Hong Kong-style borscht, or luo song tong (罗宋汤), is a comforting soup I grew up eating in HK-style cafes in San Francisco that usually came complimentary with the meal.
With tender oxtail and loads of veggies like tomatoes, carrots, celery, cabbage, and potatoes, its distinct sour taste gets you salivating instantly and makes it the perfect appetizer for a meal. My mom would always refer to this soup as "hoi wai" (開胃) in Cantonese, which means "appetizing."
Borscht is originally from Ukraine and usually contains beets, but this Hong Kong adaptation substitutes tomatoes instead (my guess is that beets weren’t easily found in China and Hong Kong)! The Chinese name for this soup, luo song tong 罗宋汤, actually translates to "Russian soup".
What ingredients do I need to make Hong Kong-style Borscht?
- Beef: Oxtail is my choice for the tastiest and most tender meat for this soup, but it can be pricey. The best place to get them is at Costco (they sell them for $7.99/lb where I live, vs $13.99+/lb at other supermarkets). For a more affordable option, you can use something like beef chuck roast or beef shank!
- Water + chicken broth: My family likes to use a mixture of water and chicken broth for the liquid in this soup. The reason we don't do 100% chicken broth is because we want to be able to taste the beef flavor from the oxtails!
- Tomato paste: Tomato paste is always a must for me for Hong Kong-style borscht! I love the rich tomato flavor and acidity this adds, and sauteing it in the oxtail fat before adding all the other veggies helps open up its flavors even more.
- Canned crushed tomatoes: You can also use fresh tomatoes, but canned tomatoes are usually canned right at their peak freshness and flavor -- and I find them much tastier than most supermarket tomatoes, especially if they aren't in season.
- Veggies: This soup typically has carrots, potatoes, cabbage, and celery, but you can add what you like! For the potatoes, I like using white or yellow potatoes because they don't disintegrate as quickly as russet potatoes do.
- Ginger: As with most soups that contain meat, I like adding a few slices of ginger!
- Seasoning: For this soup, I like to add salt, black pepper, chicken bouillon powder for extra flavor, sugar to balance acidity from the tomatoes, oregano, and bay leaves.
- Vinegar: there is usually some vinegar component to provide that distinct sourness in this soup. I just use rice vinegar because I always have it on hand, but a white vinegar would work too!
- Ketchup: I love the acidity and slight sweetness that ketchup adds to this soup, but it's optional if you prefer it without! Try adding a little bit at first to see if you like it before adding the full amount in the recipe.
Check out these other delicious soups:
- Fuzzy Melon Soup with Pork Ribs
- Lotus Root and Pork Bone Soup
- ABC Soup (carrot, tomato, & potato soup)
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Hong Kong-style Borscht (luo song tong)
- 2 lbs oxtail (or beef chuck or beef shank as more affordable options)
- 6 cups of water
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 14 oz canned crushed tomatoes
- ⅓ cup tomato paste (I like double concentrated tomato paste, but not necessary)
- 1 large carrot
- 2 medium potatoes
- 2-3 stalks celery
- ½ lb cabbage
- ½ large onion
- 1 knob ginger
- 2 bay leaves
- neutral oil for cooking
- ⅓ cup ketchup
- 1.5 tablespoon rice or white vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon oregano
- 1 tablespoon salt + more if needed
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder optional
- lemon juice optional
Prepare the ingredients
- Peel the onion, carrot, and potato, and slice them into ~1 inch chunks. I prefer a roll-cut (or oblique cut) for the carrots and potato for extra surface area.1 large carrot, ½ large onion, 2 medium potatoes
- Keep the potatoes in a bowl of water to prevent them from oxidation (turning brown), since we’ll be adding these at the end.
- Slice the celery and cabbage into 1 inch pieces.2-3 stalks celery, ½ lb cabbage
- Slice the ginger into large slices (this makes them easier to remove later).1 knob ginger
Parboil the oxtail
- In a pot, add the oxtail and enough water to cover the meat. Bring it up to a boil, and let it boil for at least 5-10 minutes. You should see proteins bubble up to the surface as it boils.2 lbs oxtail
- Pour this water down the sink, and give the oxtails and the pot a good rinse to remove any extra gunk. Dab the oxtail dry with a paper towel.
Make the soup
- (This step is optional, but gives the soup extra flavor) Heat up a large pot (at least 4.5 qt), and add 1 tablespoon of neutral oil. Once it’s warm, add the oxtail and sear it on all sides until lightly golden brown. Remove the oxtail from the pot.neutral oil for cooking
- Add in the tomato paste, and cook for a few minutes or until the color turns from a bright red to a deeper red. This will bring out the flavors of the tomato paste.⅓ cup tomato paste
- Add the onions, carrots, and celery in. Saute for 1-2 min, then add the oxtail back in.
- Add the cabbage, crushed tomatoes, ginger, bay leaves, and water + chicken broth. Give the pot a good mix.6 cups of water, 2 cups chicken broth, 14 oz canned crushed tomatoes, 1 knob ginger, 2 bay leaves
- Bring it up to a boil. If there isn’t at least an inch of space between the liquid and the top of the pot, then continue boiling until there is (this prevents the soup from overflowing). Then reduce to a simmer (low-medium heat) and cover the pot with a lid, making sure a little steam can escape. Simmer for 3 hours. Oxtail needs to be cooked for least 3 hours to become fall-apart tender.
- After 3 hours, add in the potatoes. You may have to turn up the heat to get it simmering again. Cover the lid and let the soup simmer for another 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are fork-tender.
- Skim off the excess oil on the surface of the soup.
- Add the rest of the seasonings: salt, black pepper, oregano, sugar, chicken bouillon powder (optional), rice vinegar (start with less first, and add to your preference), ketchup (some people prefer it without ketchup, so start with a little first and taste as you go). I prefer my soup a little more on the sour side, so I like extra vinegar and ketchup, but season this to your preference! I sometimes like to add a squeeze of lemon juice as well.⅓ cup ketchup, 1.5 tablespoon rice or white vinegar, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, ¼ teaspoon oregano, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder, lemon juice
- As you’re tasting and adjusting the seasoning, it helps to take a sip of water to refresh your palate, as sometimes the sour flavors can stay on your tongue.
- If you like the soup to be a little runnier, you can add extra water or chicken broth. Make sure to add a little more seasoning as well accordingly. This soup is actually even better the next day, so try to save some leftovers! Enjoy!