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Rafute (Okinawan Shoyu Pork)

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Okinawan Shoyu Pork is the local Hawaii version of Okinawan dish called Rafute. It's basically braised pork belly. This dish is saucy, sweet and savory...and extra good with rice.

Okinawan Shoyu Pork, ready to eat (with rice)!

Did you know that Hawaii has really good Okinawan food?

Okinawan Shoyu Pork

Okinawan Shoyu Pork is a deep and flavorful braised pork belly dish. It's rustic and comforting, the definition of good home cooking. You can find this dish at local restaurants in Hawaii, and it is also a popular dish to prepare at home. It's easy to make (a one-pot meal!) and richly satisfying.

Why are we cooking Okinawan food in Hawaii?

Okinawans first migrated to Hawaii in the early 1900s as contract laborers. As with all the different ethnic groups (like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino) that came to Hawaii, the food from each culture blended/merged to create the food we eat in Hawaii today. Local Hawaii food (which is different from Hawaiian food), is a true mix of all these cultures. 

Sometimes the different ethnic foods fuse together to form new dishes (saimin is an example of this), and other times, they remain part of their original culture, but adapted for local Hawaii taste buds. Okinawan Shoyu Pork is an example of the latter.

Real saucy! 

Okinawan Food and Restaurants in Hawaii

There are just a handful of purely Okinawan restaurants in Hawaii. More common are local restaurants that offer a mix of both Japanese and Okinawan dishes. Here are a few we like to visit:

  • Hide-Chan Restaurant (Oahu) - Menu is a mix of Japanese and Okinawan dishes. Get the bittermelon tempura and goya champuru, a tofu-egg-bittermelon stirfry (Hide-Chan gives the option of replacing pork with Spam). They serve the rafute/Okinawan shoyu pork with a miso sauce.
  • Sunrise Restaurant (Oahu) - Been around forever, super homey and casual. I usually get the Okinawan soba and tofu-pork.
  • Teruya's Andagi (Oahu) - Mostly bentos, and wonderful andagi (which is an Okinawan doughnut). Go early to get andagi (and sweet potato mochi) hot from the fryer. Andagi is best devoured hot, and on the spot.

A 1-pound slab of pork belly from our local Japanese market

Rafute Versus Okinawan Shoyu Pork

In Hawaii we call this dish, Okinawan Shoyu Pork. In Okinawa, this dish is called Rafute.

The Hawaii version features easier to find ingredients. Hawaii's cooking method is also simplified. Here are the differences:

  • Hawaii version uses brown sugar. Okinawa version uses Okinawan black sugar (also called kokuto).
  • Hawaii version uses sake. Okinawa version uses Awamori (a 50% proof rice liquor).
  • Hawaii version uses water or chicken broth. Okinawa version uses dashi.
  • Hawaii version is more simplified/fewer steps (just cube, sear, and then simmer the pork belly in the same pot with all the seasoning ingredients). Okinawa version calls for first boiling the entire pork belly slab, cooling, then cubing, and then putting the pork belly back in the pot to cook with all the seasoning ingredients. 

I've made both Rafute and Okinawan Shoyu Pork, and they are both delicious. The ingredients and method varies slightly, but the end result for both is a comforting braised pork belly that is equal parts saucy, savory and sweet.

Cooking it for a long period on low heat yields a ridiculously tender (melt in your mouth!) pork that needs a huge bowl of hot rice. It's rich but not excessively fatty or indulgent (much of the fat renders out during cooking), it's just very delicious.

"Shoyu" Not "Soy Sauce"

We call it Okinawan Shoyu Pork instead of Okinawan Soy Sauce Pork. In Hawaii, because we refer to soy sauce by it's Japanese name, shoyu.

Ingredients for Okinawan Shoyu Pork

Okinawan Shoyu Pork Method

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First, gather your ingredients:

  • 1 pound pork belly, cut into 1-inch cubes - (I love getting the pork belly from our local Japanese market. On the mainland you can visit Nijiya, Mitsuwa, or Sunrise Mart). 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (feel free to increase this amount)
  • 1-inch knob of ginger, minced (feel free to increase this amount)
  • 1/4 cup water (or chicken broth)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce 
  • 1/4 cup sake (can substitute shochu or chicken broth)
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar 
  • 1 tablespoon mirin

After cutting the pork belly into 1-inch pieces

Now we start cooking!

The first thing to do is brown the pork belly on all four sides. Get it a deep, golden brown...this makes the final dish significantly more flavorful. 

Then slide in the garlic and ginger. Use a wooden spatula to mix it with the pork belly so that the belly is sort of "coated" in all the garlic and ginger. Saute everything for another minute, just until the garlic and ginger starts to smell fragrant.

Now pour in everything else. The water, soy sauce, sake, brown sugar, and mirin. Mix and bring to a boil. Once it boils, put a lid on on the pot and turn the heat to low. Let this dish simmer for the next hour and a half. This is the braising part of the recipe. Cooking it low and slow will make everything so tender. I like to check on the pot every 20 minutes, and give it a stir so that everything cooks evenly. 

You can tell the pork is ready when you can pierce it pretty easily with a fork. At this point you should still have some liquid left in the pot. Now we are going to reduce that liquid to a thicker sauce. 

Take off the lid. Turn heat to medium-high. The liquid will start bubbling and quickly reduce. Keep reducing the liquid until it's thicker and sauce-y. Then pour everything out into a bowl. Eat with rice! 

P.S. This is pretty flavorful dish so I like something simple and green on the side. Sautéed bok choy or spinach with garlic is our go-to side dish for this recipe.

Don't forget to cook rice ^_^

Substitutions

  • Replace sake with shochu. For a no-alcohol option, use chicken broth.
  • You can use skin-on or skin-off pork belly. Both will come out great. Just make sure it's pork belly.
  • I cut into 1-inch cubes, but you can do larger cubes (just increase the cooking time accordingly).
  • Instead of mincing, you can use crushed/smashed ginger and garlic. I mince because I like it how the minced bits cling to the pork. Also! That way I don't feel like I'm "wasting" the ginger and garlic because we eat it all.

Tips

  • Brown the pork belly well on all sides. This makes a difference in the final dish....gives it so much more flavor. 
  • 1 pound of pork belly makes enough for a simple, small lunch for two. If you want a bigger meal, leftovers, or have more than 1-2 people, please double the recipe. The leftovers keep well (steam or microwave to reheat).
  • 1 pound of pork belly is not a ton of meat, so I'm able to make this recipe in a small pot (like the same pot we use to make instant ramen heheh). If you're using a big pot or dutch oven, you'll definitely want to double the recipe.
  • My soy sauce measurements are based off the commonly found Kikkoman soy sauce. Some brands of soy sauce are more salty than others. Err on the side of using just a bit less soy sauce if this is a concern.

Okinawan Shoyu Pork Recipe

Recipe below ^_^

Okinawan Shoyu Pork

Okinawan Shoyu Pork

Yield: 1 pound pork belly (lunch for two)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Okinawan Shoyu Pork is the local Hawaii version of Okinawan dish called Rafute. It's basically braised pork belly! This dish is saucy, sweet (thanks to mirin and brown sugar) and savory (hello, soy sauce), and really good with a big bowl of rice.

Ingredients

Instructions

    1. In a pot, over medium-high heat, brown the pork belly on all sides. This should take about 5-minutes.
    2. Add the garlic and ginger to the pot. Mix and saute for another minute till the garlic and ginger is fragrant. Then add the water, soy sauce, sake, brown sugar, and mirin.
    3. Bring everything to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer for 1.5 hours (give it a stir every 20 minutes). The pork is ready when it is tender and easily pierced with a fork. 
    4. Remove the lid, and turn the heat to medium-high. Let the sauce bubble away and reduce until it becomes thick and glaze-y. Pour it out into a bowl, and serve hot, with rice. Enjoy ^_^
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Mahalo for Reading!

Bert Nakagawa

Sunday 6th of December 2020

Do you take the skin off the pork belly or do you leave it on?

Kathy

Sunday 6th of December 2020

Hi Bert! Keep the skin on! :) (Sometimes we can only find skin-off pork, but if you are lucky to get skin-on, definitely keep that skin on. It is delicious!)

Jeanne

Wednesday 13th of May 2020

Made this for dinner tonight with some small alterations because of isolation shortages. Served with fried tofu and rice. It was easy and delicious!! Definitely going to be a permanent addition to our dinner repertoire.

Alan

Tuesday 12th of May 2020

I told a friend about this dish and he made traditional rafute. He used the kokuto and awamori. I told him that is too much trouble and I just use brown sugar and sake. For me I also add raw peanuts (like when you make oxtail soup) since I like peanuts in this dish. I also put in cubes of daikon too! Kathy, you make a lot of dishes that I love.