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Japanese Recipe Adventures: Goya Chanpuru

Beat the heat like an Okinawan with this bitter melon recipe.

By 4 min read

The first time I tried goya chanpuru, a local favorite in the Okinawa islands, I didn’t know what to make of it. Bitter flavors are not exactly common in the average Brit’s diet! But on a trip to the islands, I tried it and then continued my day in the sun, not giving it much thought.

I wasn’t expecting that when summer came around the following year, I wanted to eat goya chanpuru once again. Was it the bitter flavors I was craving for refreshment? Or was it simply the connection to the sun and the south I longed for? Either way, I was delighted to find that goya (bitter melon) was not hard to find at my local supermarket in Japan’s Kanto region, and I decided to give it a go.

Now that I’ve got quite acquainted with the dish, here is a Japanese Recipe Adventure for goya chanpuru.

Ingredients

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The stars of the show.

This makes two portions of goya chanpuru, you will need to do a bit of shopping.

  • 1 goya
  • 1 block of firm tofu
  • 100 grams of thinly sliced pork
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • Half a teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of shoyu (soy sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon of goma abura (sesame oil)
  • 1 teaspoon of ryorishu (cooking sake)
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

Better, not bitter

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Like a scoop of the most bitter ice cream ever.

Bitter melon doesn’t have that name for nothing. The green superfood is incredibly bitter, especially given that the way it’s sold and eaten in Japan is at a very early stage of ripening. We’ll be doing all of these things! But don’t worry, there will still be the signature bitter goya flavors. They’ll just be less overpowering. If you want more bitterness, you can omit the cooking sake or wash off the salt and sugar coating before cooking.

To make it more palatable, there are a few things you can do:

  • Remove the inner flesh
  • Coat it in salt or sugar
  • Use alcohol when cooking
  • Cook it in oil
  • Remove the inner flesh

Preparation

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Can you spot the tofu in this oh-so-elegant tofu press?

This does require a bit of prep beforehand to get the best flavors and textures.

  1. Double wrap the tofu in kitchen paper and compress it with something heavy for one hour. Discard the remaining liquid. Break up the drained tofu into chunks with your hands.
  2. Wash the goya and cut off the top and bottom, then cut half lengthwise.
  3. Remove the flesh with a spoon and cut it into slices of about half a centimeter thickness.
  4. Add the salt and sugar to the goya slices, and mix until each slice is covered. Leave for 10 minutes, then discard the remaining liquid.
  5. Cut the pork into bite-sized squares and season with salt and pepper.

Directions

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Pour the egg all over everything.

If you’re low on time, wrap the tofu in kitchen paper and put it in a bowl in the microwave for two minutes at 600 watts. Don’t skip removing the inner goya flesh, though, as it is the most bitter part!

  1. Add vegetable oil to a pan or wok, and fry the tofu on medium heat until all sides are golden brown (around eight minutes). Remove from the pan.
  2. Add sesame oil and goya slices to the pan, and cook until becoming translucent. Remove from the pan.
  3. Cook the pork until it has changed color.
  4. Add goya and tofu back into the pan with the pork, then add the soy sauce and sake.
  5. Cook for a minute or two, stirring, then add the beaten egg.
  6. Leave the pan untouched for 10-15 seconds, then give the pan a shake and a stir to ensure all the egg is cooked and incorporated throughout the dish.
  7. Serve on its own or with white rice.

How did you do?

Photo:
A beautiful mess of bitter and salty.

Goya chanpuru is not the prettiest dish you’ll come across, but isn’t that all part of the charm? I’ve tried making it look neater or cutting my tofu instead of tearing it, but somehow it doesn’t feel like an Okinawan dish anymore. Embrace it!

Sometimes I also replace the meat with bell peppers and cook it in the same way with a little extra oil for a vegetarian version. You can eat this dish on its own, as a side with other dishes or with white rice. I find the white rice balances with the bitter goya well, but that’s up to you.

Is there a dish you tried somewhere in Japan that you just can’t forget? Let us know in the comments!

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