Hands up everyone who loves Japanese food. Now, hands up everyone who loves Tex-Mex. Okay, you can put both of your hands down now. If you’ve never had the pleasure of chowing down on a bowl of delicious “Taco Rice”, then you’re seriously missing out! This Okinawan dish is a staple of the islands, being both tasty and filling while at the same time satisfying many a U.S. military serviceperson’s hankering for a taste of home. We recently picked up a “Taco Rice bento box” from one of the best Taco Rice establishments on Okinawa.
Okinawa is a place with a rich culinary history, influenced by different cultures. It’s really quite distinct from mainland Japanese cuisine. There’s plenty of pork products as a result of Chinese influence, as well as certain vegetables that aren’t eaten as much elsewhere in Japan. Some of this writer’s favorites are sea grapes, a kind of seaweed covered in little bubbles, which burst between your teeth, and goya chanpuru, a sort of stir-fry made with Okinawan bitter gourd (an acquired taste) and tofu. The American influence can be seen in the A&W burger joints scattered across the main island, as well as in the U.S.-inspired Okinawan dish Taco Rice.
Typically, Taco Rice consists of taco-style ground beef served over a bed of fluffy white rice, with shredded lettuce, tomato, cheese and salsa. The dish was invented in 1984 by Matsuzo Gibo, who went on to operate a chain of Taco Rice restaurants known as “King Taco”, before sadly passing away on December 11 this year. Gibo’s vision lives on in the numerous Taco Rice establishments across Okinawa.
Our reporter stopped by a bento box stand selling Taco Rice bento boxes in the Chanpuru market. At 300 yen a box, the price was quite reasonable.
Freshly cooked that day, the lettuce was crisp, the cheese perfectly melty, and the meat pleasantly spiced, balanced perfectly by the mild flavor of nutty, sticky Japanese rice.
Taco Rice is an incredibly easy dish to make at home – all you need are taco fixings and Japanese rice. Served cold in the summer it’s refreshing, and you can add a little extra spice to warm you up in winter-time.
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