We just knew this was coming. After word spread on the Ramen Burger sweeping the streets of New York and now the nation, someone here in Hawaii had to do our spin on it and make a Saimin Burger. Right? And who’s first to officially launch it on their menu? Not Zippy’s. Not Shiro’s. Not Shige’s. Not Palace. Not Dillingham. The pioneering flag goes to Tanaka Saimin on Nimitz.
First let’s have a look around the joint…
Nice place! Very friendly staff as well. Super laid-back ‘n local “Eh howzit aunty, howzit uncle!” atttitude.
I sat right there smack in the center of the front counter for brightest lighting.
While I know what I’m here for, let’s check out Tanaka Saimin’s entire menu (current as of September 2013)….
Tanak’s Workmens’ Plate Lunch daily specials for take-out only…
The dine-in daily specials for Friday, September 13th, the date of my visit were:
• Prime Rib (Princess/King’s Cut), served with soup or salad
• Hawaiian Plate
• Kalua Pork with Cabbage
• Chicken Curry
• Pork Adobo
• Crab Melt Sandwich with Clam Chowder
• Brownie Crunch Sundae
Getting right to it, let’s check out how Da’ Saimin Burger arrives at the table…
Tanaka Saimin – Da’ Saimin Burger: A grilled Teriyaki beef patty with American cheese, served on a bed of fresh watercress inside a Tanaka Saimin noodle “bun”, including a side of saimin broth, Chinese mustard and dill pickles. $8.95.
Aaaah… Ooooooooh. You know what’s next, the money shot…
Let’s get in tighter…
Da’ odda’ side…
Da’ Saimin burger build goes like this:
Bottom: Tanaka Saimin noodle “bun”: Tanaka’s own house-made saimin noodles (not Sun Noodle brand), pan fried crispy on the outside, al dente inside (egg binder)
Bed: Fresh Sumida Farms Watercress, cut coursely into bite-size sections
Patty: House-made all-beef patty (approx. 1/3 pound), glazed generously with house Teriyaki sauce, grilled to medium doneness (still juicy!) on a flattop (you can opt for flame-grilled according to my server)
Topping: 1 slice of American cheese, thoroughly melted to ooey-gooey goodness
Top: Tanaka Saimin noodle “bun” (same like bottom)
You may be saying now, “Well, it’s not a complete Saimin Burger without Kamaboko and Green Onion, which is actually addressed in the side dish of broth, coming up shortly.
And? Wow! I’m impressed! Really, really ono! OMG! When you first hold it to your mouth, you’re kinda’ like, “Is this for real? Did they REALLY do this?” Then once you take the first bite, you’re like, “Oh yeah, this is SO right. This should have been done a long time ago!”
Naturally, the first thing that comes to mind are the play on textures, as you don’t quite know what to expect from rather thin profile saimin noodles glued together to form a burger bun. Then as you bite and chew through it, you realize it’s pretty much exactly as advertised: a Saimin Burger. Kinda’ slash “Cake Noodle Burger” because of the flavor of the saimin noodles and the fact that their fried. Yet the Teriyaki Beef reminds you this is a Saimin Burger, being Saimin is usually served with BBQ Teriyaki Beef sticks on the side. So you “get it”.
Let’s try dipping it in the Saimin broth…
Meh. Doesn’t do nothing for it, primarily because the broth itself doesn’t do anything for, well, anything. All it tastes like is shrimp stock. Just water boiled with shrimp heads and shells, and that’s it. No dashi, no shoyu, and barely an adequate amount of salt. It says they use Konbu, however I couldn’t detect that, either, as there was no complexity to it at all. Just plain ‘ole shrimp stock. All I can say is, Tanaka Saimin, if this is your house saimin broth, you need to seriously modify the recipe. At least add Dashinomoto in there, for cryin’ out loud! If I come here and order saimin, I’m definitely sneaking in a packet (or two) of dashinomoto with me and adding it to the bowl.
And if you don’t believe me, read the numerous Yelp reviews about their broth “issue”. And Tanaka’s, I’m not bashing, but trying to be constructive here. This is such an easy fix, so FIX IT!
Now let’s try it with the Chinese mustard and shoyu sauce…
The Coleman’s type mustard and shoyu sauce now makes it taste like I’m eating Chinese Cake Noodles, and completely masks the flavor of the teriyaki burger within it. Way better than dipping it in their lackluster saimin broth, yet not a good match for what this is trying to be, which to be more specific, should be named a TERIYAKI SAIMIN BURGER.
Which I think, as EXCELLENT as it is in and of itself, the Tanaka Saimin Burger is somewhat suffering an identity crisis. It’s trying to be both a teriyaki burger and a bowl of samin, all in one, yet it’s not really sure where the line is drawn. My impression is that it’s more of an EXCELLENT Teriyaki burger with a saimin noodle twist, than it is saimin with a teri’ burger twist.
That said, I say leave the broth and mustard out of the equation, and just enjoy the Saimin Burger as a GREAT Teriyaki burger with a saimin noodle bun twist, and take that for what it’s worth. And it’s worth a lot. It really is FANTASTIC! The quality of the beef patty is excellent, tasting fresh, nicely seared, super juicy, with just the right amount of very tasty teriyaki sauce. While the fried saimin noodle “bun” totally works with it, making for an all-around super onolicious burger.
Oh, how big is it?
It measures 4¼” in diameter x 2″ thick from the base to the top of the saimin “bun”. In fact, I only could eat half of it one sitting, as the compacted noodle “bun” seemed more filling than a much more airy, less dense bread-based bun.
It must also be noted (again) that Tanaka Saimin makes their own noodles, so this isn’t yet another Sun Noodle product. And these noodles are very tasty, coming across more Chinese than Japanese in flavor profile. Perhaps because it’s fried, so I’ve got cake noodle stuck in my mind. Which really is what makes Saimin what it is: a dish created from contributions by the Chinese and Japanese plantation workers, with various other ethnic influences, depending what’s put on or in it.
What about the dill pickle, how did that work out? It actually helped it! I was surprised. I thought it would clash with the theme of the burger, but the acidity was actually a welcoming accent to the sweetness of the teri’ sauce.
If you ask me, if they’re trying to lean on asian influence with this, instead of a dill pickle, they should serve it with Takuwan (a.k.a. Takuan)…
TAKUAN (pickled radish ) – Radish, water, salt, sugar, glacial acetic acid, yellow food coloring, sodium benzoate). Note, Takuan is NOT included with Da’ Tanaka Saimin Burger.
What else would I change or modify if given the opportunity? First of all, I don’t think the watercress is the best pairing. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE watercress, and It works, yet I’m thinking lettuce and tomato would be better. A slice of onion, too and we can name it the Teriyaki Saimin Burger Deluxe!
I’d also try doing one without the teriyaki sauce, instead, using mayonnaise spread inside each half of the saimin noodle bun. It could also use another slice of cheese, as the one slice isn’t really enough for that massive burger patty.
Or I’d shoot for creating a Zip Min Burger, adding some charsiu, shrimp tempura, sauteed choi sum, green onion and a square sheet of nori as the burger topping. The only challenge would be incorporating the wontons. I’m thinkin’ having one pork-stuffed wonton stuck in the middle of the saimin noodle bun when it’s shaped. Common’ Zippy’s, I’m calling you out on this one! Do it! Zip Min Burger! Guaranteed would sell! I’d buy it!
I’m also curious how dashi would taste mixed with mayo’ as the Saimin Burger’s “Special Sauce”. A dashi-based Mayo’ spread sounds like it would totally work!
Oh, I also got second and third opinions of Da’ Saimin Burger from a couple coworkers who I shared the other half with when I returned to the office, and they both gave it double thumbs-up, with one giving it 3 SPAM Musubi, and the other 4. While both of them said they’d definitely order Da’ Saimin Burger on their next visit to Tanak’s.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, so didn’t order any sides on this initial Saimin Burger introduction. However after trying it, carbo-loading notwithstanding, I think a side of fries would go really well with it, as I think the flavor of the potatoes would help to buffer your palate from the onslaught of compacted saimin noodles. Wow, that was deep. lol Shrimp Tempura on the side would probably work well too if you wanna’ get your Surf ‘n Turf on.
Wrapping it up, I give Da’ Tanaka Saimin Burger 4 SPAM Musubi. In and of itself, a surprisingly addictive, supah’ onolicious Teriyaki Burger with a Samin noodle “bun” twist. Highly recommended!
What? Tanaka Saimin Burger
Where? 888 N. Nimitz Hwy, suite 103, Honolulu, HI 96817; tel. (808) 524-2020
Big shaka (pros): A surprisingly onolicious twist on the traditional bread bun-based American burger. Excellent grilled all-beef patty tastes fresh (not frozen) and super juicy. Supah ono teriyaki sauce. The saimin noodle “bun” is very filling (you definitely get your money’s worth). The saimin noodle “bun” totally matches the teriyaki beef patty. Excellent play on texture contrast.Overall, a surprisingly delicious marriage of a teri burger and saimin!
No shaka (cons): Watercress is good, however perhaps not the best choice of “greens” for it. Side serving of Saimin broth does NOTHING for it. Side serving of Chinese mustard (when added with Shoyu) completely changes the “tone” of the burger, making it taste more like a Chinese Cake Noodle Sandwich “something”, if you will.
The Tasty Island rating: 4 SPAM Musubi (when eaten alone, without the samin broth or mustard sauce)
P.S. Now if I really wanted this to be TRUE “Saimin Burger”, I wouldn’t use beef at all, making the burger patty out of ground pork, mixed with charsiu sauce, then roasted so it tastes like a charsiu burger patty. I’d top that with kamaboko and SPAM, with nori, sauteed choi sum and chopped green onions as the greens.
Then there’s these braddahs take on the Saimin Burger…
Yet, why stop there? Ramen Burger, check. Saimin Burger, check.
Well, how about an Okinawan Yakisoba Burger? Hah? How you figgah? “PC” notwithstanding, I’d passionately name it the “Oki Burger“. My take on the “Oki Burger” would be a bun made with Okinawan Yakisoba, while the patty would be made with ground pork mixed with Okinawan Shoyu Pork called Rafute. Topped with kamaboko, finely shredded cabbage (tonkatsu style), takuwan and beni shoga. Oh yes!
Or how about a Somen Salad Burger? Ha? How you figgah? A somen noodle “bun” encasing a grilled burger patty made with ground pork that’s mixed with chopped charsiu and SPAM. Topped with lettuce, cucumber, kamaboko, and a thin egg omelette that has lots of green onions in it. Serve with tempura-su on the side for dippin’. Oh GOD do I think that would ROCK!
Hold on now, I’m not done yet. How about a Chow Funn Okazuya Burger? Ha? How you figgah? A Chow Funn “bun” (Hula brand), encasing a grilled ground chicken patty laced thick with pineappple-infused teriyaki sauce (to replicated shoyu chicken), topped with shrimp tempura (local style), nori and watercress. Yeah, baby!
Or, how about a Cake Noodle Burger? What you figgah? A chow mein-based “bun”, fried like cake noodle, encasing a grilled beef patty smothered with chinese “brown gravy” (ginger and oyster sauce-based), topped with thin slices of steamed broccoli. Cha-CHING!
Or, how about a Pancit Burger? A Pancit Bihon (the thin type) based “bun” encasing a grilled ground pork patty that’s mixed generously with finely-chopped Longanisa, topped with sauteed garlic shrimp and steamed green papaya. Macadang-dang that! Or, Pancit Tinola Burger: a grilled ground chicken patty laced generously with ginger, topped with cooked green papaya and malungay leaves on a Pancit Bun. Triple Macadang-dang that!
Try wait, try wait, I not pau yet…
How about a Chicken Long Rice Burger? What you tink, Uncle? I figgah, make da’ “bun” out of da long rice (nah, fo realz?) mixed with plenny ‘kine green onions. Stay wrap around one steamed ginger chicken patty, stay serve wit’ ginger-infused chicken stock on da’ side fo’ dip inside. Lomi Samon and Poi on da side, also stay get. Hoo, dat’ buggah soun’ ono, eh? lol
OK, that’s about all I can think of right now, as far as noodle-based “burgers” go. The Chicken Long Rice Burger drained all my creative juices.
How about you? Ever try a Ramen Burger or Saimin Burger yet? Have any ideas yourself for a good noodle-based bun to make a burger with? Topping options? Share your thoughts!
P.P.S. This is by far one of, if not THE BEST electric guitar album of ALL TIME!…