Continuing with Asian Heritage month, I decided to try making Taco Rice, a Tex-Mex-Okinawan fusion recipe originated in Japan. In 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, The United States started functioning as Japan’s administrative authority, taking over the government, and establishing a military presence all around the country. Although the occupation officially ended in the 1950s, The US forces in Japan (USFJ) remained responsible for defence security in the country as part of a bi-national treaty, which included that the Okinawa prefecture, an archipelago in Southern Japan, became a US territory; the islands remained with that status until the early 1970s, when control was returned to the Japanese government.
The opening of bases during the occupation – several of which continue to operate on the islands – prompted demand for Western-style food that was economical and filling. Tins of processed meat, such as Spam™, and other convenience store foodstuffs are now part of Okinawan cuisine, and local restaurant owners incorporated elements and ingredients of American-style dishes into their menus. Taco Rice (タコライス) is perhaps the best example of this fusion; reportedly starting as some sort of meat taco filling on rice as early as the 1960s, it is attributed in its final form to Matsuzo Gibo, a creation at his legendary Parlor Senri, founded in 1984 in the town of Kin, in northern Okinawa. A bed of Japanese steamed rice was topped with ground beef cooked with Tex-Mex taco seasoning, then topped with processed cheese, lettuce and tomato slices:
The dish was served in large plates, with a spoon, as shown above, and concocted catering to the American palate; however, Japanese customers soon began to take a liking to the dish. The menu was so successful with both locals and foreigners, that Mr. Gibo opened a second restaurant named King Tacos, also in Kin, and eventually, his restaurants transformed into a chain with seven locations around the prefecture; Taco Rice is now nationally famous, recognized as the quintessential example of Okinawan fusion cuisine. Mr. Gibo passed away in 2014, at the age of 85 and, although the original Parlor Senri closed its doors in June of 2015, King Tacos is still a successful family business.
Steamed rice is the staple grain that Japanese people will eat with anything; my mom used to eat bowls of rice topped with any leftovers, using chopsticks, regardless of being Japanese or Mexican toppings; one of her favourites was crumbled Mexican chorizo:
For my version of Taco Rice, I mostly followed the model of the original Tex-Mex-Oki dish from Parlor Senri, but took the inspiration for my Mexican twist from my mom’s creative use of chorizo, a truly Mexican seasoned meat, using it instead of the original Tex-Mex seasoned ground beef. To add more flavour and Mexican flare, I also chose a Mexican cheese and pico de gallo salsa, instead of processed cheese and sliced tomatoes.
Taco Rice with Chorizo –
Arroz con sabor a taco de chorizo
Ingredients (for two portions)
1 ½ cups raw short grain rice; rinsed and drained
2 2/3 cups water (see directions below)
½ lb (225 g) Mexican chorizo (click here for my homemade recipe, or from store)
4 leaves Romaine lettuce; washed and sliced finely
1 medium tomato; washed, stem ends removed and chopped
½ medium white onion; peeled and chopped
½ bunch cilantro; thoroughly washed, dried and chopped
1 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt, to taste
½ cup shredded cheese, such as Mexican Manchego (Friulano and Gouda are two good choices, too)
Cook rice: Make sure to use short grain Japanese-type rice (O. sativa subsp. japonica). In Canada, California cultivars of Japonica rice (Calrose) are easily available, which, although technically not true Japanese rice, were developed in the 1940s by Japanese-American farmers and to me, are really good. Unlike regular rice from Japan, (Musenmai) Calrose rice does not need to be thoroughly rinsed several times, and soaking is optional; it will require a little more water, as well. For the stovetop, start with the cleaned raw short grain rice in a pot, and add the measured water; bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a gentle simmer, and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to rest, covered, for five minutes; gently fluff by turning portions of rice over with a rice paddle (shamoji) or a wooden spatula. If you have a rice cooker, the ratios might be different, so follow the manufacturer’s instructions. There are many different brands of rice cookers, with prices ranging from under twenty to over a hundred USD; I have a middle-of-the-range Oster™ and it has worked great for me.
For your convenience, click on the images below for products available on Amazon™. DISCLAIMER: Any reviews included in this post are my own, for items I have purchased, not provided by any company; as an Amazon Associates Program affiliate, I might receive a commission for any purchases originated from the links below, at no extra cost to you (thank you to readers who have bought other products starting with a click from my links!):
While rice is cooking, remove chorizo from casing onto a frying pan over medium heat; break into small pieces, and cook, stirring and turning:
Continue until fully cooked and slightly crispy. Drain excess fat and reserve.
Prepare pico de gallo salsa by mixing tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice and salt in a bowl:
Once rice is ready, assemble the Taco Rice in layers in a large serving platter (for two), or into two separate individual portions. I chose individual portions, using a wide and a regular bowl, to compare presentations, and dividing all ingredients equally amongst them. Place a layer of rice at the bottom spreading and gently flattening, then top with cooked chorizo (photo below, left); continue with a layer of lettuce, then scoop salsa on top (photo below, right):
Finish with shredded cheese:
I chose to serve this bowl with chopsticks, as my mom would have done; it looked very elegant, but I must confess that this meal was hard to eat with chopsticks, so a fork, or a humble spoon as in the original, are good choices, too. Using whatever utensil, make sure to dig down into the rice and pick a little from each layer:
I prepared the second portion in a regular bowl, as shown below; it did not show-off the layers as clearly as the wide bowl, but the result was not beneath it, still pretty, and equally delicious:
This presentation reminded me of fast-food taco bowls, like the ones from Qdoba™; the example below even has a layer of rice at the bottom, as well as fresh veggies and cheese forming the upper layers, but with a lot more other ingredients, such as beans, guacamole, plus bottled salsa and sliced jalapeño peppers for some spiciness:
FUN FACTS: Speaking of similar dishes with similar names, a few pointers about tacos, tako, and sushi, not to get confused when eating Mexican, Japanese and fusion dishes. Taco is a Mexican dish consisting of any food in a tortilla, then rolled or folded; the word has evolved to refer to any dish with taco filling flavours, even when the tortilla is missing, or cut into chips (as the Taco Rice in this post, or the taco bowl, shown above). Tako is the Japanese word for octopus; a Mexican octopus taco with Japanese influenced flavours would be a “Tako Taco”, which I featured in my previous post, as shown below, left. Sushi is a Japanese dish prepared with rice seasoned with sweet vinegar (called sushi-meshi), then rolled or topped with different ingredients; in the photo below, centre, two pieces of sushi topped with octopus and seaweed, which could be listed on a menu as “Tako Sushi”. Finally, “Sushi Taco” is a fusion dish created in a restaurant called “Norigami Tacos” in Los Angeles, California consisting of a battered circular sheet of seaweed (nori) used instead of a tortilla, to be filled with sushi-meshi, then topped with a variety of flavours, Mexican or Asian; it has become popular in other places, such as the example in the photo below, right, in Vancouver, Canada, with a whole soft-shelled crab, avocado, sauce, and sprouts as toppings:
I am sharing my post at Thursday Favourite Things #491, with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode.