Saturday, December 08, 2007

Sakura Saku - Huntington Beach


Taco rice.

Upon hearing that phrase, I shuddered as my culinary senses prickled, detecting a disturbance in The Force. Somewhere out there, in Huntington Beach, there was a Japanese restaurant that dared to create this aberration of nature, this unholy Frankenstein monster of dish that...combined taco meat and grated cheese with Japanese rice.

I read about it on Mmm-yoso. Kirk, its creator, was minding his own business, ordering lunch at a joint in HB, when he got a whiff and caught sight of the thing.

He writes:

"...one of the young men on a nearby table was eating the strangest bowl.....it smelled like taco meat.....and when I inquired, I was told, it was something called "Taco Rice", which was taco meat topped with cheese, tomato, and lettuce on a bowl of rice! I was told that the "young people like it."

Immediately, I was intrigued, but also afraid -- the kind of fear that drives a man closer to his destiny. I was going to try this "taco rice", even as a small part of me said "No!"

Thankfully, the whole of my soul would not be swayed and yelled back with a defiant "Why not?!"

An officemate, seeing determination in my step as I marched out of my cube clutching my car keys, asked, "Hey, where are you going?" I told him of my quest, and he reacted as I expected anyone would -- with a scrunched face and one word: "Ugh!"

At the same moment, another co-worker, who was a Marine, overheard the conversation and said to us matter-of-factly, "Why...I haven't had taco rice since I was stationed in Okinawa."

Okinawa?

This was starting to make a lot of sense. A U.S. military base abroad is always bound to influence local food. Think of Hawaii and SPAM. All it takes is one homesick Marine and an enterprising indigenous cook and BAM! A dish like taco rice (or takoraisu) is born.

Inevitably, the invention becomes loved by the locals too. After that, it's only a matter of time before it appears stateside, in a West-to-East-to-West feedback loop.

So with this new-found knowledge (a fact later confirmed by Wikipedia), my two intrepid comrades and I set off and found Sakura Saku, whereupon we ordered the dish. I took mine as the restaurant offered it, with lettuce and tomato, but my ex-Marine friend opted for no veggies**.

When it arrived, it was exactly as I imagined. Ground beef -- seasoned not unlike Taco Bell's or any other all-American Tex-Mex taco -- is heaped on top of Japanese sticky rice. On the side, there's even a small bowl of Pace Picante Sauce, along with a pair of chopsticks.

I used the chopsticks not without appreciating the irony.

How did it taste? Well, in a word: good. The neutrality of Japanese rice plays well with the strong flavors of taco meat and cheese -- not at all the disaster I thought it would be, but also, decidedly ordinary.

It's neither scary nor freakish nor particularly life-changing, like finding Bigfoot only to discover that he's just a really hairy homeless man.

Takoraisu doesn't aspire to be more than the sum of its parts -- and still, it works. But it's nothing that you can't make at home with a skillet and a packet of Lawry's seasoning.

Perhaps the only thing surprising about it is the price: $6.50, which is a hard sell for this Southern Californian who was raised on rice and 49-cent tacos (eaten separately, of course). But to the Okinawan, I suppose it will be a taste of home. How's that for irony?

Though I do wonder if somewhere in Japan, there is a Japanese food blogger who has written a post like this about seeing a California Roll at his neighborhood McDonalds.

Sakura Saku
(714) 848-3838
7572 Edinger Ave
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

**NOTE: My other friend took the chicken karaage combo as his lunch. And it was just as good as Kirk described. Juicy, crispy, gigantic hunks of fried, sake-marinated goodness. A bargain at $6.00 since it also includes rice, salad, yakisoba, and a soft-drink. The owner is exceedingly nice, twice as cheerful as the Hello-Kitty posters and glitter he's strewn all around his place.

27 Comments:

At 10:43 PM, Blogger Jystar said...

though I never got a chance to try it, I witnessed a similar seeming-aberration in Hakodate, Japan. though I don't read or speak a whit of Japanese, the stuff appeared to be something like chili rice: ground beef in a thick red spicy sauce. the same place also sold a dish that looked like rice with an Italian meat sauce on top. I was rather surprised, because though Hakodate is a bit of a tourist destination in Japan, it doesn't see many Westerners, as far as I know, so I'm not sure what influence inspired the chili rice or the rice-with-meat-sauce.

 
At 11:42 PM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hey Elmo - Thanks for always being the intrepid foodie and checking it out. Who knows, the day that taco rice takes the Western World by storm, you'll be a pioneer! BTW, I grew up eating chili rice, didn't everyone?

 
At 11:55 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Hey Elmo, rad blog. I am a HB native, went to UCI, and now am living in Tokyo teaching English. In response to your McDonald's comment... they have weird shrimp burgers and koroke burgers. I haven't tried them, so I can't say if they're complete disasters or successes. Here's a link with more int'l McD mayhem: http://www.trifter.com/Practical-Travel/Budget-Travel/McDonalds-Strange-Menu-Around-the-World.35517

Happy Fooding!

 
At 8:47 AM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

I think I am going to go make some soft tacos and enchiladas with nori paper.

 
At 11:19 AM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Brave man. Kudos for taking one for the team. For fusion meat on rice action, though, nothing beats Waikiki's Loco Moco. =D

 
At 11:33 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Interesting review but for 6.50 its kind of hard to swallow. Emo, I grew up eating chilly rice. Warm up an good can of chilly and drizzle over rice, and also gravy over mush clumpy rice too :-D so so so goood.

Blahahaha nice one diamond dog.

 
At 12:01 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Jystar,

From Wikipedia, it appears that Hakodate was a port open to foreign trade, at least around the late 1800s. But that doesn't conclusive explain how the chili got into their rice! I'd still try it though! HAHA!

Kirk,

And I thank you for posting on a place local to me. I always enjoy following in your footsteps!

Mike,

Oh my!!!! What a find! I love it. Thank you! This reminds me of the "Local Breakfasts" that McD's offers in Hawaii. Complete with Portuguese sausage and SPAM!

I still can't get over the rice burger in Hong Kong, the McShawarma in Israel. Wild!

Diamond Dog,

Now that's either crazy or genius. I vote for both.

CP,

Ahh, yes...Waikiki's loco moco is a thing of such beauty I often forget it's also a hybrid. Maybe it won't be long for taco rice to attain the same status.

Bill,

I guess my next quest will be to find chili rice!

 
At 1:15 PM, Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

Haha! I had the same reaction when I first read it on Kirk's blog too. Although, should I admit that I used my leftover taco meat and tossed it into my tofu stew the last week? It wasn't half-bad. Maybe because the kimchee disguised all other flavors. :P

 
At 6:28 PM, Blogger digkv said...

Haha, taco rice. It seems like something my dad would do when we had taco nights. He really likes to eat traditional foods and eating rice with whatever protein did exactly that. So on nights that we would make tacos he would just eat rice with taco meat and the fixings rather than a taco shell.

 
At 7:29 PM, Blogger Vegasbuff said...

Wow, I used to put spaghetti sauce on rice when I was a little kid. Who knew, I could have made a small fortune, LOL. The only place I know that has chili rice is Shaka's in Monterey Park, but don't bother. It's all rice and very little chili. And it certainly tastes like it comes out of a can.

 
At 2:39 AM, Blogger Kai said...

You brave, brave, soul...

I don't think that I'll ever try it, even if I started eating meat again. But, I'll make sure to have my boyfriend try it. ^______^

 
At 8:26 AM, Blogger Marvin said...

Heh, this said it all for me:

"It's neither scary nor freakish nor particularly life-changing, like finding Bigfoot only to discover that he's just a really hairy homeless man."

Was it at least filling/satisfying? The taco rice looks like it would leave me still hungry.

 
At 9:59 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

OMG, TACO RICE - I love!!! hehe, sigh, never had it, but I think it would appeal to many in a 'comfort' way much like loco moco. Mmmm, your brief mention of Spam brought about an unexpected wash of homesickness :)

 
At 11:45 AM, Blogger raissa said...

The Philippines has McSpaghetti - cooked the Filipino way of course - on the sweeter side. McLongganiza Meal (sausage) is also served for breakfast.

I want some Schawarma haha

 
At 2:45 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

W.C.,

Mmm...I think you just made another fusion dish with the tofu-taco-soup. But yeah, kimchee would trump any other flavors.

digkv,

I guess it was bound to happen one way or the other. And your dad saved himself $6.50 by doing it himself!

Vegasbuff,

If that's the case, I got some Hormel at home and some rice...Naaaah. Just the thought of it kind makes me queasy.

Kai,

HAHA! "Get Mikey to try it! He'll eat anything!" -- From that classic Life cereal commercial.

Marvin,

You're right! It was actually not enough food for me. I ate a bag of chips to fill in the rest later.

Kathy,

Conversely, your mention of loco moco has made me want one! I haven't had one in a while, and now that its cold around here, it'd be perfect.

raissa,

Oh yeah! Longanisa! The king of all sausages. If only McD's did that here. I think that would be dangerous.

 
At 8:09 PM, Blogger Deb said...

my fiance has lived in Okinawa twice and that's where his mother is from. Ive got to investigate! Sounds awfully good to me (but then again...what doesn't?!)

 
At 12:37 PM, Blogger Juliet said...

That's a new way to look at fusion food. heh I think I'll try making that for dinner over the weekend.

 
At 9:19 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Deb,

There's some real home cookin' here. The chicken karaage seems to be dubbed repeatedly as "just as good as my mom's"...although I'm not Japanese, I can believe it.

Juliet,

It's the kind of fusion food that even I can pull of in my kitchen!

 
At 3:29 PM, Blogger Midori said...

kirkk: i also grew up w/ chili rice...and was shocked to discover that most of california had not!

elmo: if you're going to do it, you must top it off with a hot dog, shredded cheese, and possibly diced onions. if you're ever in hawaii again, you must go to zippy's (http://www.zippys.com/) for their chili rice!

 
At 12:30 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Midori,

I like you. You're crazy!

 
At 11:16 AM, Blogger Eddie Lin said...

it's like a foodie west side story except instead of a white guy and a puerto rican chick, it'd be a japanese guy and a mexican chica...or vice versa. it's a union that was forbidden and a food that never should've been known.

 
At 5:31 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Eddie,

The best word to describe this hybrid is a Japonexican. I'm sure someone can come up with better, and more offensive.

 
At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Mitasie 3 said...

Heylo,

I just happened to ran across your blog, very nice btw, and I want to ask if you want to try our restaurant. It's right next door to Sakura. It's called Mitasie 3- Healthy Vietnamese Food ( http://www.mitasie.com ). I have nothing against Sakura and I would definitely go try this dish, but mang the price look too high for me. Comparison to this, we have the "Cube Filet Mignon" dish for only $7. Come try our food and tell me what you think. :)

 
At 5:06 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Mitasie,

Your restaurant sounds fabulous. I'll have to check it out soon.

 
At 2:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So Elmo, is "Sakura Saku" a restaurant that serves other Okinawan dishes?

Regarding taco meat and rice, what's so bad about it? Whenever I've had some leftover taco meat at home I'll eat it with rice. Better than natto, or yama imo and raw egg over rice for some people.

 
At 10:27 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

Not really an Okinawan restaurant...I think the taco rice is the only remotely Okinawan thing there. And yup, there's nothing extraordinary or scary about Taco Rice. It's just rice and taco meat. In fact I'll be making it myself soon.

 
At 9:22 AM, Anonymous Ann said...

Elmo, great post -- it made me laugh. I wish I could stop by Sakura Saku for taco rice, but am far from HB. Let us know how your homecooked version turns out -- perhaps I can replicate it!

 

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