Bitter gourd. Ugh! The name itself already indicates how aversive it tastes. One look at the wrinkly, dreadful fruit (yes, it’s actually a fruit and not a vegetable) affirms all prejudice against it. I never enjoyed the taste of bitter gourd. Not one bit. That is, until a few weeks ago. A few months ago, I began “training” my taste buds by taking bitter gourd gravy with my economy rice as often as it was available. After some weeks, I managed to get past the bitterness and actually enjoy the flavors that were hiding behind the dominant bitterness. The reason I would put myself through such an exercise is simple – health factors. I don’t care much about how bitter gourd has antiviral, anticancer, or digestion-stimulating properties. Never mind that it is an excellent source of vitamins B1, B2, and B3, C, magnesium, folic acid, zinc, phosphorus, manganese, iron, beta-carotene, calcium, potassium, and dietary fiber. No, really, as wonderful as all of those things are, it’s not about all that. It is its unique ability to lower blood-sugar levels that sold me. In a nutshell, this anti-diabetic property significantly helps prevent weight gain. A gift from the
gourdsgods, masked by a bitterness that I’ve managed to tolerate, even enjoy.
Bitter gourd herbal drink – very strongly flavored. Approach with caution.
My first visit to Restoran Fu Kua (translates to “Bitter Gourd Restaurant”) some years ago. This was after much arm-twisting and social blackmail from my gourd-loving friends, back when I still hated the noxious-tasting stuff. My inability to enjoy the bitter gourd dishes aside, I was surprised with the menu. Over a hundred (possibly well over a hundred) dishes cooked with bitter gourd were available. Even the drinks were not spared the bitter gourd touch. Not to worry though, as the “captain” will gladly make recommendations, should her service be requested. Years later, I had finally readied myself to enjoy the medicinal melon.
If I had my way, I wouldn’t share the bamboo steamed pork.
Though the highlight of the menu is pretty much bitter gourd, bitter gourd, and more bitter gourd, the star of the menu – to me – is the bamboo-steamed pork. Minced pork steamed in bamboo, fragrant from its own juices, and just enough corn starch for consistency. The salted egg yolk resting coyly on its surface, elevates the dish from delightful to euphoric. One would be well-advised to call the restaurant to reserve this popular and quick-selling dish (available during dinner hours only).
Bitter gourd fried with salted egg – good enough to eat on its own.
Another dish that is usually received with unison enthusiasm is the bitter gourd fried with salted eggs. Though the bitter gourd is the main ingredient in the dish, this dish is received well even by those who are cautious towards the taste of bitter gourd. The powerful aroma and saltiness of the salted egg balances out the bitterness without really masking it. It strangely makes the bitterness desirable. The perfect dish for the uninitiatedgourdventurer and seasoned gourdster alike.
This is almost cheating. No taste of bitterness at all.
While bitter gourd is the mainstay of the dishes at Restoran Fu Kua, it would be imbalanced if bitter gourd was at the forefront of every dish. The braised pork knuckle with bitter gourd hadn’t a hint of bitterness. The full glory and splendor of tender pork knuckles in heavy peppery sauce, without a discernible trace of bitterness. Definitely a better dish for those averse to the taste of bitter gourd, yet wish to gain its health benefits.
No Chinese meal is complete without soup.
In an unexpected twist, my initial purpose of eating bitter gourd has evolved from a health-oriented chore to a pleasure. It certainly helps that prices are pretty decent, if you stay away from obviously expensive dishes (like fish, frog, duck) and stick with chicken and pork. It would seem I’m officially a convert.
Praise be to gourd, for gourd is good.