Okinawan Shoyu Pork Belly

Okinawan Shoyu Pork Belly - closeup

September 15, 2023

This week we continue on this mini journey of Hawaii-adapted Okinawan recipes. This braised pork belly recipe is a slightly modified version of Okinawan Shoyu Pork found on Onolicious Hawaii. It is a Hawaii version of Okinawan Rafute and Japanese Kakuni and is often simply called shoyu pork.

Okinawan Shoyu Pork Belly - overhead
Okinawan Shoyu Pork served with edamame rice and braised baby bok choy

What is rafute and kakuni?

Both rafute and kakuni are braised pork belly dishes. The main differences between them are two key ingredients – rafute uses Okinawan black sugar and Awamori sake, kakuni uses white sugar and sake.

How is this recipe different?

As with many dishes found in Hawaii, rafute was brought to the islands by Okinawan contracted laborers. As different ethnic groups lived and worked together on the plantations, their dishes began to merge, keeping the spirit of the original dish but taking advantage of what could be found in their new home and adjusting to local tastes.

One key difference of this recipe is the preparation of the pork. In both rafute and kakuni, the pork is first cooked in water (sometimes with aromatics like scallions and ginger) before it is slowly simmered in a soy sauce-based braise. This recipe skips the initial cook and goes straight to braising.

Sometimes you will see pork shoulder/pork butt used instead of pork belly. This recipe embraces pork belly in all its fatty goodness.

Finally, Okinawan black sugar is difficult to find. This recipe uses brown sugar instead (light or dark works fine).

Okinawan Shoyu Pork Belly

To serve

A dish this rich needs both a starch and a simple steamed or sautéed vegetable. Serve the pork with rice (or edamame rice) and spinach, baby bok choy, or choi sum.

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Okinawan Shoyu Pork Belly - closeup

Okinawan Shoyu Pork Belly

  • Author: She’s Almost Always Hungry
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Yield: 8 1x


This dish of soy sauce braised pork belly is a Hawaii version of Okinawan Rafute and Japanese Kakuni. It is based on a recipe from



2 pounds pork belly, cut into ½” slices

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

2-inch piece of ginger cut into thin matchsticks

½ cup water

½ cup soy sauce

½ cup sake or chicken broth

6 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons mirin


In a pot, over medium-high heat, heat the vegetable oil. Working in batches, brown the pork belly slices on both sides. Set aside.

Using the rendered fat, sauté the garlic and ginger until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Return the pork belly to the pot. Add the water, soy sauce, sake, brown sugar, and mirin and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 1½ hours, stirring occasionally. The pork is ready when it is tender and easily pierced with a fork.

Remove the lid and turn the heat to medium-high. Let the sauce simmer and reduce until it becomes a thick glaze.

Serve hot with rice and sautéed vegetables.

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Category: Main Dishes
  • Cuisine: Okinawan


  • Calories: 661.4
  • Sugar: 10.03 g.
  • Sodium: 882.94 mg.
  • Fat: 60.15 g.
  • Saturated Fat: 21.92 g.
  • Carbohydrates: 13.19 g.
  • Fiber: 0.21 g.
  • Protein: 12.36 g.
  • Cholesterol: 81.65 mg.

Keywords: pork belly, soy sauce, sake,

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