Japanese

Let This Warm, Spicy Beef Bowl Wake Up Your Palate

November 29, 2017

Fusion food, to me, sounds like a throwback to outrageous dining trends from the 1980s. It's almost used as an insult now, as if it can't be good, thanks to ill-conceived mash-ups of foods that just don't pair well together, the creation of dishes for the sake of novelty—rather than flavor—and, as Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee writes over at Munchies, chefs presenting this style of cooking as new when immigrant cooks have been merging global cuisine for decades.

Pulling together attributes from two separate, distinct cuisines and marrying them in one dish has the potential to be brilliant; that's the case with Okinawan taco rice (also called takoraisu). This dish isn't particularly well-known outside of Japan, but I'm hoping it catches on elsewhere—and soon—because it is my dream comfort food. It has all the textural contrast of a steaming bowl of bibimbap, with hot and cold elements and plenty of boldness. You get crunch from the shredded lettuce, gingery spice from the salsa, hot spice from the chile in the beef, and creamy warmth from the cooked rice.

Comfort, meet bowl. Photo by Posie Harwood

The dish was created by local Okinawan chefs in the 1980s, who thought to fold in popular Tex-Mex flavors into basic Japanese ingredients in order to appeal to the American military members stationed on the island. The blend of Mexican and Japanese flavors might seem misplaced, but they're not; ginger, soy, miso, and mirin blend perfectly with cumin, paprika, and tomato.

Taco rice starts with a base of sticky rice (although you can use any type you like). It's topped with seasoned ground beef, redolent with coriander, cumin, paprika, and garlic. After cooking the beef with the Mexican spices, you'll add in soy sauce and miso and cook it down into an umami-rich saucy thickness. Then, pile on the garnishes: shredded mild white cheese (mozzarella is good), shredded lettuce (iceberg for crunch, just roll with it), and a quick "salsa" made of fresh chopped tomatoes with ginger, soy sauce, mirin, and rice vinegar). The resulting bowl is so huggable and spicy and warm all at once, you'll have a new favorite go-to dinner.

A few bits of advice: Leftover rice works wonders here. If you want to customize your bowl, by all means, do so. Shred any vegetables you have on hand and toss them in, too. Swap out the iceberg for shredded romaine or kale. Use cheddar cheese or another mild, hard cheese. If you're extra hungry, top the bowl with sliced avocado or an egg.

3 Comments

BerryBaby November 29, 2017
November is a bad month for Iceberg....runs through the winter and if you do find any, lots of brown on the inside. This time of year I use Romaine and red cabbage.
 
Prathima November 29, 2017
Funny thing is, it's getting harder and harder to find iceberg lettuce! I love to mix it in fried rice for crunch, or in a classic wedge salad, but it's nowhere to be found in the grocery store.
 
Matt H. November 29, 2017
boston bib is a good substitute