While the name may sound like a Tex-Mex dish, taco rice is a specialty of the Okinawa region of Japan. As the name might imply, the dish consists of spicy taco meat covering a pile of rice, with cheese, tomatoes and lettuce on top. The meat, while seasoned with chili powder and cumin, also includes soy sauce and sake, giving it a sweeter, milder flavor than the taco meat in the US.
So how did this Tex-Mex Japanese hybrid become one of the most well known dishes from the southernmost part of Japan?
Okinawa, a tropical island paradise, is home to 40,000 US military personnel based in Japan. With dozens of Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine installations occupying 18% of the main island, Okinawa is a melding pot of US, Japanese and native Okinawan people.
Likewise, the food reflects the diversity, and while the American presence is relatively recent, it’s already found its way into the culinary heritage of the area with hybrid dishes like this taco rice.
While it may be a far cry from the low-sodium, low-fat diet of the indigenous Okinawan people, it’s a simple filling meal that tells the story of the ever-evolving taste of food.
- 4 large iceberg lettuce leaves, shredded
- 8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 100 grams white cheddar or mozzarella, shredded (3.5 ounces)
- 4 servings cooked white rice
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 small onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 red chili pepper, finely minced (optional, to taste)
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin powder
- 330 g ground beef (12 ounces)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sake
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Wash and prep the lettuce and tomatoes. Shred the cheese. Cook the rice according to the package directions.
- Heat a frying pan over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add the oil, onions, garlic and chili peppers. Sauté until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the chili powder and cumin and continue frying until the spices are very fragrant.
- Add the ground beef and sauté, breaking up the chunks with a spatula. Once the meat is cooked through, add the tomato paste, soy sauce, sake and salt. Stir vigorously to combine. Once all the liquid has evaporated, the meat is done.
- To assemble your taco rice, put down a serving of rice on a plate. Top with a quarter of the meat, followed by a quarter of the cheese. Finish by sprinkling some of the shredded lettuce and cherry tomatoes on top. Repeat with the rest of the rice and meat.
- Serve with your favorite hot sauce.
Yield: 4 servings
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.