Taco Rice: Okinawa Taco Rice
Okinawa Taco Rice marries the influences of American taco ground beef with a bowl of Japanese white rice, with origins from a post World War II military presence in the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa. Topped with classic taco garnishes, it’s a humble dish at heart — this version adds a few special touches to make it extra special!
Okinawa Taco Rice combines American taco-style ground beef with a bowl of Japanese white rice, a humble, yet satisfying taco rice bowl that has its origins from the U.S. military presence after the Second World War. Topped with classic taco garnishes, it’s a humble dish at heart — this version adds a few special touches to make it extra special!
When we traveled to Okinawa a year ago, we were excited to soak in the unique culture of this Japanese prefecture, a place that was special to my husband, who lived on this sleepy island for five years as a little boy. Little did we know that our son would fall in love. So madly, deeply in love, that for months afterward, he would still be talking about it.
This unforgettable love was unexpected, that’s for sure.
He fell in love with taco rice.
And he has asked me to recreate it at home ever since.
What is Okinawa Taco Rice?
This history of Taco Rice is a prime example of the American military influence on culinary creations throughout the world, with its presence in the Okinawan prefecture in Japan since the Second World War. It is said that the dish originated in the 1980’s, by restaurant owner Matsuzo Gibo, born out of ingenuity and a need to make a living while catering to a growing clientele of U.S. military personnel. The Americans brought their love of tacos, and Gibo found an affordable way to deliver those familiar flavors with something quite ubiquitous to Japan: a bowl of rice.
Taco rice, or tacoraisu, was born.
While the presence of U.S. military in Okinawa is not without its controversy or tensions, taco rice is an example where the melting pot of influences has permeated Okinawa’s culture, and can be found all throughout the island, now considered very much a classic Okinawan food. Beloved just as much by locals as by military personnel, it’s a delicious fusion dish that can everyone can appreciate.
At its heart, it is a very simple dish: rice topped with taco beef, and all the classic taco fixings: lettuce, tomato, and cheese.
During our travels in Okinawa, we savored as many versions as possible — from the humble taco rice from a hole-in-the-wall eateries, to vegan taco rice at a restaurant in American Village, to my son’s favorite: an elevated taco rice at the Ritz-Carlton Okinawa, served in a Dolsot-style stone bowl and topped with a poached egg. It is this version he craves the most and what I am so excited to share with you today!
How to Make Taco Rice
As I mentioned, taco rice is a dish with humble ingredients and humble beginnings. It’s the perfect dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and a great way to jazz up Taco Tuesday. My son’s favorite version is this elevated taco rice served in a hot stone bowl with a perfectly poached egg.
The egg is truly optional, but my son would argue otherwise. You could skip it, or if it’s easier, serve it sunny side up. But poaching eggs is really quite simple, and you could even do this the day before.
As for the ground beef, it’s no different than making a classic American taco filling. Brown the ground beef and onions, and season with soy sauce and taco seasoning.
If you’ve ever had Korean bibimbap in a stone bowl (Dolsot Bibimbap), then you’ll know that when you serve it in a sizzling stone bowl, you are rewarded with a bottom layer of crispy rice, adding extra texture and flavor! After our trip, I invested in some stone bowls, but you can also achieve a similar effect with a cast iron pan. And of course, you can simply serve it in a regular plate or bowl — this is, after all, the classic taco rice way!
Top the bowl with your favorite toppings, stir up the rice to combine, and dig in!
More Taco Recipes
Taco Rice: Okinawa Taco Rice
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup onion finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 pound ground beef I recommend 90% lean ground sirloin
- 2 tablespoons taco seasoning recipe below
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/2 cup beef stock or water
- 2-3 tablespoons sesame oil for the stone bowls or cast iron skillet, if using
- 4 cups cooked rice about 2 cups uncooked rice
- 2 cups romaine lettuce chopped
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup cilantro minced 1/4 cup tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup red onion finely chopped 2 tablespoons green onion, thinly sliced
- Furikake to taste
Taco Seasoning (for this recipe)
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon chipotle or cayenne pepper
Prepare the Poached Eggs
- Prepare a bowl with ice water and set to the side.
- Bring a deep sided sauté pan filled with water to a boil.
- Lightly salt the water when it comes to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer.
- Crack an egg into a ramekin. Swirl the simmering water, bring the ramekin close to the surface of the water, and gently drop the egg in. Repeat with remaining eggs. Cook until the eggs are softly set, about 3 minute, then use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs into the ice bath.
- Set aside until ready to serve. If preparing in advance, keep in the refrigerator; this can be done the night before.
- Drop in hot water to reheat right before serving.
Make the Ground Beef Taco Filling
- Heat olive oil in a deep sided skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions, and cook until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and cook for 30 seconds.
- Add the ground beef and stirring to break down the meat to an even crumble, cooking for 3-5 minutes, or until the beef is browned. Season with soy sayce, taco seasoning (adding more or less to taste, and beef stock/water. Bring it to a simmer, and cook for about 5-7 minutes covered on low heat.
Assemble the Taco Rice Bowls
- If using a stone bowl or cast iron skillet, lightly brush the bottom of the bowls/skillet with sesame oil. Press about 1 cup of rice in the bottom of each bowl.
- Top the rice with ground beef, and place the stone bowls on stovetop burners. Heat for about 7-10 minutes, or until the rice begins to crisp; you should be able to hear it. Carefully remove from heat with oven mitts (the rice will continue to crisp up from the residual heat in the bowls).
- Top with lettuce, cheese, cilantro, tomato, red onion, green onion, poached egg, and a sprinkling of furikake. Serve immediately.