Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Okinawan bitter melon stir-fry (Goya chanpuru)

This is like Okinawa's national dish (or it would be, if it were a nation). We like it, but I'd never made it myself because of rumors that the key ingredient is hard to handle. But I saw some in the farmer's market last Saturday, so I had to try it. And, hey, it came out good.

The key ingredient is goya, or bitter melon. If you can find it at all, you may find two varieties, a larger smoother version called Chinese bitter melon and a smaller bumpier version called Indian bitter melon. (Oh, that makes me realize, most of you may be familiar with this vegetable after all!) It's the Indian version, I think, that's standard for this dish. At least, that's what I used, and it tasted right.

So here's what you need:
1 bitter melon
10 or so baby carrots (optional)
1 block firm tofu
2 eggs
soy sauce
half can Spam (optional)
vegetable oil

1. Cut the ends off the bitter melon, then slice it lengthwise. With a spoon scrape out the seeds. Then slice the melon into thin cross-sections. Put in a bowl and sprinkle some salt over it. Let it sit until the melon turns rubbery. Then rinse the melon in water and pat or squeeze dry with paper towels. The object here is to take some of the bitterness out. It'll still be bitter no matter what you do, but this helps some.

2. Cut the carrots into quarters lengthwise. Carrots are not a standard ingredient in Okinawa, but I saw one recipe that listed them, tried it, and they were awesome. The sweetness of the carrots is a great contrast to the bitterness of the melon.

3. Cut the Spam into small slices. Spam is optional: most recipes you'll find in cookbooks and on-line won't even list it as an ingredient, but believe me, Spam is a key ingredient in the classic everyday Okinawan version of this. Of course if you're vegetarian it can be left out: there're plenty of other proteins in this dish.

4. Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat.

5. Cut the tofu into small cubes.

6. Heat a little vegetable oil in a wok and stir fry. Start with the carrots; when they're starting to soften up, add the Spam, then the bitter melon. Then add the tofu. Stir fry everything until the veggies are done, the Spam is browned, and the tofu is crumbled. Splash some soy sauce over it.

7. Add the egg and keep stir frying until the egg is cooked.

8. Serve with rice.

Bitter melon is an acquired taste, but once you acquire it, the bitterness works really well in the summer.


  1. You know, I have never actually had spam or bitter melon (despite having grown up in India). Maybe it is time I tried both!

  2. you've had spam. the hawaiian temple missionaries used to cook with it. i remember once we all went to kamakura or somewhere like that and they presented me with a spam and cheese sandwich.