
Fresh saimin noodles from Sun Noodle.

Most saimin noodle packages include seasoning packets (which is basically a dried dashi broth) 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. We have a recipe for a simple and tasty broth at the bottom of this post.

Kalua pig and mushroom saimin at Merriman's Waimea (Big Island)
Kalua pig and mushroom saimin at Merriman's Waimea (Big Island).

Saimin Toppings

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
  • Spam
  • 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
  • Mushrooms
  • Wontons
  • Fried shrimp / shrimp tempura

Fried Saimin at Star Noodle (Maui).
Fried Saimin at Star Noodle (Maui).

Variations on Saimin

Popular variations on traditional saimin include fried saimin and dry mein:

Saimin and other dishes at Shige's Saimin Stand.
Saimin at Shige's Saimin Stand (Oahu).

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. 
  • 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 ^_^

Bowl of saimin from McDonald's.
Saimin from McDonald's Hawaii.
  • 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).

Bowl of saimin from Papa Kurts.
Saimin from Papa Kurt's (Oahu).
  • 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. Full Shiro's post here.
  • Punahou Carnival (Oahu) - Don't forget to try saimin at the annual Punahou Carnival (the first weekend of every February). Pair it with a bbq chicken stick.
  • Papa Kurt's (Oahu) - A new school version of the old school saimin shops! Make it a complete meal with saimin and the super good teri burger.
  • 7-Eleven Hawaii (All Islands) - You can even visit 7-Eleven Hawaii to satisfy your ramen cravings. They have instant ready-to-go bowls. Just add hot water, wait a few minutes, and then eat!

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."

Want to make saimin at home?

Fresh saimin noodles and little bowls with popular saimin toppings.
Saimin noodles and toppings.

Ingredients

Ingredients are divided into 3 separate categories:

Noodles

  • 2 bundles saimin noodles (fresh or frozen)

Quick Broth

Toppings

  • Spam
  • Scrambled egg
  • Kamaboko (fishcake)
  • Green onions

Bowls of saimin, ready to eat.
Everyone love saimin ^_^

Step by Step Directions

Here's how:

  1. Make the broth. Bring the chicken broth to a boil, then add in the dashi powder and soy sauce. Keep the broth at a simmer while you prepare the noodles.
  2. Boil the noodles according to package instructions. Drain and divide between two bowls.
  3. Pour the broth over the noodles. Add the toppings.
  4. Eat hot and enjoy!
A bowl of saimin with a teri beef stick on top.
Saimin with a teri beef stick, classic combo!

FAQs and Tips

About the saimin broth.

There are many ways to make saimin broth and this recipe features a quick and easy version. If you have time, you can make the dashi broth from scratch, and cook with chicken, spareribs, dried shrimp, ginger, and shitake mushrooms to give the broth lots of deep flavor. We'll do this for special occasions, but mostly just stick with homemade chicken broth seasoned with dashi powder and soy sauce.

More toppings!

We usually just do the classic combo of spam, egg, kamaboko (fishcake), and green onions. Other popular toppings include char siu, bean sprouts, and wonton. If you add wontons, the name of this dish changes to "wonton saimin" (you'll see it on the menu at saimin shops).

Eat with what?

Saimin is excellent on it's own, but even better with a teri beef (or chicken) stick...recipe coming soon ^_^

Great for groups.

Saimin is fun to serve for a big family lunch at home. Make a giant pot of the broth in advance. Boil the noodles and let everyone assemble their own "personalized" saimin bowls. We put all the toppings on the dining table and it's a fun, interactive lunch.

Saimin Recipe

See below and enjoy ^_^

Bowls of saimin, ready to eat.

Saimin

Yield: 2-3 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

This is a quick, easy, and onolicious saimin recipe that you can make at home! It's made with a chicken and dashi broth, saimin noodles (substitute ramen noodles if you can't find saimin noodles), and all the classic saimin toppings!

Ingredients

Noodles

  • 2 bundles saimin noodles (fresh or frozen)

Quick Broth

Toppings

Instructions

  1. Make the broth. Bring the chicken broth to a boil, then add in the dashi powder, soy sauce, and ginger. Simmer the broth for 15-30 minutes.
  2. Boil the saimin noodles according to package instructions. Drain and divide between two bowls.
  3. Pour the broth over the noodles. Add the toppings.
  4. Eat hot and enjoy!

Mochi from Nisshodo Mochiya.
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