Saimin is a plantation era inspired delicacy unique to Hawaii. It includes elements from Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Hawaiian and Portuguese cultures
|Place of origin||United States|
|Region or state||Hawaii|
|Main ingredient(s)||Eggs, wheat flour, dashi, green onions|
||This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. (December 2009)|
Saimin is a noodle soup dish developed in Hawaii. Inspired by Japanese ramen, Chinese mein, and Filipino pancit, saimin was developed during Hawaii's plantation era. It is a soup dish of soft wheat egg noodles served in hot dashi garnished with green onions. Kamaboko, char siu, sliced Spam, linguiça, and nori may be added, among other additions.
Saimin shares a great deal of commonality to Okinawa Soba with regards to noodles and broth, with the biggest difference being the toppings. It is possible that an alternate explanation for the origin of saimin comes from the historical relationship between the two pacific island cultures.
Japanese pot stickers, called gyoza, as well as Chinese wonton, may be substituted for or added to the dish's noodles for special occasions. A pan-fried version, primarily inspired by Filipino pancit, is also popular, especially at carnivals, fairgrounds, and catered parties.
Saimin is a compound of two Chinese words 細麵: 細 (pinyin: xì, jyutping: sai3), meaning thin, and 麵 (miàn, min6), 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 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.
Saimin was first popularized as a fast food dish at Honolulu Stadium. It is served at all sporting venues alongside hot dogs and hamburgers, at popular national fast food chains, and restaurants throughout the islands. A healthy alternative to most school meals, several public schools offer saimin as a regular option for students.
Historic saimin establishments
Several saimin establishments including saimin noodle factories and restaurants have become local landmarks in Hawaii and have attracted out-of-state visitors who have ventured off the traditional tourist beaten paths. Many of these establishments have been officially designated by the State of Hawaii as places of historic interest. Among such establishments are Likelike Drive Inn and Washington Saimin on Oahu, and Hamura's Saimin on Kauai, which was given the James Beard Foundation's America's Classic honor in 2006.
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McDonald's, an American fast-food giant based in Oak Brook, Illinois, became aware of the saimin phenomenon in the islands in the late 1960s. Maurice J. "Sully" Sullivan, legendary Hawaii entrepreneur and owner of Foodland Super Market Limited, had purchased and opened the first McDonald's restaurant in Hawaii in 1968 at his flagship grocery store. He opened several more McDonald's franchises and for 12 straight months, McDonald's Hawaii became the highest grossing group of franchises in the world. Sullivan wanted to serve his favorite meal at his McDonald's restaurants, saimin, knowing all too well that his restaurants would boom with its introduction to the menu.
Sullivan invited executives from McDonald's corporation, including owner business tycoon Ray Kroc, for dinner at two family-owned, "hole-in-the-wall" saimin stands in Honolulu. They ate at Washington Saimin and Boulevard Saimin. That night, Sullivan convinced Kroc to expand McDonald's menu for the first time in its corporate history to include a local "ethnic" food. Researchers worked extensively with Washington Saimin to develop a recipe for McDonald's Hawaii. Sullivan secured deals with a local saimin noodle factory, fishcake supplier and a Japanese company, Ajinomoto, to manufacture a special soup base.
Saimin is today one of McDonald's Hawaii restaurant's most popular menu items. Later, Sullivan introduced the breakfast platters of Portuguese sausage, eggs and steamed white rice; Spam, eggs and rice; and a Breakfast deluxe, a combination of the two, to his menu, capitalizing on more local food phenomena.
- Katherine Nichols, "Hamura's Saimin Stand on Kauai is a 2006 James Beard Foundation honoree", Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 30, 2006.
- Aiko Hamura, Leila Fujimori, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 27, 2002
- Asian Noodles, Our Kitchen, Hormel Foods, 2004
- Gambling on a Good Meal, Betty Shimabukuro, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 5, 2001
- Got Manapua, Kyle Tatsumoto and Keith Kamisugi, Nichi Bei Times, 2001
- Noodlemania: Hawaii's melting pot is a bowl of saimin, Marnie Masuda, Maui Time Weekly, November 6, 2003
- Saimin, Catherine Kekoa Enomoto, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 10, 1997
- Shige's Saimin Stand, Lyle Galdera, KHNL, April 27, 2002
- Joan Clarke, Local Food: What to Eat in Hawaii, Namkoong Publishing, 1997
- Rachel Laudan, Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii's Culinary Heritage, University of Hawaii Press, 1996