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The Weekly Eater

By Nadine Kam

Thursday, April 8, 1999


Saimin like Grandma
used to make

S&S. Nissin. Cup O' Noodles. At least two generations have grown up with instant noodles, so it's amazing to listen to tales about "ancient" times when people boiled dashi over wood stoves and rolled their own saimin noodles -- all that trouble for a meal that amounts to 5 minutes of slurping.

But Donn Ariyoshi remembers the old days and set out to recreate his grandmother's recipe -- with the help of his mom Jean and aunt Betty Nojima -- which he now serves at his Grandma's Saimin Stand.

Ariyoshi's dad, former governor George Ariyoshi, recalled in the book "Japanese Eyes ... American Heart" (Tendai Educational Foundation), that his mother "usually got up at four-thirty to start the day's cooking."

A busy woman, Mitsue Ariyoshi at different times, owned a Tofu Factory in Waialae, a snack shop in Palama and a cafe at 1119 Smith St.

The saimin ($3.50 regular/$3.95 large), as Donn now presents it, "tastes just like grandma's," he said, with reduced-MSG dashi (broth) flavored with shrimp, kombu and chicken. Noodles are fat and chewy. And meat sticks ($1.25 each), are made with strips of ribeye steak coated in a sweet-salty, syrupy teriyaki sauce.


GRANDMA'S SAIMIN STAND

Food -- StarStarStar
Service -- StarStarStarStar
Atmosphere -- StarStar1/2
Value -- StarStarStar

Bullet Address: Pearl Kai Center, 98-199 Kamehameha Highway, C-5
Bullet Hours: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 10 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sundays
Bullet Prices: Won ton min and two meat sticks, $7.50
Bullet Call: 487-8811


Now the thing peculiar to family recipes is they leave a mighty imprint. Long after one leaves the nest, one will measure all other meatloaves, beef stews and stir-fries against dear old mom's, all the while citing what is missing in others' versions.

More important than the noodle in my Chinese home was the won ton. Mom made them with crunchy minced water chestnuts, shiitake and green onions for plenty of flavor and texture, so that in comparison, Grandma's mostly pork version is more sedate.

Nothing wrong with that. Grandma's won ton still tastes freshly homemade and far superior to those of some saimin stands closer to town, where shriveled won ton tastes like a stale afterthought.

At Grandma's, a regular won ton min is $4.50 and includes four of the pork dumplings. The large $4.95 bowl has the same amount of noodles, but six dumplings.

Fried Saimin ($5.25) here is nice and moist. It's topped with plenty of green onions and minced kamaboko and char siu.

Oxtail Soup is ono, with a broth that hints of five-spice and plenty of cilantro and mustard cabbage. The flavor is there. It just needs to be beefed up with bigger tails and peanuts, please. But again, that's the old family imprint. Other diners will enjoy the soup fine without peanuts.

An item that mostly kids will love is Grandma's Special Spam ($1.25), sliced thin and doused with the family teriyaki sauce, so sweet it leaves candied strings behind.

Running a saimin stand isn't as easy as it looks, Donn says, but his reward is that he's learned more about grandma in the process.

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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

-- excellent;
-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- average;
-- below average.

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