Goya Bitter Melon: Eat and Enjoy

Their traditional diet contributes to the Okinawan elders’ robust health. And goya is a superstar ingredient in their traditional diet. Goya, also known as bitter melon, has many health benefits. It is definitely bitter and said to be an acquired taste. But some of us easily acquire it. Especially when prepared in a delicious chanpuru recipe, where scrambled eggs counteract the bitterness and all the flavors come together into a delicious, healthy main dish.


I first tried this fruit–treated as a vegetable–after reading The Okinawa Diet Plan (a great book that gives the essence of Okinawan fare). I cooked it with scrambled eggs and the result was a fairly plain dish with the sharp, bitter melon cutting through. It tasted bitter, but nothing like a melon. It didn’t turn me off, yet I wouldn’t head back to the Asian market any time soon for more. More recently, I ate goya while in Okinawa. If you asked me, what is the taste of Okinawa? I would answer the goya chanpuru at Eisa restaurant on Kokusai Dori (the main shopping street). The melon’s superstar status stood out when cooked with eggs, tofu, pork, and onions. The comfort food flavors melded just right and complimented each other perfectly. Pictures and other details of that lunch are about three-quarters down in this blog post.


Bitter melon has been credited as one of the major traditional foods that helps Okinawans have long, healthy lives. It is high in vitamin C to help cells heal. It also has more flavonoids than most foods. These molecules contain a powerhouse of anti-oxidant properties. Here’s a link about more of the healthy qualities of goya.


Tropical countries create the home environment for growing goya. It is also appreciated in Japan, a fact I would credit to Okinawa. If you are lucky enough to have an Asian market near you, you can find it there. We can also grow bitter melon here in North America. It grows best in USDA zones 9 to 11. But with extra care it will grow in other zones.


I am not the only person I know who came to adore goya on our Okinawa trip. Several of us travelers fell in love with this superfood. For some, it was even love at first bite. So much for bitter melon being an acquired taste. When cooked properly by those who know it best, this superfood is a delicious delicacy. Bitter melons were purchased from the grocery store in Okinawa, for cooking there. And seed packets were among the souvenirs to go back to America.


I would like to share a recipe that seems most similar to the chanpuru I enjoyed in Okinawa. It can be made with Spam instead of pork, but personally, here in America I would substitute turkey bacon. And I make sure to use organic tofu and soy products. Add to this recipe green onions and a bit of oyster sauce and you will almost transport yourself using the magic of the taste of Okinawa. Note: cotton tofu is the same as firm tofu, which is what we typically call it here. Here’s the Goya Chanpuru Recipe. Take a flavor trip and enjoy!

Jenifer Tull-Gauger goya bitter melon

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