Welcome to “Down Memory Lane,” a window of reflection. We’ll occasionally look back and remember people, places and things that made Hawaii special. We’ll welcome you to jump in periodically, too, to recall and relive another time when folks and destinations live mostly in memories.
If you’re of a certain vintage, you clearly will remember a saimin stand in your neighborhood, where you could get a bowl of noodles and broth and chit-chat, likely at picnic tables and benches, and slurp to your heart’s content.
Look around now; the mom-and-pop saimin stand is practically history. Boulevard Saimin shuttered a few months back, and while Zippy’s and Shiro’s and even Rainbow Drive In can whip out a house specialty, the joints of the 1950s and ‘60s were pure gems.
When I was a kid, perhaps 10 or 12, living with my parents in Liliha, we were five or six blocks away from Hall Street, off Kukui Street (don’t look, long gone), where a saimin stand flourished.
I remember eating in once, but our ritual was to do takeout. We had to bring our own stove top pot, order, then walk home with the hot pot.
There would be enough portions to serve four, with kamaboko and slivers of char siu, swimming in the broth and noodles. Chopped green onions provided a burst of green cheer. On special occasions, we might order wun ton min. I don’t recall the cost, but I remember that sticks of barbecue meat, grilled at the stand, were 5 cents apiece and we took four home as a side dish.
A few years later, a smaller saimin stand opened on Liliha at Vineyard Streets, which was closer than the trek to Hall Street. I think they had paper take-home containers; we didn’t need to bring our own pot.
Today, Hamura’s Saimin on Kauai is possibly the iconic model of the classic stand. Few seats, traditional menu, long lines before the pandemic.
Curiously, two stands have survived in Honolulu – Palace Saimin in Kalihi and Old Saimin Stand in Kapalama. Tanaka’s Saimin, or the chain of Ramen-Ya outlets, are newer
models of the old-fashioned stands … and don’t fit the template.
Do you recall a special saimin stand in your neighborhood? Or perhaps your family operated one? Or the pot take-outs?