Star-Bulletin Features


1936 The extended Shiroma family gathers for a portrait outside their saimin stand as matriarch Kama, center front, leaves on a trip to Japan.

The Shiromas scoop up
hot bowls of noodles for
one nostalgic weekend

By Catherine Kekoa Enomoto

Long before "The Brady Bunch" or S&S frozen saimin, there were the Shiromas, scions of saimin in Waipahu.

Sixty-five years after the pioneering shop opened and 43 years after it closed, the Shiroma Saimin stand has been recreated at Waipahu Cultural Garden Park. The same hands will serve up steaming bowls of noodles in broth at this weekend's seventh annual Plantation Heritage Festival.

1932 Kama and Yukichi Shiroma,
the year they opened their saimin stand.

"Oh yes, Pearl City, Waipahu, Ewa -- they all know our saimin," said Helen Harue Shiroma Kaneshiro, 73, one of 10 sisters in the Shiroma saimin family.

"Those days saimin was 10 cents for a large bowl, 5 cents for a small bowl. If you make $50 in one day that's good, yeah."

The Shiroma Saimin shop opened in 1932 with a small stand in Waipahu's Higashi Camp, ewa of today's Hans L'Orange Park. The stand was situated ideally, near a single men's boarding house and a furo, or Japanese public bathhouse.

The stand opened 17-1/2 hours a day, seven days a week. Sugar plantation workers would stop by at lunchtime and dinner for a soul-satisfying bowl of handmade noodles swimming in long-simmered broth.

"We opened at 5:30 in the morning, we clean the shop, sweep, mop, lot of preparation. At 9 o'clock, Mom makes the noodle dough," Kaneshiro recalled about her mother, Kama Shiroma. "It takes two or three hours. The dashi was all made outside (over an open stove) with firewood; it takes almost all day. We close about 11 in the evening."

Mieko Takenaka added about her aunt, Kama Shiroma, "She was small and she work hard."

Eventually the Shiromas expanded to a 50-seat operation also selling sodas, fresh fruit, bread from Bailey's Bakery in Honolulu and manju.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
1997 Today's Shiromas gather in front of the
recreated Shiroma Saimin stand at Waipahu Cultural
Garden Park. From left: Harry Nakasone, Norma English,
Seishin Kaneshiro, Mieko Takenaka, Seiso Kaneshiro,
Helen Shiroma Kaneshiro, Sadako Yonamine, Fumiko
Kaneshiro, Jenichi Itokazu and Steven Kaneshiro.

"Many times the saimin sold out. Then we could go to the movies at Waipahu Theater; so we always wish it run out," Kaneshiro laughed.

The Shiroma household was a 1930s version of the Brady Bunch. Father Yukichi Shiroma and mother Kama Nakasone, both Okinawa natives, each had four children when they met and married in Waiahole. They had four more offspring together. Then they moved, first to Waianae, then Waipahu, where Yukichi Shiroma was a plantation truck driver.

It was 78-year-old Sadako Nakasone Yonamine who worked hardest, Kaneshiro said. "She married last . . . no time to look for boyfriend. Just work, work, work all her life."

The 4-foot, 10-inch, 96-pound Yonamine used a 77-inch-long pinewood pounding pole -- not a rolling pin -- on the fresh noodle dough. The shop closed when she married in 1954.

"I used to knead the flour, pound 'em, cut (the noodle dough)," Yonamine said about the old days, when dried shrimp came 25 cents a pound in 15-gallon barrels. "Never rolled, all pounding, all the way.

"I still strong," she laughed quietly.

By the '40s the family was using a noodlemaking machine, and it was that 56-year-old device that brought Shiroma Saimin to the Plantation Village.

Recently Kaneshiro decided to act on an idea she'd harbored -- to give the machine to the village. Her husband, Seiso, led the effort to turn an existing building into a replica of the old saimin stand. It took a year.

He said artifacts in the remodeled saimin stand include the family's original dough-pounding stick, 75-year-old cash register and the noodlemaking machine.

"I remember my mom called just before she passed away. She asked if I could hold her saimin machine," Helen Kaneshiro said. She wanted the machine placed on display for historic reasons, and so her mother's efforts would be remembered. "She worked so hard, so she deserved this."

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
1997Three of the 10 Shiroma sisters, from left,
Sadako Yonamine, Helen Kaneshiro and Fumiko Kaneshiro
enjoy some saimin around the pot where dashi was
cooked over an outdoor fire.

Today, the extended family of Kama and Yukichi Shiroma includes nearly 40 grandchildren and three-dozen great-grandchildren.

Many continue the food service tradition: Daughter Helen Kaneshiro was proprietor of Pearl Diner for a dozen years starting in 1965. Oldest daughter Otome Nakasone has been a principal in the 40-year-old Naka's Okazuya in Kalihi. Grandson Henry Takushi operated the former Daikoku Tei caterers in lower Makiki. And, grandson-in-law Philip Shon has been Washington Place chef since former Gov. George Ariyoshi's administration.

Naka's bestseller is chow fun made with fresh island chicken, while Pearl Diner's specialties included chop steak, homemade laulau and, of course, saimin.

Helen Kaneshiro said her parents would be happy that the Shiroma Saimin stand will spring back to life Saturday.

"She must be happy the (noodlemaking) machine is sitting on display for the children and the grandchildren. I'm sure my mom and dad are watching every minute."

Three recipes follow from Kaneshiro of Pearl Diner fame, including a home-style saimin broth, a soy sauce-flavored relish usually made with gobo, and a soupy version of the one-dish oyako donburi, which is hearty cold-weather fare.

Oyako Donburi

(By Helen Shiroma Kaneshiro)

1 whole fresh chicken roaster
1 thumb fresh ginger, sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dried shiitake mushroom, soaked
3 fresh takenoko (bamboo shoots)
1/2 can water chestnuts
1 small carrot
1 small aburaage (deep-fried tofu, or soybean curd)
1 2-ounce package Nice brand long rice, boiled until translucent
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon monosodium glutamate
Garnishes: ajitsuke nori (sheet, optional), chopped green onion

In a pot, place chicken and enough water to cover. Add ginger and salt. Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer, covered, until chicken is soft, about 1-1/2 hours.

Remove chicken from pot; reserve stock. Slice chicken and return to stock in pot. Slice mushroom, takenoko, water chestnuts, carrot and aburaage into fine strips; add to pot and cook 30 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients -- soy sauce, sake, sugar and monosodium glutamate.

When ready to serve, poach 1 egg per person in donburi liquid in pot. In a large bowl, arrange a bed of hot rice, add donburi with egg, and garnish with 1 small sheet ajitsuke nori and chopped green onion. Makes 6 servings.

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving, with skinned chicken and egg: 400 calories, 10.5 grams total fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 320 milligrams cholesterol, 1020 milligrams sodium.*

Takenoko Kinpira
(Soy-flavored relish)

(By Helen Shiroma Kaneshiro)

5 fresh bamboo shoots, cleaned
1 package konyaku (available in tofu section of supermarkets)
1 packet dashinomoto (powdered Japanese soup base)
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
Pinch salt
Few drops vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 Hawaiian red chile pepper
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Slice bamboo shoots and konyaku into fine strips. Cook together all ingredients -- except sesame seeds, chile pepper and oil -- until liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Add sesame seeds, chile and oil.

Eat warm or cold as side dish, even with hot rice. Store refrigerated up to 1 month.

Approximate nutritional analysis per 1/4-cup serving: 30 calories, 0.5 grams total fat, no saturated fat, no cholesterol, 290 milligrams sodium.*

Saimin Broth

(By Helen Shiroma Kaneshiro)

1 cup dried shrimp
5 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 thumb fresh ginger
1 small sheet dashi konbu (dried kelp)
2 quarts water
1 teaspoon Hawaiian salt or more to taste
1 teaspoon monosodium glutamate

Bring to a boil all ingredients, except Hawaiian salt and monosodium glutamate. Lower heat and simmer, covered, about 2 hours. Add Hawaiian salt and monosodium glutamate.

To serve, add cooked saimin noodles and desired condiments, such as scrambled egg strips, roast pork slices or sliced Spam.

Makes 8 servings.

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving broth only: 25 calories, 0.5 grams total fat, no saturated fat, 20 milligrams cholesterol, 300 milligrams sodium.*

Plantation Heritage Festival

Place: Waipahu Cultural Garden Park, 94-695 Waipahu St.
Time: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Admission: Free to the park/festival; $1 donation to the village/museum, or free with Aloha Festivals ribbon
Call: 677-0110
Featuring:Multi-ethnic foods, plus African, American-Indian, Samoan, Thai and Tongan song, dance, storytelling and games. The recreated Shiroma Saimin stand will sell saimin (Okuhara brand)
Highlights: Kenny Endo taiko drummers, 11 a.m. Saturday, halau Na Wai 'Eha O Puna from 5 p.m. Saturday; Martin Pahinui and Friends, 2:45 p.m. Sunday

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© 1997 Honolulu Star-Bulletin