One of the things I miss the most living in Japan is Mexican food. There's just something about the blend of spices, vegetables, meat, and various carbohydrate-delivery systems that set my taste buds off. I learned quickly that to eat Mexican food in a restaurant can be an expensive and time consuming process. When I lived in Nagasaki, there were no Mexican restaurants there. I traveled at least three times to Sasebo just to go to one of the restaurants near the American navy base at the port. When I tried cooking at home, I used to buy canned corn tortillas when I could find them, but they were tiny, dry and just about inedible. I even tried making corn tortillas from some ingredients I could find in the market—disaster! There was no fresh cilantro, chiles, or limes in the markets, and any kind of hot sauce besides Tabasco was not to be found.
On a trip to Okinawa in the mid-80s, I learned about taco rice. That's a dish I'm sure has its origins from American military personnel asking locals for Mexican food. The ingredients are just about the same as you would use if you were making the hard shell tacos on Taco Tuesdays (cf. The Lego Movie), minus the hard shell tortillas. Instead, a scoop of rice is used, with the rest of the ingredients piled on top.
I probably never make them the same each time, but here I go with my basic recipe for taco rice. The ingredients have increased over the years because I can now buy or grow the things I mentioned above.
The local do-it-yourself shop sells a variety of chile peppers now, but buyer beware. Some of them have no heat at all. I bought some jalapeño peppers last year, but they had the taste of jalapeño only, no spiciness whatsoever. I pulled the plant up mid-season. Anyway, these chiles above are from my garden, and they are the standard chile used in Japan probably close to a cayenne pepper. Harvest them when they're green, and away you go.
You can use any vegetables you want, to add to the meat or to add fresh as a topping. Starting with the tomatoes at the top and going clockwise, you can see lime wedges, the minced chiles, a yellow onion and a yellow pepper (paprika) both chopped, a cut avocado, and chopped fresh cilantro (coriander). I prepare all these first. Also, not shown is the shredded lettuce; I usually break up green or sunny lettuce into bite-sized pieces. Oh, yeah! Don't forget to start the rice cooker. Make about the same as you would for serving curry.
After all the veggies are cut up and ready to go, I'll start the meat cooking. Time it for the rice and your guests to be ready. Dinner will be ready in less than 10 minutes at this point. The most common kind of ground meat in Japan is a mixture of beef and pork. It's usually 80/20% or 70/30% beef/pork. We can buy 100% ground beef, but it's quite a bit more expensive. Okay, brown the meat. Add salt and pepper to taste. I also put fresh, powdered or squeezed-from-a-tube garlic, but do as you like.
When the meat is browned, I'll soak up some of the fat from the pan with a paper towel, then add the onion and paprika. I'll also put in some of the minced chiles. The amount depends on who I'm serving. I like it spicy, so I put a lot in. Add some more salt and pepper if you like. I have no rules, but I think Japanese cuisine uses too much salt, so I tend to go with less salt when I cook.
Cook the veggies until the onion gets glossy and sweet. At this point, I'll add some combination of: ground paprika, cumin, oregano, and dried coriander leaves (not the seeds). Your dinner plates should be hot now; I usually put them in the microwave to heat them up.
Put a curry-sized scoop of rice in your heated plate. The rice above is a 50/50% blend of Japanese white rice and Japanese hatsuga genmai (sprouted brown rice—very healthy).
Next, I put a healthy portion of some kind of shredded cheese on the hot rice. Then I put a scoop of the finished meat mixture on top (sorry, no photo). Putting the cheese between the hot rice and the hot meat helps the cheese melt a bit. Finally, I add the lettuce, cilantro, avocado, tomatoes, perhaps some more chile, a few squeezings of the lime wedges, and some taco sauce. The finished product is in the first photo at the top of this post. Enjoy!