A feast of Thailand’s best local food awaits in Khon Kaen – this is ‘Raan Soop Hang Wua’ (ร้านซุปหางวัว), and Grandma’s oxtail soup cooking mastery here is astounding.
This recipe for oxtail soup is enough to make any lover of authentic Thai food swoon with joy. I can’t wait to tell you more about this dish.
Scroll down now to see what your next meal of Thai oxtail soup could look like!
Oxtail Soup is “Soop Hang Wua”
You will find this restaurant near the large soldier camp on the street Thanon Siharat Decho Chai in Khon Kaen.
This is one part of Khon Kaen that has seen less development than others, so driving to the restaurant with no wrong turns deserves a small sigh of relief… and excitement!
The kind of place where, if you just close your eyes, you’ll never guess that you’re just a few kilometers from a downtown city center.
Let’s get inside and see the menu!
Apart from using Google Maps, it will be difficult indeed – big THANK you to my friend @Around the Foo for the recommendation, and directions (location info and details down below).
‘Raan Soop Hang Wua’ (ร้านซุปหางวัว)
There’s a chorus of birds singing somewhere above your head, and natural greenery in every direction.
As soon as you turn off the car engine, there are only the sounds of nature… and occasionally, of course, a sharp hiss of boiling soup escaping a pan.
**Parking Tip: there’s just a tiny section of grass, and possibly 5 or 6 family vehicles vying for space, park a few doors down, and walk the final 20-30m to the restaurant.
Ordering is Easy
Take a quick moment to appreciate the menu – it won’t take very long at all. There are only about twenty items on the menu here (and half of them are drinks).
In honor of Eating Thai Food, you may just want to order one of everything – put your lunchtime happiness in the hands of the Grandma – you won’t regret this decision.
Ordering to ‘Eat Thai Style’
The standard dishes here come in wonderfully large serving sizes, and ‘Eating Thai Style’ would mean ordering one plate of each of the basics, to go on each of your party’s tables.
With a smaller menu like the one at ‘Raan Soop Hang Wua,’ our order of Som Tam Salads (2), Laap Meat Salads (2), and a firepot of Oxtail soup were all mandatory… and then we took time to read the rest of the menu.
What To Order When You’re Here
Besides her Thai recipe for oxtail soup, she’s locally famous for two other authentic Esaan recipes.
Expertly filling sour soups of ‘Tom Saep’ (ต้มแซบ) with local herbs and a selection of cow innards, one additional fire pot of this classic Esaan soup will really help you feel like you’re getting to know the restaurant.
Last but not least, her Laos-style ‘Tam’ (ส้มตำลาว) Papaya Salad, and for this her pounding prowess is known. At least one mortar of this salad is necessary – actually there is no ‘Thai-style’ salad on the menu here – its local flavor only, and that’s totally ok!
First Bowls of Oxtail Soup
Thankful for the short buildup, now its time to eat. The first fire pot arrives in less than 5 minutes – and it is the oxtail soup we’re eating first.
Almost like skipping straight to the main event, but like any kid at their friend’s birthday party, how can one complain about having the best part first?!
Eyes Closing with Delight
Each satisfying drink of soup is award-winning, you may just close your eyes with delight.
The sourness of the tomatoes, the tingle from onions and fresh chilies, and a wonderful blend of savory and pungent herbs seal the deal.
We are simply hooked on the flavor of Grandma’s oxtail soup.
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The Herbal Notes are Incredible
Galangal, Kaffir Lime Leaf, and Lemongrass pack the soup with herbal complexity, and give a powerful sourness of flavor beyond just lime juice on its own. Next, adding in fresh leafy herbs like mint and saw-tooth coriander just before serving, sips of soup flavor finish with some brightly herbal notes as well.
Its a full taster’s experience in every bite of Grandma’s oxtail soup – now for the first bite of the oxtail itself!
Tipping a Hat to Texture
Now its time for textures to have their turn – its obvious in these incredible soft bites of oxtail just how long the soup must cook before it is ready.
The soup broth itself is thick with collagen flavor, and I think I could chew on its wonderfully mushy bites of skin and tendon for days.
Its a tough decision, but the beef tendon does it for me, winning the small award of ‘Tastiest Bite’ of the day.
Watch Out for Bones… Not!
The bone chunks are large, and obvious to navigate through, but all the joints and ligaments are so soft that they almost go right down without needing to chew.
These aren’t pieces to avoid, they’re actually the pieces people might be fighting over!
Thankfully these full-size fire-pots of ox-tail soup here are large, because I notice that everyone else around the table is already eyeing the pot, politely yet eagerly looking to refill their bowls as well.
Laap Meat Salad – Sour Version (ลาบเปรี้ยว)
The trip to a mini-soup paradise subsides, and the first side dish of Laap arrives to the table.
This plate is a meat salad tending more towards the sour end of Laap recipe possibilities.
Full of fresh ingredients, the ones which jump out at me first are cilantro, and saw-tooth coriander, and of course her ripe red local Thai chilis (not just local – they’re growing behind the restaurant!).
How to say it ‘in Thai’
In Thai you can say ‘Laap Pre-ow’ (ลาบเปรี้ยว), which means they will add extra sour flavors.
If you are feeling brave of course, then order a ‘Laap Khome’ as well, which includes bile (yes, the digestive juice).
Finally, for these first dishes of Laap meat salad, you’re going to want to crack open your first container of sticky rice.
100% Thai-Esaan Backyard Restaurant cheers!
Eating Laap Like a Pro
Reach into your still-steaming sticky rice, and make a firm ball with your non-dominant hand.
Scoop up a forkful of Laap salad with your fork or spoon, then dunk your sticky rice into the Laap juices left behind.
Make a selection from the mix plate of fresh herbs (called ‘Pak Sod’ (ผักสด) in Thai), and chase!
What’s in the Side Basket?
Today we have a ton of herbs to choose from – Betel Leaf, Vietnamese Coriander, Sawtooth Herb, Thai Sweet Basil, and finally White Cabbage, or Thai eggplant. There are also entire fresh chilies available for your small (self-serve) baskets here as well.
For those who truly want to take each Laap bite to the next level, combine a bite of Laap with herbs directly (no sticky rice), and chase with an entire chili, and an entire sprig of the most local veg you can find (which today is Fish Mint, a flavor that I can only describe as a ‘stinky sweet dance for the entire surface of your tongue’).
Reticulum for Full-on Texture
The selection of innards is wonderful at ‘Raan Soop Hang Wua.’ You’ll see very thin strips of reticulum in the photos (which is one of the middle stomachs of a grass-eating animal).
The chewy texture of the stomach balances very well actually, with the fresh spring onions, cilantro, and lime juice.
A necessary ingredient in Esaan-style Laap is roasted rice powder (‘Khao Kua’), giving a nutty flavor, and a slightly smoky aroma as well.
Smoky flavor continues with the pieces of beef themselves, as this style of Laap cooks quickly in a pan over propane before mixing into the fresh salad ingredients.
Papaya Salad – Laos-Style (ส้มตำลาว)
Moving on to the Papaya salad, her ratios are just incredible.
I love how she has a full balance here, its like a complete and full ‘Tam’ flavor profile – you have bitter, sour, salty, spicy, and umami – its amazing!
A rough estimate of ingredients might go something like this;
What’s In Her ‘Tam’ Salad Recipe?
For sour flavor, you have fresh tomatoes, both local Esaan small tomatoes (usually unripe), as well as the more common sweet-sour red tomatoes as well. Squeezes of fresh lime, and the chilies have sourness as well (and there are enough of them that they add much more than just heat to the dish!).
For bitterness, you have the seeds from the chilies, but more powerfully there’s Thai water olive (‘Ma-kawk’). Raw Thai eggplant is small, but powerful, bitter, and sweet, and if you happen to bite into one then the rind of the lime fruit is bitter and sour as well (they’re usually just thrown into the pestle as well, many people I know do choose to eat them).
Finally, for a more clean and fresh sweetness of flavor, there is the fresh papaya itself (central Thai style Tam includes palm sugar, but the Tam at this restaurant is ‘Laos-style Salads Only,’ focusing on salty and spicy instead of sweet and sour).
Heart-warming-ly Local Flavor Profile
The shreds of young papaya adds such a nice crunch to each bite, and soak up too just a bit of the sharp sourness (lime juice) as well. Saltiness of both the Pla-raa fermenting fish and a spoon of MSG excite the tongue to no end, which, speaking of the tongue we’re moving on to the final ingredient.
Pla-raa fermentation action takes charge, and the pungent fumes and umami-power just begins to flood all other flavors away. The clay pots in front of her chef’s table are full of Esaan’s dearest ingredient – their position lets you know that she is proud of her home recipe.
Sour Soup – Cow Innards Version (ต้มแซบเครื่องในวัว)
Its almost beyond belief how much flavor is in each bite of oxtail, but I won’t argue with you if you claim her Tom Saep to be the ultimate in local flavor satisfaction.
Whatever your opinion, we can agree that this is the other ‘Must-Order’ item on ‘Soop Hang Wua’s’ restaurant menu.
The sweetly bitter bile flavor immediately reminds me where I am, and I am instantly an addict to this flavor all over again!*
**I’ve been living in the North of Thailand for about 2 years now, and wow is it great to be able to visit the North-East again in 2020!
Earthy Flavors, and Full of Earth (Literally)
I will always love a solid ‘Tom Saep’ like this, so full of earthy flavor. If you feel like I do, this soup won’t let you down in the slightest.
Mentioning this earlier, its so cool to notice how, between this dish and the oxtail soup, you really have a decent selection of every part of the entire body of a cow.
I can’t leave describing this soup without including just one additional flavor fact – its not only bile that’s going to flavor this soup with bitterness, there’s also ‘chyme,’ which is grass digesting in the stomach of the cow – the earthy flavor here therefore also literally includes earth itself, a scenario I have strangely come to love…
**The bite in the picture above includes obamasum (another stomach of ruminant animals), and behind it you can see longer sections of small intestine, which include chyme (they wash the cow’s stomach before cooking, but only wash it gently…).
Beef Jerky, Deep-Fried (เน้ือแดดเดียว)
Rounding off your order, some sun-drying beef jerky is never a bad idea (say ‘Neu-ah Daed De-ow’ in Thai).
You can ask for it on its own, but its usually preferable to have a chef deep fry this jerky first (see the photo above). The bites of jerky are chewy, near the edges even crunchy, and this is another thing that’s just accompanying your meal perfectly when you pair it with warm sticky rice (or cold beer, or both).
The version here is a little too oily for my taste,* but I can see plenty of others around us enjoying dishes of ‘Raan Soop Hang Wua’s beef jerky.
**Necessary at least to know about this dish, and remember it for another day of local food-finding in North East Thailand’s countryside.
Additional Items to Order
Her Tam papaya salad is so good that we just have to order another round.
This Pla-Raa is nearly unmatched in its aromatics and depths of flavor, you can literally tell the moment that a new order of Som Tam hits the table (even when its not your own table!).
You can see in this second plate that the chef focuses more on the fresh papaya itself, and adding in, if possible, even more chili heat than she did in the first plate!
Lighting yourself literally on fire may not be wise, but setting your mouth ablaze instead through use of fiery ‘Tam’ pounding flavor is definitely a good idea.
Just be ready when friends accuse you of having ‘Pla-Raa’ breath later in the day (but don’t fault them for being jealous of your epic lunchtime activities).
How To Make Oxtail Soup
So unless you are eating this at home, a meal of oxtail is usually going to require several large pots to get the powerful soup broth ready for this recipe.
The tail of the ox (cow) is where this dish takes its name, but there are so many other beefy items that have an important part in this process.
The base of the tail draws your attention at first glance, but the tail in fact usually cooks on its own, and is only added once each order is being made up before serving.
That deep, rich, heart-warming and recognizable sour soup flavor is the result of quite a large mix of different parts – you can see immediately how its the second large pot of soup, just overflowing with goodness, commanding the constant care of a motherly chef like this!
Into the Kitchen
Taking a quick peak into the chef’s station at Raan Soop Hang Wua in Khon Kaen, I have a clear view of several of the mother pots next to the kitchen. I see sections of bone, some cow trotters, and maybe a hoof as well. I see ribs, cow skin, and a variety of huge tendons and joints in the bubbling soup, and next its my nose detecting some massive quantities of fresh herbs.
Using such a large mix of ingredients, you’ll soon see that this is where oxtail Soup gets its amazing gummy-and-hearty thickness.
Its the fat and collagen boiling down to make that heart-warming recognizable goodness. It smells so wonderful here that there’s no way I could handle this if not for the fact that our own servings of oxtail are on the table!
Order Each Soup as its Own Dish
On the scale of a few larger restaurants, these secondary pots stewing additional parts may even be an order all on their own.
An amazing restaurant in Phang-Nga (southern Thailand) does just that, and you can see Mark Wiens exploring the full options of a southern-style oxtail Soup in this video here (YouTube link).
Diversity, even in Pure Countryside
One of my favorite parts about the incredible food scene of Thailand though, just has to be its diversity. Besides the large Muslim population of Thailand, there’s also a huge love for soups just like this one among the central Thai population as well.
Whether its because beef is not the most common meat ingredient in Thailand, or because Thailand is more famous for the fresh, quick-frying wok dishes and ultra-spicy curries, slow-cooking soup fans from around the globe will be happy to know that oxtail soup is definitely at home here in Thailand as well.
I recommend a double order of the oxtail soup, and a short but hungry list of friends to join you when you go!
Address: Sila, Mueang Khon Kaen District, Khon Kaen 40000
Map: Location Link (Google Maps)
Hours: 8AM-6PM, Open Daily
Prices: Our total bill came to 340 Baht (including 2 bottles of water)