Looking for a Taco? It’s Right Here…

May 9, 2007 at 3:34 pm

After about seven months living in Japan, most foreigners get a little homesick – especially for all the good food they used to get back home. For Southern Californians that means tacos, stuffed with juicy ground beef, shredded lettuce, cheddar cheese and spicy salsa. Yum.


“Spicy” is the operative word here. In a country raised on soy sauce-sensibilities, it’s hard to find something that’ll set your mouth on fire the way a good tub of salsa will. Of course, homegrown garnishes like wasabi and karashi (hot mustard) are no joke, but it’s that certain Latin American kick that tastes oh-so good.

I used to host taco parties for my American friends and invite along a few Japanese for the experience. My city had a gourmet shop where you could find a jar of salsa among imported cheeses and chocolates. Usually there’s only one brand and it’s not very hot; Too much of a shock to the Japanese system, otherwise. If you’re lucky, you can find a pack of tortillas hidden away in the frozen foods section – again, one brand only. Otherwise, roll up those sleeves cause you’ll be kneading them yourself.

Cheddar is hard to come by in Japan, unless you’re a fan of processed cheese. Outside of northern Japan, there aren’t too many cows grazing in the pastures, so real cheese is something foreigners have to live without… unless they’re willing to pay triple the price.

So with everyone huddled around the kotatsu – a short dining table with a foot heater underneath – I start by grilling the tortillas one-by-one with plenty of butter. The ground beef is pre-seasoned and prepared as well as the rest of the ingredients, so it’s a do-it-yourself fest after that.

Americans love it cause it’s a chance to do away with the chopsticks and get their hands dirty. But for Japanese, it’s a different matter. Once they pick up this newfangled food, half the ingredients fall out the other end. I try to look the other way as they meekly gather the filling and spoon it down their mouth. (I wonder what Miss Manners would say?)

I heard that several years ago a famous American personality on Japanese TV tried opening up his own taco chain around the country. It went under quickly. Perhaps it was the awkwardness of eating it. Maybe it was just a bad recipe or the price wasn’t right. Though in my city, there was a “Mexican” restaurant that sold tacos for over ten bucks! Apparently, it was a high-end restaurant and tacos were gourmet eating. Go figure.


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Entry filed under: Japanese Culture, Japanese Foods.

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