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Hawaii’s Famous Oxtail Soup

Hawaii’s oxtail soup is nourishing. Tender oxtails are slow cooked in a savory broth of with ginger and spices like star anise and bay leaves.

A bowl of oxtail soup with a side of rice, ginger and soy sauce for dipping, and green onions and cilantro to sprinkle on top.
Ready to eat ^_^

Hawaii’s Famous Oxtail Soup

Every Hawaii local knows and loves oxtail soup. On the mainland people love oxtail stews, but in Hawaii we are all about the oxtail soup!

This soup is soothing and nourishing. It features a savory clear broth with lots of meaty and tender oxtail pieces. The broth hints of ginger and popular spices like bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, star anise, and dried tangerine peels (chen pi).

We enjoy oxtail soup with a side of rice (two scoops, please). Plus julienned ginger and soy sauce for dipping. It’s delicious! I hope you will love this recipe as much as we do ^_^

A bowl of oxtail soup with green onions and cilantro sprinkled on top.
Best with a side of rice!

A Local Dish

Many mainland friends call this dish Hawaiian Oxtail Soup, but this is a local dish, not a Hawaiian dish. Here’s the difference. A more correct name for this dish is:

  • Hawaii-Style Oxtail Soup
  • Local Oxtail Soup
  • Oxtail Soup

We understand when visitors request Hawaiian Oxtail Soup, but forgive us for correcting….we appreciate when people make the effort to learn that Hawaiian food and local food are two completely different things.

Oxtail Soup in Hawaii

Many families make oxtail soup at home (it’s always the first dinner my sister requests when she comes back to visit from the mainland).

Many restaurants in Hawaii also feature oxtail soup on the menu. Try this recipe first, and then the next time you’re in Hawaii try oxtail soup from these popular local spots:

  • Aiea Bowl / The Alley Restaurant Bar & Grill (Oahu) – This restaurant located inside a bowling alley. I’ve never gone bowling here, but I have been in many times just to eat ^_^ P.S. Don’t forget to order the lemon crunch and pumpkin crunch for dessert.
  • Kam Bowl (Oahu) – They also offer oxtail ramen.
  • Asahi Grill (Oahu) – They also have oxtail ramen on the menu.
  • Kapiolani Coffee Shop (Oahu) – People say that Kam Bowl and Kapiolani Coffee Shop actually share the same family recipe.
Ingredients for Oxtail Soup (oxtails, carrots, onion, ginger (not pictured), cinnamon stick, star anise, bay leaves, and dried tangerine peels)
Ingredients for oxtail soup (ginger not pictured)

Ingredients

This recipe has two parts. One part is for making the soup. The other part is for serving the soup. Here’s what you’ll need:

For the Soup

  • Oxtails – You can find oxtails at most Asian markets and at Costco Hawaii.
  • Whole onion – Peel and place the whole onion into the soup
  • Ginger – Add as much ginger as you like, we like it very ginger-y. So warming, so good. Two ways of using ginger in this recipe. First way: add big smashed slices at the beginning of cooking (which you’ll remove later on), this is the more “traditional” way. Second way: add peeled and julienned ginger towards the end of cooking (which you leave in the soup and eat).
  • Bay Leaves
  • Cinnamon Sticks
  • Whole Star Anise
  • Dried Tangerine Peels (Chen Pi) – Can find at any Chinese market
  • Carrots or Daikon (optional) – you can use one or both, or just skip the vegetables entirely.
  • Fish Sauce (Nuoc Nam) – To season the soup. Fish sauce and sea salt are the only two seasoning ingredients you need.
  • Hawaiian Sea Salt – Also to season the soup. Use regular sea salt if you don’t have Hawaiian Sea Salt.

For Serving

  • Chinese Parsley
  • Green Onions
  • Ginger – Ginger is used for both cooking and for serving! For serving we use julienned ginger (we julienned a bunch of ginger at once and then freeze it so that we always have ginger ready to use).
  • Soy Sauce – We like the Aloha (less salty) or Kikkoman (more salty) brands.
Placing an oxtail into the boiling water to parboil
Parboiling the oxtails is key

Method

There are three key steps to this recipe:

Prepare The Oxtails

Preparing the oxtails involves:

  1. Cut off the excess fat (oxtails are delicious but quite fatty)
  2. Parboil the oxtails (to remove scum and any dirty bits)
  3. Then do a quick second rinse/cleaning (just to make it extra nice!)
Sliding the spices into a pot of oxtail soup
Adding the spices

Make The Soup

Simmer the oxtails with water (or chicken broth) and a number of classic spices. This step is just lots of sitting and waiting ^_^

Note: You can use all water, all chicken broth, or a mix of both. No chicken broth? No stress, the chicken broth is just a bonus for more flavor. It will still be super delicious made with water.

Ginger and soy sauce for dipping the oxtails
Ginger and soy sauce for dipping the oxtails

Season And Serve

Season with just two ingredients (fish sauce and Hawaiian sea salt).

Then serve with lots of Chinese parsley and green onions on top. Don’t forget the rice and dipping sauce (a small dish of julienned ginger and soy sauce).

Serve with lots of green onions and cilantro

How To Serve

Oxtail soup in Hawaii is served in a very specific style. There are three parts to remember:

The Garnishes

The classic Hawaii oxtail soup garnish is Chinese parsley and green onions. You want lots of both. Just chop, chop, chop and top the soup generously with the greens. Stir and eat!

The Dipping Sauce

The dipping sauce is just a little dish of soy sauce and julienned ginger. Everyone gets their own personal dipping dish. This way you can control your preferred soy sauce to ginger ratio.

This sauce is for dipping the oxtail meat. For small oxtail pieces, you can dip the oxtail directly into the dish. For larger oxtail pieces, I like to spoon the dipping sauce over the meat

The Rice

We always eat oxtail soup with rice! That’s how it’s done in Hawaii. The idea of eating oxtail soup without rice feels strange and incomplete.

At restaurants, rice is served on the side. Picture a big steaming bowl of oxtail soup, a plate of rice, and a dipping sauce dish of ginger and soy sauce.

At home, we usually scoop rice into a big bowl and ladle oxtail soup over the rice. One less dish to clean ^_^ Don’t forget the dipping sauce on the side.

Closeup of an oxtail
So tender and meaty

Questions and Tips

How long does oxtail soup keep?

It keeps for up to a week in the refrigerator. We often to make a giant pot oxtail soup so that we have lunch/dinner ready for the next few nights.

About the vegetables.

This recipe calls for carrots and/or daikon. You can use one, both, or none. Some people also like to add Chinese mustard greens (kai choy). Or you can skip all the vegetables! This dish is mainly about the oxtails and the broth.

When you order oxtail soup from a local restaurant, the only vegetables usually involved are the green onions and Chinese parsley garnishes.

Got extra time?

If you have extra time, roast the peeled, whole onion at 400F for 20 minutes (until it browns) before adding it into the soup. It gives an extra depth of sweetness and flavor and that is very, very nice.

Can you freeze the soup?

No. But you can freeze the raw oxtails. Sometimes we buy a ton of oxtails (like 20+ pounds!), portion them into 5 pound bags and store the oxtails in the freezer. That way we always have oxtails ready for cooking whenever we get the craving.

Make it more local.

Every family makes their oxtail soup a little different. Our home cooking leans slightly more towards a Chinese oxtail soup (adding daikon, using more Chinese spices which results in a darker broth). Many friends add raw peanuts and dried shiitake mushrooms to the soup (this is considered a more local style).

That’s the neat part about Hawaii! Food is the common bond, and we all have our own flavors and flourish. Hawaii is true melting pot of cultures.

Oxtail Soup Recipe

See below and enjoy ^_^

A bowl of oxtail soup with a side of rice, ginger and soy sauce for dipping, and green onions and cilantro to sprinkle on top.

Hawaii's Famous Oxtail Soup

Yield: 6 servings

Hawaii's oxtail soup is nourishing and soothing. Tender oxtails are slow cooked in a savory broth of with ginger and good spices like star anise and bay leaves. We always eat oxtail soup with a big bowl of rice and a side dipping sauce of ginger and soy sauce. This is a classic local dish, enjoy!

Ingredients

Oxtail Soup

To Serve

Instructions

  1. Prepare the oxtail. Trim excess fat off each oxtail. Throw away the fat and set the oxtails aside.
  2. Parboil the oxtail. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and then add all the oxtail in. Bring it back up to a boil. Cook for one more minute, letting all the scum float up to the top. Set a colander in the sink and pour out all the water. 
  3. Let the oxtail cool for a minute (until you can pick it up with your hands). Quickly rinse/clean each oxtail under running water and set aside.
  4. Return the oxtails to the the same large pot and add the water and/or chicken broth. Add enough liquid to cover 1-inch above the oxtails. (This is usually about 16 cups of liquid depending on the size of your pot and weight of oxtails. Add more or less liquid as needed.)
  5. Add the onion, bay leaf, cinnamon sticks, star anise, and dried tangerine peels.
  6. Bring to a boil and then cook on low heat for 1 hour, until the oxtails are tender (you should be able to poke a fork through the meat easily). Scoop off as much oil as you can off the top.
  7. Add the carrots (optional), and cook for another 30 minutes. Season the soup with fish sauce and Hawaiian sea salt. Taste and serve!
  8. To serve: spoon out the soup and 3-5 pieces of oxtail per person. Top with lots of Chinese parsley and green onions. Serve with a bowl of rice and small side dish of julienned ginger and soy sauce (for dipping the oxtails). Enjoy ^_^

Kimo Sutton

Saturday 16th of October 2021

Hey don’t throw flavor away. Keep the broth from parboil. I use chicken bone broth I make from last of the bones and veggies. I use the oxtail and the meat from shank this time Japanese quality. I like low carb high fiber so brown rice. Fresh greens make a big difference and overnight the soup in frig to make removing fat easy.

Stacey Law

Sunday 14th of March 2021

Hi Kathy! I love your detailed commentary about the local foods you feature - so personal! In your Liliha Bakery post, you mentioned that your favorite oxtail soup is your family's recipe. May I ask if this recipe is your family's? You may certainly email a private reply. Thank you!

Tim

Tuesday 19th of January 2021

You need a "jump to recipe" button.

Alan

Friday 6th of November 2020

Yup; oxtail soup is one of my favorites! Your recipe and descriptions are right on! For me, I also add kai choi, hasu, and either shiitake or straw mushrooms too! When I make mine, I use oxtails for me and beef shank for my daughter and my wife. They say oxtails are too fatty for them but the beef shank is OK. The beef shank meat is "similar" in taste to oxtail, but the main thing, I think, is all the collagen in the soup from the oxtails.

My dogs love oxtail soup too! I used to take the time to strip meat off the oxtail bones for the dogs, but now I am too lazy. I just give them beef shank meat along with my daughter and wife.

Kathy

Friday 6th of November 2020

Hi Alan! Oh wow I love the idea of using beef shank. Never though about that, but it totally makes sense.

Lucky wife, daughter, and dogs you have! :) - Kathy

Brent

Thursday 5th of November 2020

Was just thinking about making this the other day....good timing, thanks Kathy!

Kathy

Thursday 5th of November 2020

Hooray! Hope you enjoy, Brent ^_^ - Kathy

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