Sake Gumi
SP: Bitter gourd salad 1

As it's hot, Hot, HOT in London at the moment, dinners have generally been cool affairs: cold noodles, salads and a tonne of watermelon. I fear I'll be growing a watermelon soon. No, wait, that's just my tummy. I'll get myself to the gym once this gorgeous weather fades.

I've grown to love salads as I grow older, and enjoy making different versions of vinaigrettes, my favourite dressing. Mustard, soy sauce, garlic, they've all spent time with assorted vinegars in my salad. But the dressing I find most comforting is that made with lime or lemon juice. In Sri Lanka where it's hot and humid all year round, we drink lime juice and add lime to everything from fruit to fish to salad. And I don't know why, but the simple salads there are just so delicious and cooling. And one of my favourites is bitter gourd salad. I haven't really seen bitter gourd (also known as bitter melon) here in supermarkets except for those in Indian shops, where I normally get them.

SP: Bitter gourd salad 8

This is a very simple salad, but there is some deep frying involved. I know, it's hot and you don't want to switch on the cooker, but trust me, you won't regret it. Bitter gourd is so named for a reason. It's extremely bitter because of the quinine it contains, and in Sri Lanka, we normally curry it and drown it in spice and chillies or deep fry it. Unlike the Japanese Okinawan bitter gourd (goya) which you can stir-fry with some tofu, egg and pork to make goya champuru, the South Asian variety is way too bitter. But it's good for you and is often used in ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.

SP: Bitter gourd salad 10

I used the following ingredients which can be adjusted to taste:

5 small bittergourds: De-seeded and thinly sliced
2 tomatoes: De-seeded and sliced
2 small red onions: Thinly sliced
2 green chillies: De-seeded and chopped finely
1 lime
Maldive fish - A tablespoon
Salt and pepper to taste

SP: Bitter gourd salad 9

You may be wondering what maldive fish is. It's similar to the Japanese katsuobushi or dried bonito used to make dashi and is used in almost all Sri Lankan vegetable dishes: curries, salads and sambols. It adds a meatiness to the dish, tightening the flavours with umami.

SP: Bitter gourd salad 7

First mix the tomatoes, onions, green chillies and maldive fish together with some lime and salt. Then de-seed, slice and deep fry the bitter gourd.

SP: Bitter gourd salad 6

SP: Bitter gourd Salad 5

SP: Bitter gourd salad 4

SP: Bitter gourd salad 3

Once you've patted away the excess oil, mix into the tomatoes and onions, add some more lime juice and salt and pepper to taste, and tuck in!

In Sri Lanka we normally have this as one of the many vegetable dishes accompanying our curries, but I'm happiest eating it on its own. You can adjust the ratio of bitter gourd:onion:tomato to suit your taste. I like mine to be salady so like equal amounts of each. You can substitute the bitter gourd with thinly sliced and deep fried aubergine as well. And if you like it hot, add more chillies!

However to me, that bitterness which you can only get from the bitter gourd synchronises perfectly with the lime, salt and chillies creating a flavour explosion, and tastes sublime.
Column: Slightly Peckish


  • Ahh you’ve made me want to run back home to Sri Lanka!!! I ate an unusual dim sum last weekend with bittergourd stuffed with tofu and in a tomatoey sauce. It was also good.

    Mystica on

  • looks good!
    didn’t know that goyas taste different in other countries… makes sense, though.

    i have a problem with the bitterness in goya especially when its boiled or just stir fried with other vegi, but deep fry might be the answer. goya chips!? must try.

    my appetite has been rather dull due to the climate – ginger, Japanese ginger(myouga), shiso etc get in almost everyhting i eat to tune up.

    my favorite ways of eating rice these days are…
    - light “su-meshi”(rice with vinegar made for sushi ) topped with smoked salmon, tomato and tamagoyaki.
    - rice added with olives and dill : )
    - rice cooked with ginger

    happy eating.

    itoeri on

  • I’ve never had dim sum with bitter gourd! Australia has a lot of fusion cuisine so it must be interesting to try lots of unusual combinations!

    Sakura on

  • Goya chips sound yummy! I think the acidity of the lime in the salad tames the bitterness a little. I’m experiencing natsubate as well this year so have been eating a lot of cooling dinners. Rice with olives and dill plus ginger sounds interesting. May have to try them one day.

    In Yo! Sushi in London, they do Japanese curry with su-meshi … it sounds gross, but it’s actually not that bad.

    Sakura on

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