Honolulu's Freshest Noodles
Meet the noodle makers rolling out the Island’s nicest noodles by hand... and foot!
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For a city that loves noodles as much as Honolulu does, it’s surprising that more eateries don’t offer the genuine, fresh, made-from-scratch variety. But there are a handful of places where such a noodle is the norm, and HONOLULU went behind the scenes with the noodle makers to see how it’s done.
Shige’s Saimin Stand
Shige’s Saimin Stand in Wahiawa makes its saimin noodles from scratch because that’s the way the Shigeoka family has always made its saimin.
Ross Shigeoka’s grandparents sold saimin for 25 cents a bowl at the Haleiwa saimin stand they opened in the 1950s. As a kid, Ross saw his grandfather produce batch after batch of noodles from a little, Japanese, tabletop noodle-making machine. Shortly after Ross and his wife, JoAnn, opened Shige’s Saimin Stand in 1990, they found a vintage 1950s noodle-making machine. It is almost identical to Ross’s grandfather’s, only much larger. It stands on the floor, as big and sturdy as an engine block, and it makes considerably more noodles at one time.
A batch of Shige’s noodles begins with eggs, water, a 15-pound bag of Gold Medal all-purpose flour and JoAnn’s small but powerful hands. She plunges into the ingredients up to her forearms, working and kneading until she’s got a wheel of dough shaped like the flat bottom of her enormous mixing bowl. She then flattens the dough so that it’s long and thin enough to feed into the machine for even more flattening. Instead of a rolling pin, she uses a heavily weighted piece of black plastic plumbing pipe, which is longer than she is tall. Ross’s grandfather used a bamboo pole at this stage, but modern plumbing material is far more durable.
Years of making dough this way have left JoAnn with nicely toned arms and shoulders. “People always ask if I go to the gym, and I say, ‘No, I make noodles,’” she says.
The Shigeoka’s noodle-making machine predates the age of putting finger guards on dangerous machinery, and ever since the machine crushed three of JoAnn’s fingers, she has left the next step in the process to Ross: feeding the dough through the machine’s rapidly spinning rollers. Ross runs the dough through the rollers more than a dozen times, until he’s got one very long, noodle-thin strip rolled up on a spool.
He then affixes a cutting attachment to the machine, feeds the dough through the rollers one final time and uses scissors to snip the emerging strands down to noodle length.
The bucket Ross fills with snipped noodles then goes to the sorting table, where Ross’s mother and father are stationed, with their television. The elder Shigeokas separate the noodles into three-ounce, ready-to-cook servings, never seeming to take their eyes off their Korean soap operas or game shows as they work.
Ross once experimented with a cutting attachment that creates a thinner noodle, but his customers complained that the saimin didn’t taste the same. He hasn’t messed with tradition since. The customers seem to like it that way, just as they must like Shige’s time-warp prices: $4.25 for a small bowl of saimin, $2.10 for a hamburger, $1.80 for a grilled cheese sandwich.
Some of Shige’s regulars are second-generation customers, the children of people whose own parents brought them there when they were kids. Shige’s is in such an out-of-the-way location, with zero street visibility, that if it wasn’t for this kind of loyalty, nobody would ever eat there. As it is, that isn’t a problem.
“We could put this place in a gulch,” Ross says, “and people would find it.” 70 Kukui St., 621-3621.
The sign above Jimbo restaurant, the popular udon house on South King Street, reads “Fresh Noodles Daily,” and it’s not kidding. Jimbo makes udon by hand seven days a week, though, since the traditional way to prepare udon involves stomping the dough, you could also say Jimbo makes udon every day by foot.