|Saimin Says in Kent - way closer than a flight to Hawaii - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
I've been to Hawaii-style places on the Mainland, and to be honest, it's hit or miss. If the menu is full of pineapple-covered dishes and syrupy-sweet teriyaki beef, I hate to burst your bubble, but yo, that ain't Hawaii. I was recommended this place on good authority by Lisa Nakamura, a local chef/restaurant owner, overall awesome person and daughter of Aloha, and she wasn't wrong -- Saimin Says has some ono kine grindz that are plenty broke da mouth good. My main craving was saimin, the noodle soup that's unique to Hawaii. I've spoken oodles about these noodles in the past, that it's a spinoff of Japanese ramen, but with a lighter broth, and it's usually filled with the usual suspects: shreds of char siu pork, scrambled egg ribbons, fish cake/kamaboko and yes -- Spam. For me, the mark of quality is the noodle itself -- I prefer the wrinkly, slightly chewy "Hilo Style" noodle. This is always the hardest thing to find, as it's probably easier for places to get whatever noodles are available, and they never quite past muster on texture, at least for me.
|I want a saimin quilt - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
Noodle snobbery aside, I knew this place was legit when I saw their menu, whose mixed bento plate offerings are called hemajang, which is Pidgin for mixed up or confused, but it totally works for bento platters. They serve chili water as a condiment, which is exactly what it sounds like -- chopped up chili peppers in water, although they must add something extra as their chili water is a bright orange color and is deceptively Tang/astronaut juice-like. Don't drink it, just use sparingly. And they offer the three-layered fruit-flavored rainbow cake for dessert, where you usually use Jello to dye the batter and you have to layer it just right to get that perfect separation of colors. I used to call it "rainbow cake" -- so complex, right? But I know it was a popular staple at potluck parties and someone would always bring it.
But what about the saimin? It's about as close to Hawaii as you'll get without buying the ticket and sitting on the plane for five hours. And hey, they have a quilt with saimin as the pattern -- that's the banner of Saimin Thug Life, right there. The soup broth is flavorful -- nice and salty -- and the noodles were a little soft, but still had the basic texture I was looking for. They offer a few different varieties but I went with the Papa Jim Min, which had the mix of char siu, Spam and eggs, but also had two asteroid-sized wontons. For a first-time visit, I thought this would be the perfect combination. I was waffling between that and the Pocho Min, which had Portuguese sausage in it. That's OK -- gotta save something for a next visit!
|Fried saimin and two scoops' aplenty - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
My biggest hurdle is the limited space of even the hungriest of stomachs. I was glad to have partners in crime with me on this visit, as I was there with Lisa as well as the fantastic Julien Perry of Seattle Weekly's Voracious fame -- she wrote about the visit on her column in the Weekly! She ordered the lau lau platter, which is slow-cooked pork with butterfish, wrapped in ti leaves and served with the all-important two scoops of carbohydrate K-O, mac salad and rice. It's another flagship Hawaiian dish and it looks like Saimin Says does it right. I also saw some other items on their menu that I will most definitely order for another visit, like their pork tonkatsu and kalbi beef. Their menu has all the main lunch specials, mostly beef, pork and chicken. They have poke, but it's a special that's served depending on the seafood they have on-hand, which is the right way to go with raw ocean goodies. But they serve the homestyle favorites and the menu just made me anxious to go back. Before I left, I made sure to get an order of their fried saimin to-go, which is the only practical way to really take saimin home with you. It's basically saimin but without the broth, stir-fried with extra vegetables and meat. It was good, but I think I'll go with a bento to-go next time. Again, weird Wasabi personal preference, but I like my fried saimin with a little char on the noodles and a little more crispness overall. But that doesn't change my opinion over Saimin Says, it just makes me want to go again and try more of their dishes, as I'm sure it's going to taste like the favorites from Wasabi Mom's kitchen.
A postscript to this post -- since visiting Saimin Says for the first time, I of course had to heed the Siren Song of Saimin and return again. Went on a Sunday for breakfast and tackled their Fried Spam Locomoco. Which, much like the movie title, Snakes on a Plane, is just that -- slices of Spam covered with panko crumbs, fried crisp, and topping rice with gravy and a fried egg. Will I tell my doctor about this? No. Will I tell you it was incredibly delicious and could have eaten more plates of the stuff? Hell, yes. The fried goodness of their Mochiko Chicken looked mighty fine as well -- my friend got that with a heap of mac salad and rice. Consider that number one with a hungry bullet the next time I head to Saimin Says.