Hanging out in Sacto’s own Japan Town—sampling Shoki’s ramen and Osaka Ya’s shaved ice

Shoki tops Top Ramen

By Grant Miner

Page Editor

When one thinks of ramen, they probably think of a styrofoam cup filled with dried noodles, a staple food of many a college student.

But Shoki Ramen House (1201 R St.) hopes to change all that.

Shoki originally opened its doors in 2007 on 24th Street across the way from the DMV.

That first place of business was basically a house. Its small size (the kitchen took up a quarter of the eating area) combined with the restaurant’s success caused long lines and even longer wait times. So the owners opened “Shoki II” on R Street in 2011.

I, along with the rest of the population that finds dining in a sardine can a bit uncomfortable, prefer their new location.

Though Shoki II is larger and much better suited to, well, being a restaurant, it still retains the atmosphere that made the old Shoki great. While the kitchen is (mostly) concealed, it’s open enough that the sound and smells of cooking ramen fill the restaurant.

And service remains excellent.

The staff is always friendly, and yells of “Irashaimase!” (“Welcome!”) greet diners as they enter.

Food-wise, what sets Shoki Ramen apart is its customizability.

The basis of ramen is its soup stock, a broth flavored with different ingredients that gives the ramen its underlying taste.

A regular bowl of Shoki ramen has three: wafu, a traditional Japanese  stock made of sea kelp, bonito, dried mackerel and Shiitake mushrooms; niku, a meat stock; and yasai, a vegetable stock.

While you can request your ramen with any combination of the three, some flavors may not be available with certain stocks.

For example, the curry ramen can be made only with all three stocks while the gluten-free Tan Tan Men ramen  is made with only the wafu stock.

Once the base stock is selected, there are also six flavors of ramen to choose from: Shio, a sea-salt based broth, Shoyu, a soy sauce broth, Tan Tan Men, a spicy ramen, Curry and Soy Milk.

Shoki also featuures Tsuke Men, in which the noodles are served on ice with a mildly spicy dipping broth on the side.

To make matters even more complicated, there is also an inordinate amount of toppings, ranging from something as little as extra noodles (50 cents) to Triple Chashu, which is six sizable slices of pork ($6.50) on top of an already large meal.

And their ramen comes in three sizes: small, which is larger than many bowls in my house; regular; and large, the ramen equivalent of a Big Gulp.

My  favorite is the Tan Tan Men, which comes with varying degrees of spicy—mild, regular, extra and super—depending on how much chili paste is added.

The Shio was originally my ramen of choice, making me the laughingstock of my more spice-tolerant friends.

But not being one to back down from a challenge, I have painstakingly worked towards regular over the past few times I’ve been there.

And I’m proud that the last time I ordered regular my water glass was refilled only five times.

Though most people haven’t been to a restaurant that exclusively serves ramen, it isn’t much of an acquired taste.

Anyone who enjoys a good bowl of chicken-noodle soup will appreciate Shoki.

Red beans make shaved ice cloyingly sweet

By Maxwell Shukuya

Page Editor

Junior Maxwell Shukuya samples a tiger's blood snow cone in front of Osaka Ya's serving window. Although it sounds exotic, the flavor is just a variation on the classic fruit punch. (Photo by Grant Miner)
Junior Maxwell Shukuya samples a tiger’s blood snow cone in front of Osaka Ya’s serving window. Although it sounds exotic, the flavor is just a variation on the classic fruit punch. (Photo by Grant Miner)

In my opinion, Osaka Ya (2215 10th St.) brings a piece of unbearably sweet Japanese tradition to the quiet streets of downtown Sacramento.

However, many customers obviously disagree with me.

On hot days, the quiet downtown neighborhood is inundated with people of all ages who frequent Osaka Ya.

Wanting to find out what attracted them, I tried the restaurant’s most traditional dessert, the uji-kintoki.

Shaved ice (kakigori), dates back to 11th-century Japan. It was a delicacy back then, available only to nobles.

Then, naturally formed ice was shaved with a knife and topped with flavoring such as sap from an ivy vine.

Later, during the 1930s, ice-making and ice-shaving machines were developed, making the confection widespread in Japan.

Most kakigori today are served with condensed milk poured over flavors like melon or strawberry.

Osaka Ya’s own basic kintoki is layered with sugar-soaked red beans at the bottom and mixed with ice in the middle.

Other options include adding ice cream in the middle ($1.50) and green tea powder (65 cents) and condensed milk (75 cents) as toppings.

I enjoyed every flavorful bite—until I reached the final red-bean layer, when my mouth was overwhelmed with sweetness.

The beans mixed with the settled condensed milk made the rest of the cone impossible to finish.

In addition, I had to wait forever for the unfinishable snow cone. It took a total of  20 minutes for our five cones to appear.

And finally,  when our order did arrive, we were one snow cone short, and the flavors were rather banal—pineapple, green apple, root beer, strawberry and tiger’s blood (fruit punch).

Moreover, Osaka Ya only accepts cash, and the server at the window didn’t possess the politeness one would expect from a Japanese restaurant.

Reluctant to give me a bill, he handed me an illegible wet one with prices that excluded the actual cones we ordered.

I ran into the same problems in Osaka Ya’s attached store.

While the service was somewhat better, manju pastries were also laced with the dreaded red beans.

Manju are served in Japan as both a meal and dessert.  Fillings range from teriyaki chicken (kare man) to sweet potatoes with white lima beans and cinnamon.

Osaka Ya makes a total of 20 different manju ($1.25) pastries fresh.

I tried the pink fukashi, a mochi-covered (pounded rice) confection, filled with red beans.

The sweet mochi membrane dissolved in my mouth, leaving the sweeter red bean paste.

Again, I was overwhelmed by the cloying sweetness of the squishy mochi and red beans.

However, my experience wasn’t completely unpleasant.

The second manju I tried, the kurumi, had walnuts that offset the saccharine beans, and added a crunchiness that I appreciated.

And, in the same store, there are plenty of Japanese staples such as Pocky (flavored breadsticks).

It isn’t worth going to Osaka Ya for the minuscule manju or the common Asian snacks, though.

If you’re looking for a change of pace and don’t mind extremely sweet desserts, then Osaka Ya’s a great stop to make.

On most days, though, I’ll avoid Osaka Ya and stick to my pint of Haagen Dazs.


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