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Dry Idea: The story behind Maui's favorite noodle dish, Sam Sato's dry mein

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The restaurant’s noodles are one key to the dish’s fame. Sam Sato’s has been using the same noodles crafted by the Iwamoto Natto Factory in Paia for decades—a slightly thicker and chewier version of traditional saimin noodles. (For the uninitiated, saimin, though it resembles the Japanese noodle dish, ramen, is a simpler Hawaii-born noodle-soup creation flavored by dashi—broth—and spare garnishes.)

“Dry” refers to the dish’s soup-less presentation. The standard recipe calls for the noodles to be boiled, drained and quickly tossed in a mixture of soy sauce and oil, though not fried. Sam Sato’s one-ups this with the other key to its dry mein’s popularity—abandoning mere soy sauce and oil for its own noodle-seasoning mixture, a closely guarded recipe known only by select family members and a single restaurant employee. If that employee goes on vacation?

Another order of dry mein heads out to a table at Sam Sato's.

“We pretty much close down the restaurant,” said Toma, laughing.

After mixing each order, the dry mein is transferred to a saimin bowl and served with a side cup of dashi for dipping, sipping or pouring over the noodles.

“People don’t need the dashi to eat it,” Toma said. “Some people don’t even use it.”

If dry mein were the only menu item bringing hungry Mauians to Sam Sato’s, business would likely still be booming. As it turns out, though, the restaurant is about more than its noodles.

Sam Sato’s homemade manju—traditional Japanese baked pastries filled with sweetened bean and starch pastes—have also been a top seller since the restaurant’s 1933 opening. The recipes for the restaurant’s two manju varieties, lima bean and azuki bean, haven’t changed since Gladys Sato first created them.

Gladys also crafted the recipe for the restaurant’s popular turnovers, filled with apple, peach, blueberry, coconut, pineapple and combinations of each. For Thanksgiving, Sam Sato’s offers a pumpkin-filled turnover many fans wait for all year.

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
How to make Hawaii-style saimin broth (and mail order Hawaii noodles on the Mainland)
HAWAII Magazine’s "75 Places to Eat Like A Local": Noodles
Char's Chopsticks: Little Village in Chinatown

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