This was the most popular post I wrote in my first blog, which was about my cooking adventures while living in Kyoto right after finishing my bachelor’s degree and working first at Berlitz and then at Iori Machiya Co. with Alex Kerr. This post included my memories of a trip to Naha at Christmas as an undergraduate. It also mentions a café I loved that was closed when the old machiya it was in was torn down. Take a look at the deluge of comments this post got from former service members!
Lightly edited on January 31, 2022.
Kyoto, Japan Although I had never even heard of taco rice before I had it in Japan, this dish can easily cure the I-want-food-from-home syndrome [home being the US]. It is a concoction created on the southern Japanese archipelago of Okinawa, where a large population of American military personnel still controls half of the main island. I can just imagine a homesick US military person wanting some tacos, but not having the right ingredients for it, sticking the taco fillings on top of some rice, which like in all of Japan is abundant.
I remember the first time I had it on a trip to Okinawa over Christmas with three friends who were studying with me in Kyoto. On Christmas Eve, we arrived in Naha on a warm day and stretching our legs, found our stomachs to be in need of sustenance. On the main street of Naha, filled with souvenir shops, restaurants, and obvious American influences, the first place we saw offering food was a small cafe or bar with a sign out front “Taco Rice.” After polling the group, we decided to go inside and ate a large hearty meal that was simple, delicious, and reminded us of home.
Recently, however, I rediscovered it in Kyoto in a cafe that is rapidly becoming one of my favorites, Sarasa on Tominokoji somewhere between Oike and Shijo. Their taco rice is much more delicately done than the simple one I remember having a few years ago in Naha. What I like most about their dish is the cheese baked over the rice and the chili powder dusting the top of the lettuce.
My variation is a close approximation of Sarasa‘s, with the addition of fried onions and garlic mixed into the steamed rice. The result is pure taco, with a subtle reminder that I’m still in Japan.
Taco Rice (タコライス)
2 large servings
1 cup of rice, cooked in 2 cups water
1/2 fresh onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
7 oz. minced chicken (or pork or beef)
3 tbs pureed tomato sauce (or maybe 1 tbs tomato paste?)
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 cup water
1 cup cheese (1/2 cup per serving, adjust to taste)
4 broad leaves red leaf lettuce, chopped
lemon juice (a few drops from half a lemon)
chili powder to taste
Heat the olive oil in a fry pan and add the garlic and onion. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and stir continuously for 1 or 2 minutes, until the onions are barely soft. Mix the onions, garlic, and the tomato pieces gently into the white rice with slicing motions instead of mashing motions.
Heat a little more olive oil in the pan and add the meat. While cooking, break the meat into small chunks. Once the meat is cooked, add the tomato sauce, chili powder, coriander, water, salt and pepper. Let this simmer until the water reduces and the meat is thoroughly coated in flavors.
Place the rice in an oven-proof bowl and top with cheese. Place it in an oven at 375 degrees for 5 minutes until the cheese is thoroughly melted. Top the bowl with the meat mixture and lettuce. Over the lettuce squeeze a few drops lemon juice and dust with chili powder. Top with a few pieces of tomato and serve.
Although this is rice, it is most commonly eaten with a large spoon and therefore makes a perfect meal in front of the TV (not that I’m advocating it, but when you live alone…)
31 replies on “Taco Rice”
Mmm! That looks good! We just had fajita night at Smtih – not as good as this looks, though I’ll definitely miss the guacamole next year. I saw Tom Rohlich today – he was in Kyoto briefly a couple weeks ago. He says hi and is sorry he missed you!
Sounds good… it’s seem to be a similar idea of Korea’s Budae-chiggae (“Boot camp” stew), which is a whole bunch or ingredients including spam mixed together in a soup.
Perfect pages… tnx
I’ve been meaning to write for some time because I cooked this awhile ago. The meal was delicious, but the quantity of rice was too much for the other ingredients — or is that my Western sense of proportion? Smile!
Thanks for a great recipe!
I was stationed @ Marine Coprs Base Camp Hansen in Okinawa. There were many a nights I stumled in or out gate 1 to feast on Taco Rice & Cheese at the “Flat Pea Berry”. Great chow!!!!
I was stationed at Camp Hansen as well and I LOVED tako raisu on the weeknights after rounds of heavy drinking :D
my mother in law lived Okinawa when she was younger. this seems good. :) i will try to make it. how long has it been around?
outstanding! I was at Hansen as well. I’ve been craving taco rice lately as retarded as that sounds. thanks for putting up the receipe.
Another Camp Hansen alum… funny thing is I occasionally make Taco Cheese and Rice and my wife loves it. My .02 is to use the large cheese shreds.
MCAS FUTENMA ALUM HERE. ALTHOUGH THIS RECIPE IS SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT THAN THE ONE I HAVE USED IT DOES SOUND GOOD. I REMEMBER THE LATE NIGHTS/EARLY MORNINGS STUMBLING UP THE SOBRIETY HILL TO FUTENMA. BUT YOU HAD TO STOP AT THE BOTTOM AND GET SOME TACO RICE OR YAKISOBA. ITS ALMOST BETTER THE NEXT MORNING FOR BREAKFAST.
ya, i live on okinawa and was just checking out how other ppl make taco rice so i can make it for some of my friends tonight. it is my favorite dinner-like food to make and one of my favorites to eat! thanks for your recipe! …you rock!
I just returned after my 2nd trip to okinawa. Believe it or not, I was actually craving taco rice after having it for the first 2 years ago outside of gate 1. I tried it at some tourist stand on the roak to okuma and it was decent, but I gotta try this recipe and see how it turns out, Thanks.
Futema and Foster 5 years total. I always talk about Taco Rice, yakasoba and curry from co’co’s. I have made them all but now I will attemt this recipie. I miss eating at the bottom of the hill at futema and outside Foster main gate.
My family and I were stationed in Okinawa from 96-2001. Taco rice first came out in 1996 when we were there. I make an easier version. You can cook the ground beef and then use taco mix which can replace all of the seasonings and it is much easier. Then you just do the layer thing. The rice first, then the ground beef, some lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese and salsa and you are ready to go!
The first time I had it was at a small walk-up window at one of the bases. We fell in love with it. This is one of my nephews favorite meals.
I was stationed at Camp Hansen ’88-’89 and they had taco rice and cheese back then. My barracks was located just past gate 1 across from the USO. My memory of T.R.& C. was a simple recipe, taco meat on top of rice with shredded cheese. Topped with Louisiana Hot Sauce. That was it. I still make it myself occasionally. I use McCormick taco seasoning packet, regular minute rice and a sharp cheddar cheese. I don’t recall anything else like lettuce or tomatoes, of course like most Marines eating this cuisine was close to the point of stumbling down the hill to my barracks Mojo drunk. I also used to eat Shrimp Yakisoba. Good stuff!! Anyone remember the skivvy houses? $20.00 for a good time. I also remember a place called Mickey’s. They had the best mini-tacos I’ve ever had. They came in a container of 4 or 8 mini-tacos. The sign on the restaurant had a picture of Mickey Mouse.
I lived on Kadena and i remember eating this at the bowling alley. Along with the chili Rice Bowl (my FAV)
thanks for sharing we use this for our lunch Program in our high School the kids love it!
I absolutely remember Taco Rice & Cheese and Yakisoba. The latter I ate loaded with mayo, the former had no vegetables. I have been craving both (TR&C especially) since my two years at Camp Hansen from 1987-89. Even though I’ve tried a couple of times to recreate the meal, I’ve been unable to successfully capture the flavor. Maybe it’s because I don’t know how to make Mojo, there’s no Marine Corps spirit in the civilian world, or I don’t have any dog meat (I think that’s the secret ingredient). I’ll try this recipe, but the fact it’s covered with rabbit food (something I KNOW wasn’t on the Kin variety) leaves me skeptical…
Camp Hansen alum here 1/3 out of Kaneohe. 3 UDPS to Okinawa 87-93 Ive been making taco rice and cheese as I remember it for years.
My spin on it is i add a layer of black beans after the seasoned beef then top with cheese, sometimes throw a little avocado and sourcream on top. Try it! Semper Fi
I forgot as a nice garnish a few lime wedges for the avocado and some cilantro
Camp Hansen Alum 01-03. No one has mention putting the mayo on the top of the taco rice and cheese. That was a staple when I was there. Man do I miss a night of mojo and habu sake drinking followed by yakisoba or taco rice and cheese. Don’t forget the blue moon!!! LOL
forkinthehead, out of curiousity mate, who are you? I was C 1/3 ’92-’96. I tried to re-create it myself when I got out but couldn’t help ‘messing’ around with the idea. Now, my current version is Chili rice and cheese. 2 Cups minute rice preped as directed BUT add in 1/2 package of Lawry’s or McCormick’s Hot Taco Seasoning. Throw that in the microwave according to directions. Pour 1 Can of Chili Man Hot Chili with Beans into a microwave safe dish, add half a can of Ro-Tel (your choice, I use hot), and nuke it for four minutes as the rice is setting up. That’s it, rice on the plate, chili on that, cover it with Sargento Taco Spiced Cheese, eat yourself into a coma. That’s enough to cover a full dinner plate about an inch and a half high, easily enough for three people as a side dish.
God bless the Marines and….well, nevermind the Army… :)
Man! Mickey’s outside of Kadena AB (Gate 2) in Okinawa had Killer food (though I liked there Chicken Katsu Curry more than anything there. If I ever find out what was in that gallon can of pre-made curry they used I think I would be set for life!)
Did my fare share of drunk stumbling to the Bowling Alley for their Chili Rice from the old ‘Playboy Club’ Building 110 (dorms). Did they finally level that sucker?
‘8 Beat’ (a little stand outside of the club 8 Beat) Taco Rice was my favorite there though.
I also do the easy way just ground beef and taco seasoning and layered cheese veggies and Salsa.
But I am surprised no one mentioned (Japanese) Cupie Mayo to top it off or is it just me and I am weird?
i changed the lettuce to spinich which and didn’t add the chili powder. it was great!
The best taco rice I had on Okinawa came from the food court at the Jusco off the toll road on the way to Naha from Kadena. It was cooked and served in what looked like a cast iron bowl. The rice that touched the bowl browned and got crisp and the heat of the bowl made the cheese melt over the rice. It was absolutely delicious. Can’t wait to go back.
Thanks for the recipe! I am of Okinawan descent and last visited family in Okinawa 15 years ago and never heard of this until recently! A friend of mine, who isn’t even Japanese, told me about this dish. This sounds really cool, especially with Kewpie mayo (@imutau: I assumed that the ppl above who mentioned using mayo were using Kewpie). I can’t wait to try it! :D
I’ve been following your blog for quite a while and enjoying your wealth of good recipes. When Foodista announced that they are going to publish the best food blogs in a full color book that will be published by Andrews McMeel Publishing Fall 2010, I naturally thought of you. This recipe would be a good submission! You can enter here: http://www.foodista.com/blogbook/submit
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i’m from okinawa and graduated from kubasaki high in 04.. i’ve been waiting forever to try this again…thanx for the recipe
Yum! Must try!
I was stationed at Camp Hansen, Motor-T 1996-1999. All the way at the back in brks 2028. If you have never been to Oki then you’ve never had “true” taco rice and cheese. It was a long walk to and from Kin. Always made sure I got my taco rice before heading back. The name of the place next to Shangri La is KING TACO. They are hands down the BEST! Go to google maps and take a 3-D stroll around Kin. A lot of buildings are gone, and there is a large park in their place, but KING TACO is still there!
I love Mickey’s taco rice in Okinawa! I was stationed there 91-93 and it was my absolute fave!! I too make this dish at home, now in TN!
I was stationed at Camp Schwab which is the northern most camp on the rock 89-90. The best Taco Rice Cheese was at a stand that was walking distance from the main gate.I never saw any with the veggies or salsa. Guess that was a fly boy or admin thing down south.it was our only option besides the USO or the chow hall. I really had great times there and cherish the memories. RIP Cpl Ishmael Cotto. KIA 1/90 Operation Desert Storm. Gone but never forgotten.