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Paia Eats: Iwamoto Natto Factory Undried Saimin

Undried Saimin from Iwamoto Natto Factory – $4.59 per 24 oz. package, purchased at Ah Fook’s in Kahului, Maui

When I spotted this Undried Saimin by the Iwamoto Natto Factory on the shelf in the refrigerator case in Ah Fook’s Supermarket in Kahului, I was immediately determined to bring some home with me. Being aware these are the same noodles Sam Sato’s uses for their famous Dry Noodle (a.k.a. Dry Mein), I was looking forward to replicating the dish once again, this time using the genuine article.

So the moment has finally come where I can see if the noodles makes all the difference. Not to mention a tip I got on how to prepare the dish like Sam Sato’s does it.

In doing this, I included a version of Dry Noodle using Sun Noodle’s Original Hawaii Saimin (as I’ve done before here) in the taste testing so I could compare them said-by-side…

Hawaii’s Original Saimin by Sun Noodle – $1.59 per 9.5 oz. package purchased at Don Quijote in Honolulu

Here you see Iwamoto’s Undried Saimin uncooked out of the package…

24 oz. of Iwamoto Undried Saimin uncooked

At 1½ pounds (24 oz.), this hefty bulk-sized package of Iwamoto Saimin would be more appropriate for sale at Costco or Sam’s Club, but here they were in a rather obscure location in Ah Fooks, a small mom ‘n pop neighborhood market in Kahului, Maui, rebuilt in recent years after a fire destroyed their original building right next to the location of the current store.

According to Patsy Yamashita, the current owner of Iwamoto Natto Factory in Paia, besides Ah Fook’s, you can also purchase their saimin and natto products at all Foodland locations on Maui, as well as Takamiya Market in Wailuku. I wish I knew about Takamiya Market while I was there. That would have also been a neat store to visit. What this all ultimately means is that this is yet another product exclusive to the island of Maui. Gotta’ love that kinda’ stuff.

The Iwamoto Saimin packaging doesn’t include any instructions how to cook it, nor does it include any seasoning packet to make the saimin broth, so you’re pretty much on your own here. Which is what lead me to give the factory a call. Although I had a hunch all it takes to cook it is to boil it in water until it’s al dente, I wanted to make sure I did it the right way. So Patsy (who is very nice BTW) instructed me to do just that, making it a point that the water needs to be at a rapid boil before adding the noodles, just like it should be when boiling pasta.

I told her the waitress at Sam Sato said they boil their noodles in beef broth, but she was skeptical about that. She said stick with good ‘ole H20. Once it reaches the proper doneness, you rinse it in cold water to get rid of any residual starch, as well as to stop the cooking process. After that, it’s ready to serve.

Here’s the Sun Noodle Saimin uncooked straight out of the package so you can visually compare it with the Iwamoto brand in this state…

9.5 oz. of Sun Noodle Original Hawaii Saimin uncooked

Rewind back a few weeks ago when I was there at Sam Sato’s eating their original Dry Noodle, lucky me, a “regular” was sitting next to me in the restaurant, who hinted to me that the noodles are flavored by adding oyster sauce and shoyu after it’s boiled and rinsed. So, that was her take on it, and she was sure on it. Aha! Well, that sounds about right to me.

Yamasa Shoyu, Shirakiku Premium Quality Oyster Sauce and Vegetable Oil

Following the noodle cooking instructions by Patsy and flavoring tip mentioned above, here they are in a saute pan after being cooked and rinsed, given just a dash of oyster sauce and shoyu along with a little bit of cooking oil to keep the noodles from sticking to the pan and each other over medium-low heat…

I didn’t attempt to “fry” the noodles, as that’s not the impression I have of Sam Sato’s dish. As advertised, it just tastes, well, “dry”, with a delicate balance of self-inherent moisture still retained. I just gently kept tossing it until the noodles were evenly coated with the shoyu and oyster sauce and heated up for service.

Now it’s ready to plate…err bowl. Simply top with garnishes, which in Sam Sato’s case, is mung bean sprouts, sliced charsiu and green onions, along with the broth on the side…

Yeah, yeah, I know that’s a rather “sissy” lookin’ chopsticks rest I have there, but it’s the only one I could find at the moment, OK?! lol

For the mung bean sprouts, I blanched them in the noodles’ boiling water just to slightly soften them so they won’t taste so raw, yet still retain a little of its crunchy texture.

Here’s a closer look at the bowl of Dry Noodles…

O.K., hold that thought. Before we move on, let’s look back at the actual bowl of Sam Sato’s Dry Noodle I had just recently at the restaurant…

If you ask me, the noodles at Sam Sato’s look thicker. Perhaps that could be due to my saimin bowl being larger than theirs, throwing off the scale of the noodle in relation to the bowl. Or perhaps I still didn’t “master” how to cook them exactly like how Sam Sato does it.

Their noodles also look more golden, whereas the one I prepared looks more tannish-brown, which I’m sure has mostly to due with seasoning and/or boiling methods. Darned it, them little secrets and tricks always stump ya’!

As for the broth (on the side), my guess based on first-hand taste at the restaurant is that Sam Sato’s is simply chicken stock and nothing else. Therefore that’s what I used here, except I insisted to add some dashinomoto to mine as a personal preference…

Of course, to your personal preference, you can add whatever you want to the basic dish, whether it be shoyu, chili pepper watah, ketchup (hah?) or whatevahz.

OK, enough with the visual analysis, how does this new attempt of replicating Sam Sato’s Dry Noodle taste, this time using Iwamoto Saimin?

First gotta’ drizzle some of the broth over the noodles…

Mix it around a little, then dig in!…


Oh yeah, this definitely works. Pretty darned close to the real McCoy.l The noodles are a little thicker than Sun Noodle’s Original Saimin, but not by much. Case in point, here’s both noodles side by side uncooked…

Sun Noodle Original Hawaii Saimin on the left, Iwamoto Undried Saimin on the right (both uncooked)

Flavor wise for the Iwamoto (dry) saimin, the oyster sauce and shoyu provide a pleasantly-mild savory coating to the otherwise starchy noodle. While the doneness was acceptible, it could have stood to be a little more firm than where I had it on this particular serving. But that’s my own fault, not the product.

Summing it up here, it seems to me the perfect bowl of Dry Noodle is just as reliant on the execution and preparation as it is on the noodle itself, as was evident by having both Maui’s own Iwamoto Saimin version to compare with side-by-side against the Sun Noodle Saimin version. They both were equally oishii in their own unique way.

Sun Original Hawaii Saimin converted into Dry Mein

I found the Sun Noodle Saimin noodle to taste a little more “eggy” (in a good way), with the texture being a bit more slippery like ramen, while the Iwamoto Saimin Noodle was more starchy in flavor, with just a bit more “grit” in texture in comparison to Sun. It’s slightly thicker profile helped give the Iwamoto Saimin noodle a little more chewable substance to it as well. Simply a more hefty noodle.

You’re probably wondering how Iwamoto’s Saimin stacks up against Sun Noodle when made in the form of traditional Saimin, served with the broth filled up in the bowl with with the noodles. I’ll try that later and let you now how they compare.

If the Iwamoto brand were readily available in Oahu markets, of course I’d buy that whenever I feel like replicating Sam Sato’s Dry Noodle dish at home in the future. Since that’s not the case, based on the comparison here, I’m comfortable with having Sun Noodle’s Saimin as the next best thing.

What? Undried Saimin
Who makes it? Iwamoto Natto Factory in Paia, Maui
Where did you buy and how much? Ah Fook’s Supermarket in Kahului, Maui, $4.95 per 24 oz. package
Big shacka to: Thick, hearty noodle. Cooks quickly. Packaged and sold fresh, not frozen. Freezes well. Unique product to the island of Maui. The foundation of Sam Sato’s famous Dry Noodle. Maui.
No shaka to: Packaging doesn’t include cooking instructions or broth seasoning packets. Noodles can overcook quickly if not supervised carefully. Not available on Oahu. The inability to crack and perfect secret recipes.
The Tasty Island SPAM Musubi rating: 3

P.S. Summer time means mango season, hence here’s a basket of common mangoes harvested this past weekend….

Basket of common mangoes, summer ’09

A beautiful and fragrant 5-strand Pakalana Lei for mom on her Birthday…

5-Strand Pakalana Lei

Since we have yet to get “Smell-O-Vision”, let me just say next to Gardenia, Pakalana is one of my favorite flowers as far as smell. Not the prettiest looking, but its fragrance is just beautiful.


20 thoughts on “Paia Eats: Iwamoto Natto Factory Undried Saimin

  • June 18, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Thanks for the writeup! Carbohydrate cravings starting in 3….2….1…..

  • June 18, 2009 at 8:37 am

    Oh yeah, my home fav of some Sam Sato’s! I like mine with choke pepper and Tabasco too.

  • June 18, 2009 at 8:59 am

    Pomai, notice the one from Maui look like the chinese ones you get for noodle soup and chow mein. Been using those for years. As for oyster sauce and soy sauce it the way Chinese mix cooked noodle to eat with vegetables and meats for long time.

    That portable stove I have one too but also follow direction in using it. Products from China is really bad. Dump so many away in trash. They take shortcut in not testing it out well just send to stores to make money only. Buy products that been tested and passed goverment safety code.

  • June 18, 2009 at 10:45 am

    I try the Chinese Shanghainese noodle for it it thicker than regular Chinese noodle great for this dish. I still will use portable burner that passed safety code always follow direction. Sorry person got hurt from it and not sure how it really happen.

  • June 18, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Pomai, I been thinking of making falafae with natto serve with tahini dressing and hummus. I do like falafae. Maybe soy sauce too.

  • June 18, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Never knew 1/16 thick would be a different in taste.

  • June 18, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Pomai, that did it. I going to make natto with green onion and soy sauce musubi. Going to try to make mix noodle mom’s recipe is same like your.

  • June 18, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    pakalana, tuberose, pikake, ginger…love um all!

  • June 19, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Kat, especially when they’re all combined around your neck. Maile and even plumeria too. I think that’s also what makes HNL airport (and all the other Hawaii airports) special… is the SMELL of the leis from the lei stands. Love that.

    Amy, how dod your natto musubi turn out?

    Shelly, actually 1/16″ can make quite a difference when you compound that into an entire bowl of noodles. But I still think the Iwamoto Undried Saimin noodles from Ah Fook’s are thinner than the ones being served at Sam Sato’s. I’ll have to call back Patsy and verify that.

    Kelike, I think you meant FALAFEL. If you made Natto Falafel, I’d imagine a some kind of Misoyaki type of dipping sauce, not Hummus. But hey, Hummus just might work too. I’m sure the deep frying would neutralize its flavor anyhow.

    Michael, I was just looking at a package of Okinawan Yakisoba I have in my refrigerator, thinking that might work. It’s about double the profile thickness of the Iwamoto Saimin noodle.

    Betty, the portable butane stove I have was made in China (what product under $20 sold in the US isn’t nowadays?), but it hasn’t caused me any problems as of yet. Knock on wood.

    C, I can see choking pepper and Tobasco on Dry Noodles. I’ll have to try that next time. Not too much, but enough for some “kick”.

    Spotty, carbo-load indeed. Enough to run a marathon the following day.

    Yoro, you may notice many hotels use them to either cook or keep food warm at their buffet style restaurants. Hopefully the stove’s shield that covers the butane canister is enough to prevent personal injury. Perhaps the manufacturers should incorporate a lock mechanism on it so it can’t instantly blow open. As long as it can contain the explosion, it should be fine; just a little of a psychological shock to the user and that’s it. Hopefully this won’t even happen at all. The user has to be responsible as well for personal safety, making sure to completely lock the canister into place on the intake manifold. It’s quite simple to do, but I can see some less mechanically-inclined folks getting it wrong, which could pose a danger.

  • June 19, 2009 at 10:46 am

    I thinking someone will invent a solar and wind power portable generator use for camping and blackout. It better for microwave ovens portable stove and tv etc.

    Musubi taste not bad at all well to me. With kimchi pretty good too.

  • July 31, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    That accident was very tragic and dangerous. In 1987 San Francisco Chinatown Canton Tea House had a propane explosion. 21 people were hurt from it. The cause was worker did not hook propane tank correctly to grill. No problem with the grill . I dine there often that time. Restaurant have been closed for many years after that explosion.

    It not the burner fault but propane container could have leak problem. The ones made in China have to be carefull in being sure it safe. So far burner is really well made but can’t say the same for propane containers at time.

  • October 8, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Try making the noodles the way my wife does.

    Prepare two collanders. Put the sprouts in the bottom collander and stack the second collander for the noodles on top. Prepare a large mixing bowl with the oyster sauce shoyu and oil dressing on the bottom.

    Season the noodle water with pork soup base (I like when she uses both shrimp and pork) reserve some broth for later and then salt the noodle water to taste. When the water is at a rolling boil she drops the noodles in and stirs to separate the noodles and stop the boil (Do not turn down the heat). The key to doneness is to stop cooking when the water begins to boil.

    When the noodles start to boil she drains the water and noodles into the collander making sure she gets the sprouts blanched. The difference here is she doesn’t rinse the noodles. She takes the noodle collander shakes out the water and puts it into the mixing bowl. Quickly toss the noodles adding oil if the noodles need lube to release from sticking. Then quickly separate the noodles to their bowls. If you’ve done this correctly, as the noodles cool in their bowl they get dry and sticky.

    Add your toppings and enjoy. Use the hot broth reserved to release the noodles. She does this for potlucks but adds more oil for easier serving out of a pan. Ono cuz da noodoz. Go try um go try um go

  • April 8, 2011 at 7:47 am

    Wow!! Was searching for Iwamoto Natto Factory and found this!! Thanks for sharing, I love Saimin! Always nice to hear another noodle experience.

  • March 26, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    I know this comment is 4 years old but just came across your site. I lived on Maui for a few years and sadly no other restaurant can beat Sam Sato’s. I even had friends omiyage their noodles but once cold they taste like the regular saimin.
    I worked at a place where Sam Sato’s would come by to p/u an ingrident to make their dashi. Their secret, as related to me then, was that their soup (at that time) was made by boiling pork bones. When I lived on Maui their soup had a definitely ‘meaty’ taste. I guess now they make it out of chicken stock (?) as I’ve not been back there for 10+ years.
    Their dashi did not look yellow but was more clear looking.

    • March 26, 2013 at 2:34 pm

      In addition years ago on Hari Kojima’s show he had the owner of a “famous” Hilton restaurant known for their saimin. She did the same thing with her broth. She would boil soup bones for a while then strain them. It was to give her dashi a clearer ‘look’. Don’t know her recipe, but I remember Marukai for a few weeks carrying a rather large inventory of beef bones – – guess everyone wanted to try her recipe. I think this is the same method that Sato’s used. SS is still the best in the world for me.

      • March 26, 2013 at 9:19 pm

        I knew Bob Hamura of Kauai’s Hamura Saimin as well as friend he told his secret for broth. It was shrimp in the shell, chicken bones, and a dried squid, the big ones we used to see in the market dried and flattened. Simmer all night then strained for the next days broth.

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