My friend Jen reminded me of taco rice the other day. It took me right to Okinawan taco rice. At first glance, you’re probably thinking that Okinawa and tacos don’t really go together. I thought the same thing when we first moved to Japan in 2004. But, I quickly found out there were many places to get tacos on the island, and even better, a delicious variation called taco rice.
The first place we had it was a small restaurant by the seawall with lots of exposed wood and an open doorway simply covered by a blue and white curtain. A lady came to take our order and asked us what toppings we wanted. We told her to put the toppings that she suggested on the rice, since we weren’t familiar with the concept of taco rice at the time and figured she would know best. She brought back these gorgeous, steaming, deep blue pottery bowls filled with rice and taco toppings. On top, a gorgeous fried egg. We were skeptical since the egg was another ingredient we did not associate with tacos, but we were in a new place and in new places you try new things. That’s half the fun. We dug in right from the top, getting a little of everything in our first bite. That first bite…that savory, cheesy, crunchy, oozy, salty, ridiculous first bite! It made us wonder why taco rice hadn’t always been in our lives.
As we were stuffing our faces, we noticed the lady that took our order ducked out of the front door and across the street to a Yen Shop. She retuned shortly, and with her, she had a small bag which she took to the back. We were still eating and marveling at the wonder of taco rice when she approached our table with a toy set. She placed in on the table in front of our then three year-old daughter and told us that it was part of her meal. That was the very moment Okinawa took a piece of my heart and never let it go. She didn’t speak much English and our Japanese was terrible, so she could have pretended toys didn’t come with the meal. It wasn’t written anywhere. But she took the time to take care of us and bring us the best rice bowls she thought we’d like and even dash out to pick up a toy for our kiddo. We learned a lot about hospitality, the Okinawan people, and the power of a comforting bowl of taco rice.
I’m sharing this recipe with you as a way to bring a little Okinawan hospitality and deliciousness to your table. Whether or not you decide to top it with a fried egg is your decision, but either way I hope you’ll give this a try.
1 recipe sushi rice (we use Alton Brown’s recipe and it is perfect every time)
1 lb. ground Beef or Turkey
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 Tablespoon Chili Powder
1 teaspoon ground Cumin
1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 teaspoon Paprika
1/2 teaspoon Oregano
1/2 teaspoon Onion Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/4 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 cup water
Taco toppings: Shredded Lettuce, Cheese, Chopped Tomato, etc.
Optional: Fried Egg
Make sushi rice according to recipe.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Put a little olive oil in the pan. Brown the beef or turkey, and drain of most of the fat, leaving just a little for moisture.
Mix all of the spices from the chili powder through the red pepper flakes in a small bowl.
Add the tomato paste to the meat in the skillet and stir until combined. Mix in the spice blend and cook for a minute or so until they smell fragrant. Pour in the water and stir, letting it simmer for 2-3 minutes to let the flavors meld.
To assemble, place some of the sushi rice in a bowl. Top with meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato and fried egg, if you wish.
The Okinawans aren’t as fond of these toppings, but you can also use sour cream, taco sauce, green onions or cilantro if they are something you like! Make it your own, just as long as you’re making it, I’m thrilled.
Be sure to take pictures of your taco rice and post it to my Facebook Page or use the hashtag #eclecticyellowhouse on Instagram. You can follow me on Twitter now too at @EclecticYellow. Let’s connect and wax poetic about taco rice, Okinawa, fried eggs…I’m down with it all!