Taco rice is a delicious and colourful fusion dish from Okinawa. Japanese white rice topped with taco style ground beef, fresh salad, crispy tortilla chips and a soft boiled egg, this dish is quick to make and every bite is packed with flavour!
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What is Taco Rice?
Taco Rice, also known as takoraisu (タコライス), is one of the most famous regional dishes to come from Okinawa, Japan. Fluffy Japanese style rice is topped with typical taco fillings and manages to create a surprisingly delicious fusion dish that combines the best flavours and textures from Tex-mex and Japanese cuisine.
Origin and history of Taco Rice
Taco rice originates from the southwestern prefecture of Okinawa. Okinawa is made up of a group of subtropical islands called "Ryukyu Islands" which are located south west of Kyushu, lying between Japan and Taiwan.
Since WW2, Okinawa became home to the largest U.S. military base in Japan and this had a huge impact on the culture and food! The Americans brought their love for tacos and in turn, taco rice was born!
The first taco rice was created by a chef named Matsuzo Gibo in 1984. He owned a restaurant located near the U.S. military base and wanted to create a dish that would be popular amongst the American military. Combining their love for tacos with Japanese rice was some simple genius on his part and taco rice became a well loved dish, not only in Okinawa, but across all of Japan!
Apparently it's even served in school lunches in Okinawa!
Taco rice is quick to prepare and easy to customize. Here are some common ingredients:
- Ground beef (can be substituted with pork, chicken or soy meat)
- Tortilla chips
- Japanese mayonnaise
In my recipe I added an "onsen egg" which is a slow cooked, soft boiled egg. Lots of cafes add onsen egg, soft boiled egg or a fried egg to the top of taco rice but it's totally optional!
While taco seasoning is pretty accessible in Okinawa, it wasn't so easy to find in mainland Japan back then. Even these days, you generally only find it in big supermarkets or import stores and the selection is limited.
Because of this, people had to be creative and used typical Japanese condiments to create a taco-like taste with a Japanese twist.
In my recipe I use the following condiments to season the beef:
Of course, it's fine to use premade taco seasoning, but if you want your taco rice to have more of a Japanese flavour, you should definitely try my recipe! You'll be surprised how good it is!
Taco / Tako confusion
In Japanese, the word "tako" (タコ) means "octopus".
When I was a kid, I saw Okinawa style taco rice on a TV drama and my immediate thought was..."Why does it not have octopus!?"
Now that I'm older, it's obvious that taco does not mean octopus here.
This taco refers to Mexican Tacos. In Japanese we call tacos, "takosu" (タコス) but for some reason this dish is called "taco rice" not "takosu rice" so hopefully you understand the confusion I went through as a kid!