Goya (Photo by Luc Gougeon)
By Luc Gougeon
The first vegetable to be featured in the “Seasonal Eating in Japan” series is goya. Also known as bitter gourd or bitter melon, goya comes into season in summer. It is grown all over Asia and is a staple food of Okinawa. This warty green vegetable resembles a cucumber with some kind of skin disease, and eaten raw its taste isn’t much better that its looks; it is probably one of the most bitter vegetables in the world. Goya needs to be cooked to be edible, and some people say it’s an acquired taste. Judge for yourself with this easy recipe for goya chanpuru, a stir-fried dish that is a specialty of Okinawa.
- 1 goya
- 1 small block of firm tofu
- 1 or 2 eggs (depending on the size)
- 1 tsp. soy sauce
- 1 tsp. sake
- 1 tsp. vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp. salt (optional)
- Bacon, onions, carrots, Spam (optional add-ins)
- Cut the goya length-wise. Remove the flesh and seeds with a spoon and throw them away.
- Slice the goya into pieces that are about half a centimeter thick.
- You must choose one of two options for this step. Option 1: Boil the goya just enough to make it tender but not mushy (about 5 to 7 minutes). Option 2: Sprinkle the goya with 1 tbsp. salt and let it sit for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, wash the goya and squeeze the water out of it. This should remove a lot of bitterness.
- Cut the tofu into about 1 cm cubes. In a large pan, add about 1 tsp of vegetable oil and sauté the tofu at medium-high heat until very lightly brown.
- Add the bacon and the goya to the pan.
- Break two eggs into the pan and stir them in.
- Season with soy sauce and sake. Adjust the amounts to your taste.
Carrots and onions could be added to this stir-fry. The traditional Okinawan recipe calls for canned Spam. That might sound strange, but Spam is considered a delicacy in Okinawa! Bacon will work just fine, or you can simply make this dish without meat.
Give it a try! Goya is quite healthy. It may be no coincidence that the Okinawan people enjoy one of the longest life expectancies in the world – goya is believed to have a long list of medicinal properties thought to fight everything from cancer to diabetes.