FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Sometimes, the things we know best are the things we know the least about. We take them for granted.
Like saimin, one of the Islands' favorite snacks — our equivalent of chili on a cool night, tummy filling when we're broke.
A while back, I inherited an old Chinese cookbook that had a recipe for "Sai Mien." I had always thought saimin was Japanese. But as I began to research a bit, I realized that this dish, as it's known in Hawai'i, is a hybrid — both Japanese and Chinese. Japanese have ramen. Chinese have sai mien. We have saimin, which partners the two.
Thin, round wheat noodles: Chinese. Curly wheat noodles: Japanese. Fish-based broth: Japanese. Pork-and chicken-based broth: both. Garnishes such as char siu (Chinese), kamaboko (Japanese fish cake), thin-fried omelet strips (Japanese), green onions (both).
What IS saimin?
Whatever we want it to be. Whatever we're used to. Whatever we prefer.
The one thing saimin isn't is a styrofoam cup, a foil packet and noodles that will survive a nuclear holocaust. We've all had 'em. We've all made do with 'em. But — and forgive the cross-cultural departure here — for saimin that's really "consolo" (Portuguese for soothing, consoling, filling, heartwarming), you need something else.
Share Your Table, an online food site with which The Advertiser is partnered, this week introduced a new video and recipes based on my research on saimin. I'm looking forward to hearing from people who know more about it than I do. I'm no expert. Just interested.
Here's what I've concluded: Fresh noodles are best (but be sure they're really fresh). Frozen second. Dried? Nah.
A broth that begins with pork and chicken bones and cooks long and slow is so far beyond anything you can get in a package, you won't believe it. But in keeping with the mixed marriage that created this dish, adding a little bit of dashi powder and some shoyu works for me. And I like some ginger, too, though it's not really traditional.
Saimin is, interestingly, not something we make very often. We go out for. it. We have our favorites: Boulevard or Shige's or Zippy's or Hamura or the Old Saimin House ... or I know I'm going to forget someone.
But isn't it special when we take the time to buy our bag of Okahara and make it from scratch with all our favorite garnishes, just the way we like it?
I think so.
Send recipes and queries to Wanda A. Adams, Food Editor, Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802. Fax: 525-8055. E-mail: email@example.com.
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