By Anni Caporuscio

The Vegan Saimin. It’s a seaweed and coconut milk-based broth with onions, ginger, garlic and shiitake mushrooms. It is creamy and only slightly spicy. The greens are a mustard cabbage: hearty enough to not fall apart and a little spicier than your average cabbage.

Saimin Dojo is a new eatery on the Eastside owned and operated by Brandon Baptiste and Josh Tamaoka. You know these guys from their earlier sensation, Wailua Shave Ice, which serves custom creative icy treats made from real fruits and homemade confections.

The Dojo is a simple, no fuss, easy, serve-yourself kind of place with the atmosphere of a hangout. The menu is Spartan and clean with only a few variations (for now) and it sticks to the basics: saimin. Brandon says their inspiration comes from taking the food to which you have an emotional connection (isn’t that 50 percent of eating?), and making it better. They spend a ton of time brainstorming; and the results are the little touches that make Saimin Dojo a great experience.

For example: They smoke their own meat, so the bowls come with thick slices of house-smoked pork belly instead of spam. The bowls contain not the easy, old half hard-boiled egg, but a cured and marinated soft-boiled egg. Their standard broth is a combination of fish, seaweed and meat broth, with a “tare,” a seasoning made from a variety of ingredients, including shoyu, ginger and apple. Their noodles are hand-made on ‘Oahu by a nationally famous noodle company and shipped to order. They are thick and hold up in the broth, absorbing the flavors.

The Garlic Bowl. It is full of rich flavor and, yes, garlic. This Saimin is not light and airy, but a full-fledged meal. Note the rich brown broth and the thick slices of smoked meat.

I asked if they’re breaking Saimin rules, but Brandon insists that even with all their upgrades and variations, there are no rules for Saimin. Saimin has a Hawaiian origin, born of necessity, with every culture throwing in a signature ingredient (just like musubi and poke). You can usually find egg, spam, green onion and “kamaboko” (the pink and white fish cake) with a fish broth and noodles. Saimin Dojo did, however, break the one major rule: No MSG.

Saimin is similar to Ramen, but some of the differences are these: 1. Saimin is exclusively of Hawaiian origin, whereas Ramen is Japanese. 2. Saimin is an older variety of a noodle soup that people in Hawai‘i grew up with and Ramen gained popularity in the 1990s. 3. Ramen has become an art form with regional versions and even variations between ramen stands. Similarly; Saimin is still evolving, and we get to participate.

Brandon Baptiste, pictured here, and Josh Tamaoka are the masterminds behind Saimin Dojo. Brandon is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. He returned to Kaua‘i to take part in the evolution of island cuisine.

There are also no rules to actually consuming Saimin. The Dojo provides house-made spicy condiments so you can doctor your soup to taste. I like to curate each bit with chopsticks and a spoon and fill it with all the items so that it’s slightly too much for a reasonable bite. The Dojo serves teriyaki sticks to go with your Saimin, and that’s typical of Kaua‘i. On‘ Oahu, I hear, you can get a cheeseburger on the side.

Pay attention to Saimin Dojo. They’ll be brainstorming and experimenting with new menu items like salads and bowls, and new flavors as well. They’ve also got beer and wine pending. Find them on the Eastside next to the fire station in Kapa‘a, at 4-733 Kuhio Highway. Visit for more information, or drop by 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.

  • Anni Caporuscio is a food lover and can be found daily at her Kapa‘a business, Small Town Coffee.