Saimin is a true Hawaiian original, a wonderful syncretism of flavors, which has roots in many different food cultures. I’m going to plagiarize the Wikipedia description of its origin:
Saimin is a compound of two Chinese words 細麵: 細 (xì/sai), meaning thin, and 麵 (miàn/min), meaning noodle. Saimin is recognized as a traditional state dish in Hawaii, taking into consideration the various historic and cultural significances of its creation. The dish is composed of elements taken from each of the original sugarcane and pineapple plantation laborer ethnicities of the early 20th century: Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Hawaiian, Portuguese. As plantation laborers returned from the fields communal meals were informally prepared. It is believed that in some occasions a Filipino family may have had extra green onions growing in their yard, the Portuguese some sausage, the Hawaiian a couple of extra eggs, and the Korean some cabbage left over from making kimchi. At this point they would all throw their ingredients into the pot and share. It may be through these communal meals that saimin was born.
I’m going to roughly classify it as a kind of ramen, because it is sort of similar. Saimin is so emblematic of Hawaii, that it is even served in many McDonald’s on the islands (it’s actually not bad).
Hamura’s Saimin in downtown Lihue on Kaua’i is one of the first places I ever had saimin, and I haven’t been back for about 10 years, so it was nice to visit recently. It seems like nothing has changed in that time. It’s a great lunch spot. It’s sort of the Kaua’i equivalent to a diner which has been around forever. It recently was honored in 2006 as a James Beard Foundation Classic. That article is definitely worth a read, as it summarizes the charm of the place. Here’s an excerpt:
When asked if he knew that Hamura’s Saimin Stand would receive this national recognition, Nick Barcial, a fourth-generation owner stirring batter and beating egg whites for Hamura’s famous lilikoi chiffon pie, shrugged and smiled. He had heard something about it, he said, and knew foundation representatives had called repeatedly. But everyone had been too busy to talk with them. “Any type of award, we’re surprised,” said the 27-year-old Barcial, who makes 50 chiffon pies a day and still can’t keep up with demand. “We’re just a small operation; we don’t do anything too fancy. Even when the foundation offered a free round-trip ticket to New York — something it never gives honorees — Barcial said he wasn’t sure if anyone from the family would be able to go to the event, where a publicity blitz would likely follow a standing ovation from 1,600 top chefs. “We’re kind of busy and kind of short-staffed,” he said.
So on to the food. They sell several different versions. There is the basic broth and noodles, with the green onions, chopped kamaboko (pink and white Japanese fish cake) and chopped ham. You can get char siu pork and wontons on it too. It’s delicious, warm and filling. They have tons of different sauces on the table (shoyu, hot mustard, hot oil, etc.). I like mine with a dab of hot mustard dissolved in a little shoyu (soy sauce). The other items such as the skewers are really delicious too. The passion fruit (lilikoi) chiffon pie mentioned in the news article above is also quite good.
Definitely an institution and worth a visit.