Posts Tagged ‘saimin noodles’

Saimin Adventures – The Search for Hawaii’s Best Saimin – Part I

November 1, 2012

It wasn’t long after wrapping up the final part in my 5 part series on Hawaii’s best ramen, that people started harassing me. “You need to cover saimin now!” “What about Hawaii’s best saimin places!?”

As good as their suggestions were, prior to my interview with Sun Noodle president Hidehito Uki, I was a full-on ramen snob. I would normally only “stoop” to eating saimin out of desperation. At Zippy’s, in a drunken state, during the wee hours of night during our clubbin’ days. When driving to a ramen place in town was too far. Or when your whole group agrees on a saimin place and it’s too late to renege on your previous “up to you” comment.

I’m of course exaggerating (I love anything with noodles!), but Mr. Uki seriously slapped some saimin sense in me with his life changing, epiphanic quote:

“Each area in Japan has their own, unique style of ramen. Kyushu has Hakata style (tonkotsu), Hokkaido has Sapporo style (miso)… Saimin is Hawaii’s style of ramen.”

Sun Noodle's Hidehito Uki during our Hawaii Ramen Quest - Part V interview back in February
Sun Noodle’s Hidehito Uki during our “Hawaii Ramen Quest – Part V” interview back in February

Hellooooo!? The world now made perfect sense to me. And with that, I was no longer a ramen snob, ready to tackle the next noodle adventure around the state. “Saimin Adventures”, here we come!

We start with my favorite saimin place in the state: Shige’s Saimin Stand in Wahiawa.

Shige's Saimin Stand sign
Shige’s Saimin Stand sign

Living and working in the often chilly Central Oahu, it’s easy to pay this place a visit at least once a week to warm the ol’ soul. But it’s not because of convenience that Shige’s tops my list for local style saimin, it’s taste.

Large Wunton Mein
Large Wunton Mein

Although their menu boasts a fair amount of alternatives like Hamburger Steak, Loco Moco, Fried Saimin, Roast Beef Sandwiches, and udon, I *always* order their Wunton Mein. I just can’t bring myself to go to Shige’s and NOT order saimin. The soup base is “clean” & subtle, and not overbearing, while the homemade, signature, flat noodles is always soft and never clumpy (my pet peeve). The balance of noodles to Wunwon/garnishes (another pet peeve of mine) is also jussssst riiiight.

If I’m hungry (or I have someone to share it with), I like to order their BBQ Cheeseburger on the side to round out my meal. She go!

Large Wunton Mein and BBQ Cheeseburger
Large Wunton Mein and BBQ Cheeseburger

I did notice a sudden increase in their prices lately, but I think it’s only because I’ve been spoiled to their 80s style pricing up until now.

Shige’s Saimin Stand
70 Kukui Street
Wahiawa, HI 96786 (Street View)
(808) 621-3621
Mon-Thu: 10am-10pm
Fri & Sat: 10am-midnight
Closed Sundays

The next place has been somewhere I’ve been trying to get to for a long time: Nakai Saimin. There is a family association between Shige’s and Nakai (the noodles are based on the same recipe), and since Shige’s is up there on my list, I wanted to see how Nakai compared. So I enlisted the help of Twitter friends and Nakai regulars Russ Sumida (@ParkRat), Brandon Suyeoka (@WeHeartHawaii) and Rick Nakama (@RickNakama).

Russ Sumida, Brandon Suyeoka and Rick Nakama outside Nakai Saimin
Russ Sumida, Brandon Suyeoka and Rick Nakama outside Nakai Saimin

The first thing you notice is the soup base. It’s clearer with a tad less flavor. And I’m hoping I caught them on a bad day, but remember how I said that my pet peeve was clumpy noodles? There were some elements of clumpiness going on there. It seemed that the noodles and the won ton may’ve been of the previously frozen variety.

Small Won Ton Mein ($5.95)
Small Won Ton Mein ($5.95)

For good measure, I thought I’d give their popular BBQ Stick a try.

BBQ Stick ($2.75)
BBQ Stick ($2.75)

Although it wasn’t as hard/crisp as what I’m used to with BBQ sticks (which may actually be a good thing), this one had good flavor throughout.

I’m willing to go back again for sure, but if I had to pick a winner between Shige’s and Nakai (based on this visit), I would have to give it to Shige’s. The boys didn’t agree with me.

 


Russ Sumida, Brandon Suyeoka and Rick Nakama give their review of Nakai Saimin

Nakai is expanding both their hours (see below) and their footprint. Rumor has it that another Nakai Saimin recently opened up in Haleiwa, the town where it actually all started (their original location was in Haleiwa back in the ’50s).

Nakai Saimin
1329 Nuuanu Ave
Honolulu, HI 96813 (Street View)
(808) 531-9000
Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri: 6am-2:30pm (Breakfast & Lunch)
Fri: 5:30pm-9pm (Dinner)
Sat: 7am-2:30pm (Breakfast & Lunch)
Sat: 5:30pm-9pm (Dinner)
Sun: 7am-3:30pm (Breakfast & Lunch)
Wed: Closed

Lastly, let’s pay a visit to everyone’s favorite late night eatery: Zippy’s! Like Shige’s, it’s difficult for me to go there and NOT get the saimin. In this case, it’s Zippy’s signature favorite: the Zip Min.

Zip Min (Saimin noodles, wun tun, breaded shrimp, choi sum, fishcake, dried seaweed, egg, sweet pork, and green onions.
Zip Min (Saimin noodles, wun tun, breaded shrimp, choi sum, fishcake, dried seaweed, egg, sweet pork, and green onions.

In a recent visit there, the wun tun had a noticeably different (and stronger/”garlic-y”) taste. Over the years, the portions – as with many of the other menu items here – seem to be shrinking while the cost continues to rise. A sign of the economic times I suppose.

Zippy’s
Locations: Varied
Hours: Varied
808-973‑0880

Look for more during our “Saimin Adventures” where we explore the famous noodles from places like Hamura’s on Kauai, Sam Sato’s on Maui and Shiro’s right here on Oahu. If you have any other suggestions for places I should visit (yes, Palace is on my list! 🙂 ), leave a comment for me below.

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Hawaii Ramen Quest – Part V

February 1, 2012
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV |  Part V 

Although varying in sizes and flavors, many of the ramen shops we covered in this series have one thing in common: their noodles are supplied by the same, local, noodle factory based right here in Hawaii. So what better way to close this series out than with where ramen in Hawaii all begins… Sun Noodle.

Outside Sun Noodle's Honolulu Factory
Outside Sun Noodle’s Honolulu Factory

At the helm of it all is Sun Noodle Founder and President Mr. Hidehito Uki who started the business more than 30 years ago (founded way back on July 10, 1981). Uki-san in fact comes from a noodle making bloodline. His family had a fresh noodle making “ya” (store) in the Tochigi Prefecture (then) named the Ikeda Noodle Company. Here, he perfected the art of “men” before moving to Hawaii.

Sun Noodle President Mr. Hidehito Uki
Sun Noodle President Mr. Hidehito Uki

While studying ESL (English as a Second Language) here at Hawaii Pacific University (Hawaii Pacific College at the time), he would often eat at local ramen shops looking for a place that reminded him of home. Frustrated, he set out to do something about it and that’s how Sun Noodle was born.

“There’s nothing more powerful than the sun. When you think of Hawaii, you think of the sun. That’s why I named the business Sun Noodle.”

His 10,000 square foot Honolulu factory on Colburn Street can produce up to 30,000 servings of raw noodles per 8 hour day. They churn out over 100 products like yakisoba, udon, chow fun, pancit, gyoza and won ton wrappers, and, for ramen alone, they make over 30 different styles!

Overlooking the Sun Noodle factory from above
Overlooking the Sun Noodle factory from above

Amazingly, even with that many choices, Mr. Uki’s philosophy is that every noodle order must be custom made for his clients based, on the flavor of their soup.

“Every soup our customer makes is their personality. The noodles and the soup have to have a nice combination. Even if you make good noodles and good soup, if it doesn’t match, it’s no good. That’s why we go out there and taste the soup from each client and try to figure out what noodle would go best with that particular soup. We keep trying until we get it right. Sometimes I spend months to find the perfect noodle to match their soup.”

Most of his factory’s noodles start with the same base: flour, water, salt and potassium carbonate. It is the variances in flour type and water that makes all the difference.

“We are lucky to have good water here in Hawaii. It makes good noodles.”

The ingredients are thrown in (by hand) to a large vat…

Sun Noodle employee throwing in the ingredients for this batch of noodles
Sun Noodle employee throwing in the ingredients for this batch of noodles

… where it is mixed together…

Ingredients are mixed together
Ingredients are mixed together

… and flattened into a thin sheet by automated machinery. Large rolls of these flattened concoctions are then fed into another machine…

Large flour rolls feeding into the machine that cuts them into noodles
Large flour rolls feeding into the machine that cuts them into noodles

… which slices and dices them into their famous noodle shape.

Where noodles are cut into their famous shape(s)
Where noodles are cut into their famous shape(s)

Some are straight, some are wavy, and some even have a different color to them (based on the type of flour). Here’s a batch of noodles being prepared for Zippy’s Restaurants’ famous Zip Min.

Noodles for Zippy's Restaurants' Zip Min
Noodles for Zippy’s Restaurants’ Zip Min

Depending on what is being made, the noodles are then either packaged right there or sent off to the steaming/cooking room where they (usually yakisoba or udon) take a bath before being packaged.

Trays of yakisoba noodles are cooked in hot water before being packaged
Trays of yakisoba noodles are cooked in hot water before being packaged

For a while, he tried to service his mainland customers out of this factory alone, but it proved to be a difficult task with them being spread throughout California, Washington, Nevada, Vancouver BC (Canada), and parts of the East Coast. Ultimately, in order to provide the freshest noodles possible to his mainland customers, he decided to open up another factory in the greater Los Angeles area (on W Mahalo Place ironically) in 2004. Not satisfied, he will soon open up another factory in the New Jersey area so that his East Coast customers and their clientele get the freshest Sun Noodles they can get.

“Providing fresh noodle is the best! Instead of making the noodles in L.A., freezing it, and shipping it to the East Coast, we decided to make a factory in the East Coast so we can provide the freshest noodles possible.”

During the tour, I asked Mr. Uki what he thought of Saimin (compared to ramen), and his answer, which I really enjoyed, gave me that ultimate “a-ha” moment.

“Each area in Japan has their own, unique style of ramen. Kyushu has Hakata style (tonkotsu), Hokkaido has Sapporo style (miso)… Saimin is Hawaii’s style of ramen.”

I never thought of it that way, but it’s very true! I now have a new found appreciation for saimin. Being from Hawaii, I’m required to be proud of it. 😉

I also asked him what his thoughts were on slurping as a custom. I once asked my parents (who are also from Japan) why people slurp so loudly when eating their ramen. They told me that it is a sign of respect and appreciation for the ramen chef. It tells them that the noodles are delicious and is the ultimate compliment you can give to them. Mr. Uki had a different explanation:

“It looks tasty if you slurp your noodles. If you don’t smell the noodles, you can’t taste it. Of course, when you slurp, you bring in the air, which is important to help you smell and taste the ramen. Nowadays, even the non-Japanese community is starting to slurp their noodles.”

In my brief conversation with Mr. Uki, I could tell that his passion for noodles ran deep.

“We try to make the best noodle possible. We will try to make best noodle market in Hawaii for everybody to enjoy ramen.”

He truly loves what he does and best exemplifies what I love so much about ramen: a warm base with humble beginnings… Here’s to another 30 years!

 

Mahalo for following along during this obsessive, noodle & soup-filled expedition. Although the Hawaii Ramen Quest series has come to an end, the journey continues. See y’all at the next ramen stop!

Note: R.I.P. to Hawaii Journalism legend Mr. John Heckathorn who also covered Hidehito Uki and Sun Noodle in his noodle series: “In Search of the Ultimate Noodle“.

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV |  Part V