Saimin in Kauai, Ramen in L.A.

The food: noodle soups

The story:

I’m a borderline obsessive serious Asian noodle soup devotee, so when, in preparation for my first ever trip to Kauai, I read that a recommended restaurant on the island specialized in saimin, a ramen-like noodle soup unique to Hawaii, I was more than down to try it.

Hamura Saimin (no website – ha! as if), located in a slightly sketchy section of Lihue, a town best known as the location of the Kauai’s homey international airport and its Walmart, is not so much a restaurant as an down-home lunch counter with a 1950’s – 60’s feel and an interior that looks as if it has not been remodeled or refreshed since that period.

The beyond casual vibe of Hamura Saimin, the roosters that run wild in the streets outside it, its “what do you want” type service, and the small industrial supply shops nearby that bear Japanese surnames seemed to me to be representative of the real Kauai (realer than the luxury resorts and timeshare developments) – where to be of a mixed race background is more common than not, tuna is always referred to by its Japanese name (ahi), and every other vehicle on the road is a pickup truck with huge wheels.

As for the food, we tried a few items from Hamura Saimin’s limited menu, starting with deep-fried wontons and shrimp tempura, both of which were, uh, okay:

The special saimin contained noodles that were a little thicker than fresh ramen I’ve had elsewhere, satisfyingly curly, and a little clumpy. The bowl was garnished with overcooked pork wontons, sliced ham, bok choy and a few slices of fatty pork, ramen style. That’s three kinds of pork, people. The broth was bland but passable.

After we saw another customer eating a impressively tall slice of lilikoi (AKA passionfruit) pie, which we were told was another Hawaiian delicacy, we tried a piece. It was light, not too sweet, and a pleasant palate cleanser after all that pork, but had a certain (not good) supermarket bakery quality to it, especially the cardboard-like crust.

I don’t mean to damn the place with faint praise – I liked it and would certainly go back when I’m next in Kauai. The trick to enjoying it, I think, is to go in with low expectations. And possibly while stoned or after a day spent hiking.

Hamura Saimin on Urbanspoon

I found a more refined and soul-stirring noodle soup in only slightly more upscale surroundings at Daikokuya Ramen, a lauded ramen shop in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo neighbourhood.

The tempura we ordered with our ramen looked and tasted properly tempura-ish, with a not-too-greasy, crunchy batter and a nice assortment of shrimp and vegetables:

And the Daiko Ramen we ordered was exemplary, though my opinion of it may have been influenced by the paragraph-long description of how it is made that appears in the menu, a description that speaks of the long hours of preparation that go into the making of the ton kotsu [sic] broth, and offers options on the chewiness of the chijire noodles and the size of the bowl.

Daikokuya on Urbanspoon

P.S. In Japan’s current time of crisis, I urge all readers of this post to donate to relief efforts in Japan through funds such as the Japan Earthquake/Asia-Pacific Tsunami fund set up by the Canadian Red Cross, which accepts online donations.

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2 thoughts on “Saimin in Kauai, Ramen in L.A.

  1. Ron says:

    Dude, Hamura is a local, low price lunch counter serving real local food to hard working local people for 5 or 6 bux for the giant special bowl. Daikokuya is how much?

    Your comment about low expectations is close, but I’m thinking it’s more a case of appropriate expectations!

    Thanks for the review and the nice pics.

  2. Lobster Monster says:

    Hamura Saimin is one of the most hyped, over-rated places that I’ve eaten. I was told to go there when I asked my rental car counter person where to grab something vegetarian/light for a 10PM supper after finally arriving on the Island from the East Coast.

    I found the attitude borderline rude. The place unsanitary. The noodle soup salty and very MSG ish. There’s nothing exiciting about that.

    The lilikoi pie tastes like the lillikoi pie that you could buy at any supermarkets on the Island. Seriously, I don’t know what the big deal is.

    Daikokuya, on the other hand, has an ambiance charm, good broth, excellent ramen…NO COMPARISON. It’s one of my favorited restuarants on the planet–that is, until I go to Japan.

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