Bitter melon

One sunday morning, Dora came up to me with something in her hand. “You said you like bitter food, right?” she said.

“I love bitter things,” I said.

“Then you should try this,” she said, holding out a small, wrinkled green vegetable. “It’s called bitter melon.”

She told me how to prepare it: slice it open, scoop the seeds and pulp out, slice it up and stir-fry it, maybe mixing it with some other vegetables and perhaps some kind of meat, like sausages. Dora comes from a Chinese family, but bitter melon is not just Chinese; when Hong, who is Vietnamese, saw the bitter melon, her eyes lit up, and it turns out she loves it, too — sauteed with garlic, in her case. Both of them agreed that not everyone likes bitter melon.

You’d think a New England Yankee like me, raised on mild and restrained flavors, would not care for bitter melon. But I love it. It’s not an extreme taste; I think of it as being mildly bitter, maybe about as bitter as strong turnips. I haven’t been able to find it in any supermarkets, but fortunately there is one farmer at the San Mateo farmer’s market who carries both the white and green varieties.

Bitter melon