Sunday, 13 July 2014

bitter melon soup / bitter gourd soup

Bitter melon soup.

Wow. Firstly, I want to thank you all for the overwhelming support that you have shown for my recent decision to quit my job to travel. As I prepare for my adventure, I hope to share more details about our plans.

But for now, let's talk about food again!

So, obviously, I am going through interesting times at the moment. It's a time to say goodbye to some, but also a time to say hello to others.

It's a bittersweet time.

This bitter melon soup, then, seems like an appropriate dish to serve up in my life, and on my blog. I rarely cook with bitter melon, as I don't usually get the attraction of such a bitter vegetable. However, this is a soup that my mum cooks for my family. It is a soup that my sister likes. And recently, when I visited my uncle and aunt, and offered to cook dinner, they had a bitter melon waiting to be eaten, so this soup was, for me, the obvious solution.

A bitter melon / bitter gourd.

The bitter melon does have its distinctive bitterness, but it is balanced out by the sweetness of the carrots and ikan bilis (dried anchovies).

My uncle and aunt enjoyed the bitter melon soup. I liked it, too, more than I remember ever liking it. I was surprised.

Cross section of a bitter melon, when sliced lengthwise into half.

So much so, that two weeks later, I bought bitter melon, so that I can make the soup again, all for myself.

Perhaps, as I grow older, my appreciation for this bittersweet soup grows, too.

Bitter melon soup with carrot, tofu, and dried anchovies.

bitter melon soup / bitter gourd soup
(Serves 2 when accompanied with rice, as a main dish. Serves 4 as an appetizer or side dish.)

1 small to medium bitter melon (approx. 250g)
2 medium to large carrots (approx. 200g)
1/3 loose cup ikan bilis i.e. dried anchovies with guts and heads already removed (may be substituted with a few pieces of pork bones and/or dried cuttle fish)
1 small block tofu (approx. 200g. Optional if not serving this as a main dish.)
salt and white pepper, to taste

Cut bitter melon lengthwise into half. Scrape out the pith and seeds, discard those so that you're left with what looks like two empty green boats. Chop up the flesh into bite-size pieces. (First, slice the "boats" into half-rings, then chop those again into quarter-rings.)
Chop carrots into rounds.
In a big pot, put in the bitter melon, carrot and anchovies/pork/cuttlefish with 4 cups of water to boil, then turn down the heat to let everything simmer, partially covered, for around 30 minutes or until bitter melon and carrots are tender.
Cut tofu into bite-sized rectangles or squares. Add to the soup, bring it back to boil, and simmer for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper.


I usually use a ratio of similar amounts of bitter melon and carrot, with a bit more bitter melon (it’s supposed the be the main character, after all).
If I recall correctly, my mum usually uses pork bones and dried cuttlefish to flavour the soup, but I substituted with dried anchovies (ikan bilis) here instead.
Choose the bitter melon / gourd with plump, succulent grooves rather than the ones that look shriveled up, dry and skinny.
I prefer to use semi-firm tofu (with a softness somewhere in between silken and firm, not too fragile) for this dish. This is usually just the regular type sold in tubs in Asian grocery stores.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, I'm used to having bitter gourd as a stir fry with black beans, but think it'd be just as good in a soup! The use of driedcuttle fish is similar to my home's recipe for lutos root soup and it does give a good umami lift, I bet ikan bilis (or even Yunnan ham) would work as a good alternative!

    1. I've had stir-fried bitter gourd, I quite like it with egg, can't remember if I've had it with black beans, but probably. And yes, I think all these Chinese-style soups are quite similar, just have to swap the main ingredient (e.g. lotus root for bitter gourd) and maybe a few other adjustments, and you're good to go!

  2. what an interesting idea to use bitter melon.. I've never worked with it before. i definitely will be trying to now. thanks for sharing the great recipe and ideas!

    1. Bitter melon can be an acquired taste, but definitely try it someday, you may like it. :)

  3. I tasted something similar once when Elizabeth Chong taught at my cooking school... it was a Yunan style wellness soup, cooked in a Yunan clay pot steamer thing. Just lovely!

    1. Oh, that wellness soup sounds very nice, especially with the claypot setup!

  4. Ah, bitter gourd soup! I used to hate it as a child but it's definitely grown on me now! I also like it when it's been stuffed with fish paste for yong-tofu, yum!
    It's always a scary decision to quit jobs, but you only get one life so live it to the fullest! :) Looking forward to hearing more about your adventures!

    gemma @

    1. It has definitely grown on me, too! I can't believe I'm actually cooking bitter gourd soup for myself because I actually want to!

  5. I can't stand the stuff, I made bitter melon soup and I don't think anyone ate it. I made a huge batch too. Though I know how good it is for you, my taste buds just can't do it.

    1. What was in your soup / which recipe did you use? I think the trick is to balance it out with sweeter flavours, but yeah, I can see how, even then, it may still not be everyone's cup of, er, soup. It can also be luck of the draw, the bitter melons can vary in their level of bitterness, so if you're unfortunate enough to pick a really bitter one, then there's probably not much you can do to save the soup.


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