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19/03/2020 - 06:37

Delicious dishes from bitter melons

I still remember once we were on the way back from the village after Tet, my wife immediately stopped to buy bitter melons when she happened to see a basket of green fresh water melons of an old woman at An Lo market by the National Highway 1A.

After a while, she said: “Gosh, it’s not good to buy bitter melons at the beginning of the year!” I told her: “In the south, the bitter melon has another name meaning that the hardship has passed. It’s a sign of luck if we eat it early in the year.”

Bitter melons fried with eggs – a familiar dish. Photo: TL

The bitter melon is grown in my village all the year round. It is the most valuable among the vegetables in the country. It is easy to grow because it can develop in different types of soil, providing that it is well cared every day.

In spring, when the soil is still moist, it is grown in the garden. In summer, when the soil in the garden get dry, it is often grown in beds at the low feet of the field, with trenches along the two sides to provide water for the plants.

When the fall comes with lasting rain, the farmers sow the bitter melon seeds in the garden again. Even in winter or during the flood season, the farmers in my village still grow bitter melons on the sand mounds.

Bitter melons grown on sand must be well cared. Cattle wastes are used to set a layer underground. The bitter melon must be warmed with straw put at the base, and watered regularly.

The truss of bitter melons is usually lower than that of gourds, so it is easy to pick with hands. Bitter melons are also grown in beds in a large area, only with the support of some bamboo stems or dried tree branches.

In my village, farmers also grow bitter melons in chilly gardens. When the chilly season ends, they sow the seeds at the feet of chilly plants. The bitter melons grow, climbing along the chilly plants and producing the melons. When the fall comes, the yellow flowers of bitter melons and the red chilly remaining on the plants make a colorful picture, attracting the dragon flies, bees and butterflies.

In my village, a basket of bitter melons to sell at the morning market may help have enough money for the family expense a few days. As bitter melons are more expensive than gourds and winter melons, farmers often save the big ones for sale and only eat the small or bee-bitten ones. 

They also keep the big ones for altar meals when there is a death anniversary. Fried bitter melons or bitter melon soup is typical in the traditional meal for the death anniversary.

Bitter melons can be cooked with many other ingredients such as shrimps, mussels, pork and beef. Bitter melons can also be eaten fresh with basils and shrimp sauce.  Sometimes, the whole fruit is stuffed with pork mince to make soup.

I saw on my Facebook newsfeed this morning the photos of a garden of the bitter melons. They were posted by my old neighbor who is now living overseas. Amazingly, my friends living in the US often post photos of their trusses of gourds, winter melons, tomatoes, or bitter melons and gardens of roses.

It is, probably, these familiar plants will soften their homesickness because they bring the warmth and the home tastes to them. The old neighbor’s photos and his bright smile in the photos give me feeling of hometown in a far away land.

By PHI TAN

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