The great island state of Hawaii is its own melting pot, with the foods of the native Hawaiians blending with those of immigrant workers. A favorite hodgepodge Hawaiian specialty is saimin, a delicious noodle soup. The name probably comes by combining two Chinese words, one meaning “thin,” the other, “noodle,” but it can contain elements from every cuisine that contributed to early plantation culture—Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese.
Saimin is said to have begun as a snack at ball games in Honolulu Stadium, where it became more popular than hot dogs and hamburgers. Today, it is eaten as a snack or sometimes for breakfast. Even McDonald’s serves saimin in Hawaii. Hawaiians would add a serving of rice to make it a real meal, but for mainlanders, saimin can make a satisfying lunch and is a way to use up leftovers without the rice.
Saimin is basically a soup made with chicken or fish broth and egg noodles. After the noodles are cooked until just soft and ladled into bowls with hot broth, other ingredients are added on top. In Hawaii, typical toppings include cooked egg, sliced green onions, strips of Spam (Spam is a favorite food in the islands), pieces of Portuguese sausage, slices of Asian fishcake, and/or strips of Chinese roast pork called char sui. You can add colorful vegetables such as carrots, a few spinach leaves or bok choy. The beautiful thing about saimin is the freedom it allows the cook to use whatever is on hand. Serve saimin in large, deep bowls and eat it with a soup spoon and chopsticks. Do slurp the noodles for proper effect.
You can prep the first 3 steps of the dish hours ahead. The final cooking will only take a couple of minutes.
8 ounces dried Chinese egg noodles
1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
1 to 2 cups broccoli flowerets
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 slices fresh ginger
8 ounces extra-firm tofu, well-drained and patted dry
2 tablespoons vegetable cooking oil, divided
2 large eggs, lightly beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound fresh snow peas, stringed
1 1/2 cups sliced bok choy or Napa cabbage
6 ounces cooked chicken or pork, chopped or shredded
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
2 green onions, thinly sliced on the bias
Additional roasted sesame oil for drizzling on top
1. Cook noodles following package directions. Drain well, rinse in cold water, and combine with sesame oil in a large bowl.
2. Cook broccoli in 2 to 3 cups boiling water 2 to 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and rinse in cold water. Drain again and set aside.
3. Heat broth and ginger in a large saucepan over low heat about 30 minutes; do not allow it to boil. Remove ginger.
4. Cut tofu into 1/2-inch-thick squares and blot well with paper towels. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add tofu and cook on both sides 5 to 6 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside on paper towels. Add remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to pan; when hot, add egg and rotate pan to film the bottom with a thin layer of egg. When egg has set on the bottom, carefully flip it over. Slide egg crepe onto a plate and cool. Roll up to form a tight cylinder and cut crosswise into thin strips.
5. When ready to serve, season broth with soy sauce, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; add snow peas and cabbage. Cook 1 minute. Add noodles, broccoli, pork or chicken, tofu, egg strips and bean sprouts; cook 30 seconds longer. Divide into bowls, scatter green onions on top and drizzle with sesame oil. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Recipe by Greg Patent
Per serving: 520 calories, 21g fat, 32g prot., 50g carbs., 5g fiber, 1050mg sodium.
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Photo credit: Mark Boughton Photography; styling by Teresa Blackburn