We don’t stop dreaming and exploring because we grow old. We grow old because we stop dreaming and exploring.
Most people take one look at saimin and assume it’s Japanese. After all, it sure does look like ramen. But if you look closer, you’ll notice a light, clear broth rather than the heavy, thick broth you find in most ramen joints. And then there are the toppings. They look the same, but also different. Ramen is usually topped with some mix of chashu (roasted pork), menma (seasoned bamboo shoot), tamago (usually a soft-boiled shoyu egg), bean sprouts, negi (green onion), kamaboko (fish cake), and even canned corn, whereas saimin is typically topped with a combination of char siu, egg omelet strips, bean sprouts, green onion, kamaboko, chopped won bok (napa cabbage), and boiled wontons. Saimin noodles are made with egg, like fresh chow mein noodles. According to food historians, saimin has Chinese roots, as does, coincidentally, ramen! Sai mihn (Cantonese for “thin noodle”) looks pretty Chinese to me, but you be the judge.
My favorite saimin noodles come from Iwamoto Natto Factory in Pā’iu, Maui. They make the noodles for Sam Sato’s, a local favorite for dishes like saimin and their famed dry mein . While you don’t need to make your own, I’ve included a recipe for them in case you don’t have access to fresh noodles. It’s worth noting that a pasta machine with a spaghetti cutter is required to make them. If you’re on the West or East Coast, look for Sun Noodle brand.
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 cups cool water
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 3½ cups bread flour
- 3½ cups cake flour
- 1 cup cornstarch
- Dashi Broth
- 5 quarts water
- One 1½-pound smoked ham hock or shank
- 1 pound chicken drumsticks or wings
- 1 ounce dried shrimp (opae; I buy Family Food Company’s from Marukai Market)
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms, rinsed
- 5 or 6 green onions
- 1 teaspoon Hawaiian salt (‘alaea)
- One 4-inch piece kombu, wiped clean with a wet paper towel
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce (shoyu)
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- Recommended Garnishes
- Char Siu Pork , julienned
- Fish cake (kamaboko), sliced (see Note)
- Chopped green onions
- Spam, julienned
- Thin strips of fried egg omelet
- Bean sprouts
- Chopped napa cabbage (won bok)
- Boiled wontons
To make the noodles, begin by preheating the oven to 250°F. Line a small rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spread the baking soda on it in a thin, even layer. Bake for 1 hour and let cool completely before using. Be careful not to touch the baked baking soda because, once baked, it becomes more alkaline and can irritate your skin.
Once the baking soda is cool, whisk it in a bowl with the kosher salt and cool water, stirring until the baking soda is dissolved. Next, whisk the eggs into the mixture. Combine both flours in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer to low speed and, working in four equal additions, slowly pour in the baking soda mixture in a steady stream. Be sure to let the mixer run a little before the next addition. Halfway through, when the dough starts to come together, replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and knead at medium-low speed until the dough becomes a rough but mostly formed ball, 8 to 10 minutes. Be sure to scrape down the sides at times, if necessary. (If at any point it seems like your mixer is working too hard, turn the dough out and knead by hand.) When the dough is a roughly formed ball, turn it out onto the counter and knead it into a smooth ball. Return it to the bowl and cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Let it rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
Press the ball of dough down into a disk and cut it into sixteen equal-size pieces. Return all but one piece to the bowl and re-cover the bowl with the damp kitchen towel (re-dampening it if necessary). Either roll the piece out with a rolling pin, or flatten and work it in the palm of your hand until it’s about ¼ inch thick and somewhat rectangular. Run the flattened piece through a pasta machine at the widest setting. Do this three times total, then fold the piece into thirds, like a letter. Flatten the “letter” with the rolling pin or your hands again until it’s ¼ inch thick. Run the “letter,” seam side on the left, through the pasta machine three times total. Repeat the rolling and folding process two more times, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Now, turn the dial of your pasta machine one click to a narrower setting and run the dough through three times (you will not be folding anymore). Turn the dial one more click and run the dough through three more times. Repeat this until the dough is 1⁄16 inch thick. Cut the sheet of dough into foot-long sheets, coat both sides of each sheet with a generous dusting of the cornstarch, and stack on a rimmed baking sheet. Cover the sheets of dough with a clean kitchen towel. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
Fit the pasta machine with the spaghetti cutter and run each dough sheet through the cutter. Cover the cut noodles with the clean kitchen towel until they are all cut, then divide them into eight equal portions and set aside. If not cooking immediately, package the eight servings and refrigerate or freeze for later use. The noodles will keep in an airtight container for 3 days in the refrigerator or 1 month in the freezer.
To prepare the dashi broth, in a large stockpot, combine the water with the ham hock, chicken drumsticks, dried shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, green onions, salt, and kombu. Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the mixture is boiling, remove the kombu. Turn the heat to medium and simmer for 2 hours. Strain the broth through a large fine-mesh sieve into another large stockpot. Reserve the chicken and ham hock for another purpose, if you’d like. Place the strained broth over medium-low heat and add the soy sauce and mirin. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; if desired, for a clearer broth, bring a second large pot of water to a boil. If you have a noodle basket, place one serving of noodles in it and give a quick rinse under the kitchen faucet to remove any excess cornstarch. Boil the noodles, in the basket, until they rise to the surface, 1 to 3 minutes. Fresh noodles should be done in about a minute; older or frozen noodles will take longer. If using two pots, drain the noodles and move them to the other pot of boiling water for a quick rinse.
Place the noodles in a bowl and ladle the broth over. Serve the noodles with any of the recommended garnishes.
Note: Kamaboko (fish cake) is a processed seafood product usually sold as a semicylindrical white-and-bright-pink loaf. You can find it in the refrigerated section at most markets in Hawai‘i or at Japanese markets such as Marukai or Nijiya on the mainland.