RT Cunningham


Finally, a Bitter Melon Dish I Actually Like

bitter melon Let’s get some nomenclature out of the way. The scientific (botanical, whatever) name is Momordica charantia. In the United States, it’s called bitter melon, bitter gourd, bitter squash or balsam-pear depending on what part of the country you live in, what your parents call it and for other reasons.

I’ll stick with “bitter melon” for two reasons. The innards kind of look like a melon and it’s definitely bitter. In the Philippines, in the Tagalog language, it’s called ampalaya (which actually translates to “bitter apple”). I have no idea what it’s called in other languages.

This Is Not a Bitter Melon Recipe

It’s really something Josie (my wife) threw together in about 10 minutes.

She started by slicing up two bitter melons (Asian, not Indian), a clove of garlic and half an onion. She cooked the garlic and onion in a little oil in a big stir-fry pan and then added the bitter melon and four beaten eggs, which she scrambled in the pan. Then she added a few dashes of salt, but it would probably taste okay without it.

I promised to taste it before I’d decide to eat it or not. The only other time I’d tasted bitter melon when it was part of a Filipino dish called pinakbet or pakbet. It probably wasn’t the bitter melon that turned me off. Pinakbet is made with bogoong alamang (fermented shrimp paste) as another ingredient and I can’t even stand the smell of it.

I tasted it and it was good! Sure the bitter melon was bitter, but it wasn’t bad. Really. She then served it over a heap of steamed rice (and I’ll get into that part in moment). I loved it and I ate it all, not even leaving a grain of rice on the plate. And we have leftovers for tomorrow night.

I told Josie I want to eat this exact dish again and again. I’m going to add it as a regular part of my diet. After all, bitter melon is supposed to be good for me.

Steamed Rice?

I don’t where it started, but that’s what all the Chinese food places call plain, cooked rice. I suppose it’s to differentiate it from fried rice and other types of cooked rice. The Tagalog word kanin means plain, cooked rice. Of course, Filipinos use a different word for uncooked rice (bigas).

Steamed rice goes with just about every kind of food that’s Far East Asian. It even goes with things that aren’t, like SPAM and corned beef from a can (like Libby’s or Hormel). It goes with most types of green vegetables and that’s what bitter melon is considered (though it’s probably a fruit).

In the Philippines, you can make almost any kind of dish with gulay (green vegetables) and kanin. Most of them wouldn’t have any name other than vegetables and rice.

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By RT Cunningham
November 14, 2014
Food and Drink