Friday, May 18, 2012

Taco rice

The taco rice (left) in our cafeteria.
Our student cafeteria has some dishes that are served every day, every year. There are also periodical dishes that show up for a few weeks and then disappear again.

Right now, there is an Okinawa & Kyushu special in the cafeteria, with dishes that are typical for those southern parts of Japan. The best dish now is "Taco rice". Tako is a Japanese word that when it comes to food usually means octopus. Japanese has many homonyms, and the word for kite is also "tako" in Japanese, as is the word for calluses. When written with kanji, they are of course all written with different kanji (蛸 for octopus, 凧 for kite, etc.) but when speaking, they are all "tako".

While homonyms are very common in Japanese, when it comes to food, tako usually means octopus since people do not normally eat calluses or kites. Taco rice has not octopus, though. Instead, here taco comes from English, and the dish has taco (the Tex-Mex style) flavored meat, cheese, salad, and rice. Okinawa has a lot of American marines, and apparently the dish was inspired by American Tex-Mex food and combined with rice (in Japan, the word for food is the same word as the word for rice, so most food has rice).

Recently, I don't know how many times I have had to have the conversation:
"Tako rice? So it has octopus?"
"No, here 'tako' comes from Mexican tacos."
"But tako in Japanese means octopus?"
"Yes, but Japanese has many homonyms. The taco in taco rice is not the octopus taco."
"But there is no octopus in this food!? And tako means octopus?!"
"Yes... and kite, and calluses, and tacos, ..."
"But where it the octopus?!"

Our French student told me he (after learning from me that taco rice is Tex-Mex tacos, not octopus takos) that he even had a similar conversation with our Japanese professor.

"Nono, in Japanese, tako means octopus so this food has octopus in it."
"I know it means octopus, but in this dish it means..."
"No, in Japanese, tako means octopus."

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