Difference between ramen and saimin – learn how to identify the two

If you love noodles, you’ve most likely eaten ramen and saimin – and with gusto! 

But when you’ve seen these two for the first time, before you took your first slurp, you’ve most likely wondered if they are the same.

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We will help you understand the differences between ramen and saimin. We’ll discuss their ingredients, preparation, texture, and taste.

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Ramen and Saimin – where are they from?

All things noodles are from China, with the oldest evidence from about 4,000 years ago. It spread from China to the rest of the world when bartering and trade routes opened.

Chinese immigrants brought the knowledge of making noodles in soupy broth. They started selling them in Japan’s Chinatown in the late 19th and early 20th century.

In 1910, Japan opened its first authentic Japanese ramen shop that served noodles similar to those popularized by the Chinese.

In 1947, chefs accidentally over-boiled the broth. This mistake created the Hakata tonkotsu Ramen. The soup turned into a milky and white masterpiece. Regional variations, like the miso ramen in Sapporo, Hokkaido, started. 

Meanwhile, saimin is a Hawaiian noodle created in the late 1900s.

Local stories say that saimin was created on a sugar plantation. Different Asian cuisines, like Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese, and Chinese, influenced it.

As the story goes, saimin came about when workers came together to eat lunch and shared some of the food they brought for lunch. Saimin was born from one of these luncheons. 

However, this story is questionable to some. This is because these groups are not as friendly towards each other when eating lunch together.  

Main differences between saimin and ramen

Though ramen and saimin are noodle dishes served in hot broth with toppings, they are entirely different. Besides their places of origin, a costly bowl of ramen and saimin have distinct differences. Let’s check them out.

Noodles 

Saimin noodles are made with wheat flour, water, potassium carbonate, and salt and are often incorporated with eggs that are safe to eat even when raw. The noodles are somewhat thick, a tad curly, and slightly chewy. The noodles are also notably lighter in color.

Ramen uses wheat noodles from wheat flour, water, salt, and kansui. Kansui gives the noodles their yellow color, elasticity, and chewiness. Eggs are not used in the making of ramen noodles. 

The type of ramen determines the size of the noodles; Miso ramen uses thick noodles, while Tonkotsu uses thin ones. 

Broth: Saimin vs Ramen

Saimin is a simple dish that uses shrimp and bonito-base broth that is clear and transparent. Because of the base used, the broth has no floating oil, leaving it with a clean and refreshing taste.

Compared to ramen, saimin broth has a milder flavor.

Meanwhile, ramen uses fish, chicken, or pork for the soup stock and is flavored with aromatic spices. This gives the ramen broth its thick, milky appearance and umami flavor. It is also the reason why the soup is oily. 

Ramen broth tastes richer and more flavorful. It is also saltier than regular saimin.

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Toppings

It’s not just the soup and noodles that look the same – but also the toppings used. But if you look closely, even the toppings are distinct in ramen and saimin.

Both ramen and saimen are served with chashu (roast meat), narutomaki (fish cake), and green onions.

Chasu for saimin is cut in strings or cubes. There are also times when cooks replace chasu with spam. On the other hand, ramen uses thinly sliced chasu while retaining its circular shape.

As for the narutomaki in saimin, it is outlined with a red swirling pattern that goes from the center and extends toward the edges. The narutomaki has a pink swirly design for ramen, mainly in the mid portion, with the outer edges stark white. 

The missing menma and ajitama are important toppings for ramen. They are not in saimin.

Although you may find some saimin served with egg, it is mostly plainly boiled and does not give additional flavor to the dish. 

You may notice that Nori, a type of dried seaweed, is always present when eating ramen. It is an add-on for saimin that you can include based on your preference.

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What I like best

Ramen stands out in my noodle pairing journey for a few key reasons. The rich, flavorful broth, the colorful and artfully placed toppings, and the perfect pairing options make ramen my top pick. 

What’s more, though mainly eaten with chopsticks, you can use either fork or spoon to eat ramen and saimin.

Its versatility and the ability to tailor each bowl to my liking set it apart from saimin. 

You may want to try ramen with my go-to pairing options to make the experience even better.

Beverage: Classic Japanese green tea, iced barley tea, and sake complement ramen’s rich broths.

Side Dish: Gyoza and seaweed salad elevate the overall experience with their textures and flavors.

Condiment: Soy sauce, chili oil, sesame seeds, and shredded nori allow for a personalized touch to each bowl.