Friday, August 17, 2012

Chicken with Bitter Melon & The Gwâa (瓜) Family

Summer is the season of melon/gourd/squash or “gwâa” (瓜),in Cantonese.  I have taken a photo of most of the "gwâas" we can find in Hong Kong and you can view them on my Local Vegetables Page.
Those who are reading my post and live in Hong Kong should rejoice about the forthcoming opening of Island East Markets.  I am sure they (we) will find lots of locally grown gwâas there!  

Here is below a list of the most popular types of melon that you can find at Hong Kong markets right now. As you will notice each one of them has the Chinese character - gwâa - at the end of its name.
  1. Angled luffa (loofah) 絲瓜 sî-gwâa (silk-gourd).
  2. Bitter melon 苦瓜 fú-gwâa (bitter-gourd). Also called balsam pear/balsam apple.
  3. Bottle gourd/calabash 葫蘆瓜 wùh-lòuh-gwâa (bottle gourd-reed-squash)
  4. Chayote 佛手瓜 faht-sáu-gwâa (Buddha-hand-squash).
  5. Cucumber 青瓜chèng-gwâa (green-squash). I like it best in salad with vegetarian chicken and minced garlic.
  6. Hairy melon 節瓜 jit-gwâa (joined-squash) or 毛瓜 mòuh-gwâa (hairy- squash)
  7. Mouse melon 老鼠瓜 lóuh-syú-gwâa (mouse-melon).
  8. Smooth or sponge luffa 水瓜 séui-gwâa (water-gourd)
  9. Wax gourd 冬瓜dûng-gwâa (winter-squash). It is said to have medicinal properties particularly good for ladies! I will write a post and give my wax gourd soup recipe later.
  10. White flowered gourd 蒲瓜 poùh-gwâa (name of flowers-squash)
  11. Winter squash 南瓜 nàahm-gwâa (southern-gourd) or 番瓜 fâan-gwâa (foreign-squash)
  12. Yellow cucumber 黃瓜 wòhng-gwâa (yellow-squash)
Not all “gwâas” belong to the melon (cucurbitaceae) family. For example eggplant (ngái-gwâa /ké-gwâa 茄瓜) and papaya (木瓜-muhk-gwâa) are not of the melon family but luo-han-guo/suraitia grosvenori (羅漢果 - lóh-hon-gwó) is.
There is also another category of gwâas. Ha-ha! If someone is being called “sòh-gwâa” 傻瓜 (silly-melon) it means he/she is a “fool”.  This can either be a friendly or an insulting remark.

I like all the gwâas (veggie types!) but there is one which took me time to appreciate, i.e. bitter melon. As its name implies it can be quite "bitter". The green ribbed gourd has become one of my favourites after learning how to make it less strong while keeping part of its bitterness. The trick is to not stir the veggie while cooking it (the more your stir the bitter the melon becomes).  
If you wish to remove some bitterness in a stir-fry dish then the trick is to rub sliced bitter melon with salt and wait for about ½ hour (then squeeze excess water and cook).

There are 2 kinds of bitter melon. One is thinner and looks more like a cucumber. And the second type is plumper and looks more like a bell pepper with large blisters. I prefer the latter. In fact there is also a white colour variety that I have yet to try.

Bitter melon can also be blended in a food processor with 4 other green colour veggies/fruits (e.g. green apple, green bell pepper, cucumber and celery) to make the popular and healthy “5-green juice” or n’gh-chèng-jâp in Cantonese (五青汁).

Bitter melon – plump and with blistered ridges

Bitter melon – elongated type


Bitter melon with chicken


  • 1 large bitter gourd (wash, cut into half, remove seeds, cut into big chunks - keep skin and blisters)
  • 3 whole chicken legs (remove skin and cut to chunky bite sizes)
  • 5 pieces dried Chinese mushrooms (pre-soaked till soft, sliced -discard stems)
  • 4 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 2 slices of ginger
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • Water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp soybean paste
  • 1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 1 tbsp light soya sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dark soya sauce
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • A pinch of sugar
  1. Heat oil in saucepan and stir-fry garlic and ginger.
  2. Add chicken pieces in saucepan and brown well on all sides.
  3. Transfer chicken to clay pot.
  4. Add soybean paste and black fermented beans. Stir well.
  5. Add Chinese mushrooms, Chinese rice wine and light soya sauce.
  6. Add water to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil.
  7. Simmer until meat is tender. Add bitter gourd and cook for another 15 minutes (do not stir).
  8. Remove from heat. Add seasoning, stir and serve hot.

Bitter melon with chicken
You can see the ribbed/blistered ridges

If you have not tried bitter melon before give it a try and let me know how you liked it.  Again if you live in Hong Kong I am sure you are going to find bitter melon and other members of the “gwâa” family at Island East Markets. I am looking forward to its opening on Sept 30, 212.  Aren’t we all?

Want to know more about Island East Markets?
Follow IEM on Twitter: @IslandEastMkts (Tweets by (@e_ting)

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