It looks like Ramen but it’s different. Saimin is like the Hawaiian cousin that Ramen never knew it had. Saimin dates back to plantation days when various immigrants worked and cooked together and saimin reflects on all those influences.
It has a broth reminiscent of Japanese dashi, uses egg and wheat noodles reminiscent of Chinese chow mein noodles, and is garnished with an assortment of toppings hailing from Hawaiian, Portuguese, and Filipino cuisines.
I first had saimin at the Hawaiian fast food chain, Zippys, and it was forgettable, to say the least. Fortunately, I’ve had better tasting saimin since, but my friends in Hawaii asked me to craft them modern, homemade, healthier version. So, I poked through some cookbooks, talked to locals, asked my chef friends in the area, and experimented.
Here it is: a from-scratch Shrimp and Vegetable Saimin Noodle Soup recipe that uses ingredients you can find in most grocery stores and requires just a bit of your time. The result is a healthy recipe for shrimp saimin that has no MSG, a ton less sodium than the original, and is all around much better for you.
Shrimp and Vegetable Saimin Noodle Soup Recipe
- 2 quarts cold water
- 1 pound uncooked, unpeeled shrimp (about 20)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 (4 inch) piece kombu seaweed
- 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 cup bonito flakes
- 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce plus more for serving
- 1/2 pound saimin, udon, or lo mein noodles
- 1 bunch broccolini (or Chinese broccoli, or broccoli rabe), ends trimmed
- 4 handfuls baby spinach or Napa cabbage or bok choy, thinly sliced
- 4 shiitake mushrooms stems trimmed and caps thinly sliced
- 4 large soft-boiled eggs
- 1/2 sweet onion thinly sliced
- 4 green onions (aka scallions) ends trimmed and rest thinly sliced
- Chinese hot mustard for garnish (optional)
- Kamaboko thinly sliced for garnish (optional)
- Make The Saimin Broth: Bring water to a simmer over medium heat. Meanwhile, peel the shrimp reserving the shrimp meat and shells separately. Add salt and shrimp meat to simmering water and cook until shrimp are just pink, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove shrimp, spread out on a plate and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Return liquid to stove over low heat, and add shrimp peelings (shells and tails), kombu, shiitake, bonito, and ginger. Cover and gently simmer until shrimp shells are pink, kombu has expanded in size, shiitake are rehydrated, and bonito are darker in color, about for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add soy, and let the broth steep.Start tasting the broth after it has been steeping for 15 minutes — it should be salty enough that all the flavors are apparent but not so much that you taste the salt. The broth is done when it has a smoky note from the bonito, a slight ginger tone, and a good sea flavor but is not fishy. (I have let this mixture steep as little as 30 minutes and up to 2 1/2 hours.) Strain broth, discard solids, and store until ready to use. (Broth can be made up to 2 days ahead. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.)
- Prepare The Shrimp: When ready to cook the noodles, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, fill a bowl halfway with ice water and set aside. Add broccolini and cook until bright green and knife tender, about 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove to the ice water bath and set aside.Cook The Noodles: Add noodles and cook according to package instructions until tender. Drain and set aside. (Can be made up to 2 days ahead. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.)
- Serve The Saimin: Heat the broth to a simmer over medium heat then divide noodles among four bowls. Top each bowl with a quarter of each broccolini, spinach, egg, mushroom, Maui onion, green onion, and shrimp. Divide broth evenly among bowls and serve with soy sauce and hot mustard passed on the side.