Saimin is a favorite local comfort food unique to Hawaii dating back to the plantation era and features an amalgam of cultural influences. Local chef Mark Noguchi caught up with celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi to talk about its influences in their lives as part of Zippy's Saimin Says series.
"When they say a comfort food," said Noguchi, "you know it has plantation origins. Our ancestors in the plantation days didn't have very much. You had to make it as oishi (delicious) as possible."
The word saimin is a mashup of two words, the Chinese word "sai" meaning thin and "min" meaning noodle. In this story, Noguchi explains that "not only is saimin ancestrally tied to Chinese food, saimin is also inspired by Japanese ramen, Okinawan soba and Filipino pancetta."
Roy has fond memories of when his grandfather came to Hawaii, worked on a plantation and used to serve saimin to him as a young boy.
"My whole thing about ramen and saimin is usually when I eat saimin I have it for breakfast. Ramen, you have different styles, right. You have the Hakata (ramen) down south, and then you have the Sapporo (miso-style ramen) north and then Tokyo ramen. Tokyo ramen is more of the shoyu-style. I was brought up with the miso ramen. So, mainly from Sapporo area. As I was getting older in Japan, I started to enjoy Tonkotsu Ramen, the pork. But hen when it comes to saimin I like the simple flavor. I am more of a purist when it comes to eating saimin. "
The two chefs cruise by one of Roy's Localicious partners, Ko Hana Run. It's a local distillery in Kunia which specializes in agricole rum and then they stop by Wahiawa's Shige's Saimin Stand where owners Ross and Joann Shigeoka have serve their saimin noodles handmade every day for almost 30 years.
Zippy's grew from simple beginnings in 1966, when brothers Francis and Charles Higa started their first restaurant on King Street in Honolulu. Through their hard work and vision, Zippy's has become a Hawaii institution, with 24 locations on Oahu, Maui, Hawaii Island, and — coming next year — Las Vegas!