I Can Take Bitterness


I have had food cravings all the time all my life (except when I was pregnant and all food made me sick all the time). I am quite happy to be ruled by my cravings, when it’s cheese cake or asam pedas or kiam chai boi.

But I have been having strange cravings lately – salads and brocolli and brussel sprouts – maybe my body is telling it needs more greens. Maybe that’s why I ate so much fruits when I was pregnant (a long time ago).

But my latest craving is downright weird – I want bitter gourd! How did that come about? I never touched bittergourd when my mom cooked them… who needs more bitterness? I first changed my mind about bittergourd when I did the Flavours food guide for Seberang Perai, Penang 3 years ago.

It was the bitter gourd soup cooked with pig’s tail in an old restaurant in Bukit Mertajam that first opened my taste buds to the appeal of bitterness. BTW, the restaurant is so old the phone number listed on its signboard only has five digits.

Bitterness is one of the five essential flavours in Chinese cuisine – sweet, sour, salty, spicy and bitter. Bitter gourd is somewhat of an acquired taste; it’s actually bitter-sweet and I like the complexity that its bitterness lends to a dish. It’s actually invigorating, especially when the bitterness provides the end notes.


Or maybe I am just older, and have swallowed enough bitterness to not be bothered by bittergourd ….haha you know Chinese woman and sufferings…I am allowed trite cliches like this – even if I hate them in writings by Chinese authors (yup, not a fan of Adeline Yen Mah).

Whatever… I am reconciled to the fact that I like bittergourd. There is a restaurant in Petaling Jaya with a menu dominated by dishes made with bittergourd. I know I am way older than my colleagues; they absolutely won’t do bittergourd…sigh.

Luckily, I have other friends. My friend Boon Hooi came over for dinner, and I made her cook her mother’s bittergourd dish. I thought it’d be a plain bittergourd omelette, but her recipe uses yellow bean  paste. It’s delicious, and there was hardly any bitterness left after she had salted the bittergourd slices.

When I cooked this dish again, I didn’t salt the bittergourd because I wanted the bitterness…. really I do, don’t know why. I think it’s better with the slight bitterness. I don’t know if it was just the bittergourd I bought that day, or the yellow bean paste, but the bitterness was neither domineering or overwhelming.

The saltiness of the yellow bean paste was a good balance to the bittergourd, and the egg adds richness, and there is just a tinge of sweetness from the sugar used. The bittergourd absorbs all that flavours, and completes it with its bitter tinge.

I had also taken my aunt’s advice and chosen bittergourd with ridges that were far apart. I am trying to get her to make bittergourd soup – it’s good for cooling and strengthening the body, and improving blood circulation.

One last note, I made this with duck egg the first time, and it was way tastier … must be the higher cholesterol.



Bittergourd Stirfried With Yellow Bean Paste and Egg

1 medium bittergourd
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of cooking oil
1 tablespoon of yellow bean curd paste
1 egg
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
salt, if needed and according to taste

Halve the bittergourd and remove the seeds. Slice the bittergourd. Marinate the bittergourd slices in salt for 15 minutes. Let it sweat, and then rinse the bittergourd. Drain well.
In a wok, heat the cooking oil and saute the yellow bean curd paste until fragrant. Keep stirring so it does not burn.
Add the bittergourd slices, and mix well with the yellow bean curd paste.
Add the water, and lower the heat. Let it simmer gently until the bittergourd softens.
Break the egg, and beat a little. Pour into the bittergourd, and leave it for half a minute or until the eggs are cooked.
Serve hot


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5 Responses to “I Can Take Bitterness”

  1. Mei Teng Says:

    I love eating bittergourd. Stir fry or soup (with tofu, fermented veggies and fishball).

  2. Claiming My Chinese Food Heritage « The Hungry Caterpillar Says:

    […] The Hungry Caterpillar My tummy's always rumbling, so I am always eating…and cooking (on weekends only) « I Can Take Bitterness […]

  3. tigerfish Says:

    Have tried cooking braised bittergourd with chicken and yellow bean paste before and love it lots 🙂 cos I like bittergourds !

  4. JC Says:

    My uncle used to say those who enjoys bittergourd will be better at coping with the bitterness that life thrown our way! I am a bittergourd lover. Currently have 3 bittergourds in my fridge. Your recipe is one that I would try on those bittergourds! Thx for the recipe!

    • Hungry Caterpillar Says:

      Yr uncle is probably right…I only appreciated bitter gourd in my old age, and now I love it. I don’t even bother with salting it to remove the bitter edge. Bittergourd soup with ribs is good too

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