While I’ve talked about many of the dishes that demonstrate the ethnic fusion of Hawaii, few of them embody the multicultural fusion of Hawaiian cuisine as much as “saimin”. Saimin is basically a noodle dish that is a mild fusion of elements taken from each the major cultures of Hawaii’s plantation era: Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Hawaiian, and Portuguese. The resulting dish is a noodle soup that bears a lot of resemblance to Chinese “mein” and Japanese “ramen”, usually with some other ethnicities adding ingredients, such as Spam, gyoza, udon, or wontons. In any case, much of the Kahili neighborhood had Saimin joints popping up during the middle of the 20th century, usually run by recent Okinawan families. And pretty much everyone I know that grew up in Hawaii has told me stories about how much saimin they ate as a kid, either as soup, or as the related “fried min” (pan-fried noodles with the same sorts of toppings). Oahu has dozen of Saimin places, and one of the older, more classic, and, quite frankly, no-frills places is Palace Saimin.
One of the great things about the very multicultural nature of Hawaii’s population is that it has quite the assortment of Asian restaurants to choose from, with a good variety of Chinese (including Americanized and Hawaiianized versions), Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese restaurants. The state has a rather long history of loving noodle shops in particular; historically a lot of these were saimin shops, serving up a product that’s basically the fusion of Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino noodle traditions. But more recently, there’s been quite an upwelling of ramen noodle joints of both Japanese and Korean influence. Indeed, as we were wandering around Kailua on the windward side of the island (our original choice for dinner turned out to be closed on Sundays), we found a nice, modest ramen shop just off of Highway 61 in Kailua: Rai Rai Ramen.
A continuing mission of mine here at Offbeat Eats is trying to help fellow travelers find good places to eat. As I’ve commented many times before, airport food is generally a dismal experience, and with a few rare exceptions (notable airports I’ve found that have multiple good options for food include Heathrow and San Francisco, for example), airport dining is best avoided, and if you find yourself needing a meal, you often pay through the nose for it. One particularly pleasant exception to this, however, lies in Detroit’s International Airport. Detroit is often the butt of jokes, and it often has earned that status, but for a city of its status, Detroit actually has a rather nice airport, particularly in their main McNamara terminal (home of the particularly cool colorful tunnel between concourses, which you can see here). There are a lot of restaurants here, of varying quality, but one thing stands out: primarily due to the large number of Japanese passengers passing through the airport, it sports multiple Japanese restaurants. One of these, Sora Japanese Cuisine and Sushi Bar, is one of my rare examples of “Good airport food”.
Since my last visit to London, a new ramen shop has opened up in Soho, and it’s been getting a lot of coverage in the various review sites, like TimeOut London. I always like a good ramen joint (heck, I found a truly excellent one hiding in Canton, MI), and while there are several decently-rated ramen joints in London still on my hit list, after reading Krista’s review of Bone Daddies on Passport Delicious, I decided to bump it up to the top of the list, especially after hearing how much she enjoyed the eggs.
After the first evening of the Vermont Brewers Festival, it was time for us to seek out a a light dinner. Being a Friday night, that’s usually a little hard in Burlington, but as we exited the festival, I was reminded that one place on my hit list was literally right there. Adjacent to the exit of the festival was San Sai, a relatively new Japanese place in Burlington. Located at 112 Lake Street (in what I still think of as the “New Condo building down by the lake”, even though it’s been there for a few years), San Sai is located in what used to be the location of Taste, right off of the waterfront. It’s actually a great location for a restaurant, except for the fact that people don’t expect a restaurant to be there. If I hadn’t known to look for San Sai, I probably could walk by it a dozen times without noticing it. And it’s not just me, since we walked into San Sai at 9pm, right after the Friday Vermont Brewers Festival, and got promptly seated. Let me tell you, if we had tried to go to Flatbread or Farm House, for example, we’d be waiting until rather late to get a seat. But San Sai had a reasonably good number of tables open…
Recent events in my household have led me to discover that there’s an entire subprofession of veterinary care that I didn’t really know much about: Veterinary Oncology. Yes, my poor dog Buster has cancer, and it’s back. We’ve been considering treatment options, and the consultations have required us to travel down to Waltham, MA for these and the initial treatments. However, one of the few plus sides in this whole deal is that it’s introduced me to a part of the Boston metro area that I previous wasn’t familiar with (I’ve done mostly Boston, NE suburbs, and a few things around Natick due to work). Looking at the usual suspects for online reviews in the Waltham area, I was intrigued by one place that consistently showed up at the top of area restaurant review lists: Masao’s Kitchen, winning much acclaim for the quality of their Japanese vegan food. I’m not used to vegan places, Japanese or otherwise, making the top of review lists, so I was really intrigued, especially since I’m generally not the sort of person that seeks out vegan food.
On our third day in Southern California, we decided to take a morning and head down to San Diego and check out a few sights off the beaten path. We ended up hiking most of the length of Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, which was a pleasantly quiet and nice canyon, considering that it’s nestled in between dense subdivisions to both the north and south. I still recommend it if you are looking for a nice urban-area hike. After our hike, however, we were a little hungry. We already had dinner plans back up in Temecula that involves copious amount of food and wine, so we were looking for something light. Luckily, I actually follow several other blogs that cover San Diego, including mmm-Yoso!!! (several contributors of which were my companions on the Yuma taco crawl a few years back) and A Radiused Corner (whose owner Dennis and I have been trading recommendations, and occasionally visiting the same places, for a few years now). Both blogs recommended stopping by Nijiya Market, one of San Diego’s best Japanese grocery stores, as a good place for both Japanese groceries and light meals.
After a second day of driving about the Austin area sampling barbecue, and then washing down that barbecue with more Blizzards from the Lockhart, TX Dairy Queen, we again decided that, after a modest afternoon siesta, it was time to go seek out more food carts in Austin. After checking out the nice map on Austinfoodcarts.com, we decided to check out some of the trailers along South Congress. So we piled into the cars and headed out. Alas, while we saw our desired street carts, the traffic was intractable due to the LoneStar Roundup Car and Custom show. So we ended up heading over the river, and then east of I-35, eventually finding what’s known as the “Eastside Drive-In” court of food carts, with eight or nine trailers all clustered around a central courtyard of tables…
This week, several different client meeting in Massachusetts resulting in my having a free evening in Natick. Natick is an interesting little town, there’s an old-style downtown that has a few decent restaurants, and then there is the Rt 9 strip. There’s no shortage of places to eat on the strip, but it’s mostly major chains. Oga’s Japanese Cuisine is the sort of place you drive by a lot of times and don’t think of checking out, since it looks little different than, say, a low-grade Chinese place or an office supply sort, at the end of a somewhat dismal strip mall with one of those annoyingly small one-way parking lots. But several online sources gave the place good reviews, and I’ve been in a mood for Japanese food, so I decided to check it out…
What does the word “ramen” mean to you? Unfortunately, for 95% of American diners, “ramen” means those 5-for-a-dollar cheap noodle packages at the grocery store. That’s really, really unfortunate, since true, fresh ramen noodles are a classic example of good Japanese food, and they are serve as a wonderful foundation for ramen soup. Unfortunately, outside of California, there aren’t many good ramen shops out there. One notable exception to this I’ve found is Matsu Chan in Canton, MI. Having been in existence well over 15 years, Matsu Chan is nestled into a small storefront in one of those mostly-vacant strip malls you see all over the Detroit area, and has a very humble storefront. However, once you pass through the doors, Matsu Chan is pure ramen shop.