Killer saimin

Ever since my What is it about saimin? blog a couple months ago, life has changed in small and subtle ways. One of the better ways happened earlier in December, when frequent Nonstop commenter harrycovair DM’d on Twitter that he had some homemade almond float for me and Melissa Chang.

Like Pavlov’s dog reacting to the bell, I made a beeline for the dropoff point. I meant what I said in my foodie gift guide: For someone who eats out a lot, anything homemade is a special treat. And I’d never had homemade almond float.

I’m still not sure if the almond float was really the point, or if it was the lure in a more elaborate bait-and-switch. Anyway, I show up and harrycovair hands through my car window a large bag with two containers of chilled almond float — and a brown paper sack heavy with coils of fresh noodles.

‘What’s this?’

‘Fresh saimin,’ harry cackles. ‘Just picked ’em up Chinatown. Heeheehee.’

Thanks harry. I may be the butt of a joke, but given enough caffeine, I’m no idiot. Life’s just handed me fresh noodles; I’m going to make broth.

Like my thrifty plantation ancestors, I grab whatever’s at hand: chicken broth left over from Thanksgiving, a can of beef broth, garlic, ginger, green onion. I pour the broths into separate saucepans, mash the garlic and ginger and throw them in, chop the white bottoms off the green onion and throw those in, simmer, salt and taste.

The chicken broth is perfect. I lay stalks of baby bok choy in the simmering liquid, then a couple minutes later a bundle of fresh saimin. Just as harry told me, I leave the noodles in for precisely one minute before pouring everything into a big bowl and topping with fishcake and green onion.

Next, the beef broth: This is robust and needs more. Pods of star anise go in, then a good grinding of fresh black pepper. When the broth is good and balanced I add the bok choy, then the noodles, then serve with green onion and fishcake.

I’ve reached saimin awesomeness. The beef broth saimin is the best I’ve tasted: rich, complex, homey and comforting at the same time. The noodles, from Yat Tung Chow Noodle Factory at 150 N. King St., are vermicelli-thin and al dente, with only a hint of wheatiness.

I don’t know if I got it right. Purists may say this isn’t the saimin of old times, not the stuff people grew up on at saimin houses or what our moms pulled out of the freezer and boiled up on cold nights.

But I liked this saimin. It tasted good and it made me feel good. The noodles were unspeakably perfect, holding up well and mellowing out the strong broth. Every sip of that, flavored with hints of ginger and exotic star anise and a tingly edge of pepper, was deep and exciting. The sweet pink-and-white fishcake made me think of the generations that have made and eaten this same thing in Hawaii, stretching back to the time of my great-grandparents. And the sharp fragrance of freshly cut green onion reminded me of the rough hands of my grandmother, who farmed all her life and pulled this and many other good things out of the dirt, even in urban Honolulu.

Isn’t this what saimin is supposed to do? Isn’t this what makes it powerful? Eating something I liked let me go beyond the flavor and into the realm of memory and comfort. It took me back to where I came from. Which is indeed a powerful thing.

Thanks, harry. Really, thanks.

P.S. Your almond float was divine.

Are you on Twitter? Follow me on Twitter @NonstopMari.

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