Our Top 5: Saimin

I have a newfound respect for saimin, thanks to the one time I publicly hated on it. Disdained it, actually, resented it even. Compared to all the noodle bowls I love in this world — ramen, pho, naengmyeon, the roast duck noodles at Duck Lee and my greatest love of all, spaghetti — why does saimin have to be so bland? Is saimin anything more, I asked, than a powerful nostalgic deception perpetrated on collective taste buds by memories of small-kid-time saimin with the family and happy post-game bowls with friends?

Actually, that’s what saimin turns out to be. Not the deception part, but the rest: It’s the soul of being local. It’s simple and plain and imbued with comfort. And even if you prefer ramen, you probably still like saimin. I learned this lesson late, but at least I learned it. I eat saimin now. I eat fancy bowls that would qualify as haute cuisine, and bowls topped simply with green onion and fishcake. I eat bowls when I’m ravenous after swimming, when I need something soothing and starchy after a night of sake, or just when I want to reconnect with people and times past.

That’s the thing about coming from an anti-saimin stance. Knowing nothing, with no saimin history to measure against, I have no rules about noodles, broth or toppings. I just like what I like. Here are my favorite bowls.

No. 5: Palace Saimin

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The gold standard for many saimin purists, Palace makes its broth the way it has for 67 years — with pork, pork bones and beef tendon, simmered every morning for hours. I didn’t know that when I dug in for the first time last year. And ended up inhaling: firm, curly noodles alternating with slurps of light, meaty, mildly sweet broth and strips of roast pork. Palace taught me I could like saimin, which was a powerful discovery for my inner local.

Palace Saimin
1256 N. King St.

Our Top 5 archive
Our Top 5: Pancakes (by Melissa Chang)
Our Top 5: Roast pork (by Myong Choi)
Our Top 5: Burgers (by Ed Morita)
Our Top 5: Poke (by Grant Shindo)
Our Top 5: Cocktails (by Tracy Chan)
Our Top 5: Fried chicken (by Diane Seo)