Stir-Fried Japanese Bitter Gourd & Tofu a la Marketman


Some unusually bright green and uniquely bumpy “Japanese Bitter Gourds” were in the vegetable section of the grocery last week, and I purchased two of them to experiment with. Always on the lookout for the novel or unusual roduce find, I am so happy that the Dole company keeps trying to innovate and grow new produce items, whether for the local or export market. My body must have been experiencing an iron low or something because I was craving a dish of ampalaya or something equally bitter. Back home, I decided to do a quick stir-fry, and I chopped up a small onion, added it to a hot pan with some vegetable oil, then added a cup or so of lean ground beef and cooked that until most of the moisture was gone from the pan. Meanwhile, I de-seeded and sliced the japanese bitter gourd, which aside from its vibrant green color and unique bumps, seemed exactly like any other ampalaya or bitter gourd to me…


The sliced bitter gourd was added to the pan, then I added a bit of Chinese chilli and garlic sauce, some oyster sauce and stirred this a bit more. Finally, I added some cubed tofu and a minute later turned off the heat. The entire process couldn’t have taken more than 15 minutes, and the results? Fantastic. I am an instant fan of this Japanese bitter gourd. It seems crisper, and more vibrant than other varieties of ampalaya, but that may also have been because it was simply fresher. Whatever the reason, I thought it was a good find, and we repeated this same dish a few days later. The Japanese gourd is some 20-30% more expensive than local ampalaya, but at PHP25-30 per piece, still reasonable. You can do this recipe with regular ampalaya, of you like. Besides a little fat from the modest amount of ground beef, this could be considered an extremely healthy meal. At PHP120 or so worth of ingredients, this easily fed 6 or PHP20 per person plus rice.


I know a lot of folks don’t like the intense bitterness of ampalaya, but if you are a “bitter” fan, try this recipe. It is delicious but quick, easy and economical. I suspect we will be making it fairly often in the months ahead. :)


41 Responses

  1. This looks delicious. I miss eating ampalaya. I used to hate it when I was a kid but now I love it. My mom would force us to eat it. However, she tones down the bitterness by rubbing salt on the cut pieces and then rinsing them in cold water.

    I’ve been a lurker in your site for a long time and I want to say that I’m a big fan.

  2. I usually soak the sliced ampalaya in salted tap water for 10 minutes or so before stir frying.

  3. I love ampalaya sauteed in garlic oil , shrimp, pork and oyster sauce. Nagutom tuloy ako, MM. When I was back there, I never dare try to eat ampalaya, pero here in the U.S. I learned to eat not only ampalaya but also different vegetables .

  4. Looks fantastic MM! I hope we have this Japanese variety here in Cebu, as I will definitely try your recipe. My husband saw you at the airport (his office is in Mactan) and wanted to come up and say hi, but suddenly got shy. Baka di mo na daw sya maalala from the last eyeball.

  5. i also soak ampalaya in a salt and water mixture before cooking to reduce the bitterness :) my mom on the other hand can eat raw ampalaya salad with vinegar. i’m not sure but i think there is a specific type of ampalaya for this?

  6. Dito sa Japan, ang tawag sa lutuing ito ay “Goya Chanpuru”. Isa itong Okinawan dish. The Japanese call their bitter gourd, “goya”. In Okinawa, I think they add Spam. I was really surprised when I first saw this in Tokyo since it’s similar to a Pinoy ampalaya dish! My version of this recipe includes “moyashi” and sesame oil.

  7. You just cooked a variation (sans oyster sauce) of a favorite Okinawan dish called Goya Chanpuru! Goya is what Okinawans call bitter melon and chanpuru means something mixed together. The typical chanpuru recipe includes goya, tofu, scrambled eggs, onions and some type of meat usually pork or Spam. Sometimes bean sprouts are also added. I never liked it as a kid but I developed a taste for it while living on Okinawa because my Okinawan friends and neighbors kept insisting that I eat it regularly for its health benefits. It’s ubiquitous on Okinawa because it grows everywhere! I rarely had to buy it because I always got a steady supply from friends’ and neighbor’s gardens.

  8. When I was a kid, there was NOTHING my mom could do to get me to eat ampalaya of any kind.

    27 years later I find myself craving the stuff, lol. Funny how tastes change as we grow up!

  9. like most people, i did not like amplaya while growing up. my mother also made us drink a “tea” that was made of ampalaya leaves to “cleanse the body and blood.” now i love it and am trying to convert/brainwash my soon to be 9 year old son to eating more of it.

  10. I picked up one in the grocery two days ago because I was curious to try it. Now I know exactly what to do with it!

  11. MM, is this variety less bitter than the local ampalaya? I’ve seen it too in Rustans supermarket and been wanting to try it.

  12. Ampalaya here in Australia is only subtly bitter; I often prepare it with tausi, onion and prawns, with a dash of chinese wine. The prawns can be replaced by fish or beef. I might try adding oyster sauce to the recipe. It used to be standard fare on Sundays when I was a kid and we used to go to Panciteria Antigua in Binondo, near the Muelle( I think it was also called “Panciteria To Ho”).

  13. MM and other gardeners…go to…for different varieties of ampalaya. You have better luck than I do growing them there and also in San Diego, Thelma! if we have long summers here, I will grow the white variety….it seems interesting and the ones that looks like sea urchin shell..really spikey!

  14. MM, is there a difference in taste with our local variety? I like ampalaya also with thinly sliced beef with little oyster sauce.

  15. Ingrid and goodtimer, if blindfolded, I think the quality that struck me most was its crispness, with bitterness about the same as the local variety. With eyes open, it looked more vibrant. Perhaps its texture was a little denser, less watery. It was delicious. But I like local ampalaya as well. Vicky Go, I would have used the wok, but it was pouring outdoors, and I keep the wok burner and tank outside, so I cooked this indoors…

  16. this is the type of ampalaya that we dont use in stir fry.. we only use this in pinakbet as this type is sooo bitter.

  17. Ampalaya with egg has always been a favorite in our home. The Chateau Royale in Tagaytay sells ‘white’, albino ampalaya at about P100-P120/kilo, not sure what variety though, supposedly organic. It looks similar to your picture but is off-white, crisp and not bitter when cooked. If in that area, look for Arthur.

  18. This is great! Two of my faves – ampalaya and tofu. I think the japanese variety is not that intense compared to the Indian Karela in terms of bitterness. I can still eat the latter but I will be alone at the dining table.

  19. I like to cook ampalaya with tomatoes, onion, ginger, and tausi. The bitter taste doesn’t turn me off, maybe it’s a masochist streak in me that thinks something not very pleasant must be healthy. :-)

  20. Nice one MM! Is the Japanese Bitter Gourd locally grown or is it imported? The way I understood your post, the difference between the Japanese and the local one is the texture of the vegetable?

  21. My aunt who is a very good cook, used to just chop up the amplaya, then stir fry it alone in oil. She then removed it from the pan then made her sauce, whatever it was and placed it on top of the amplaya and topped with scrambled egg. It was sooo good. She said stir frying it took out the bitterness.

  22. bettyq, i planted ampalaya last year and i did good. i enjoyed picking the leaves than the ampalaya itself.

  23. Thelma: Oh, I have to tell you this…this is soooo amusing! A few years ago, my friend gave me a whole winter squash that looks like ARIKARA!..just google it for the picture. So, this year, I started 12 seedlings out of that mama squash. I gave some seedlings away and planted 5 seedlings. From the 5 seedlings, I got green wintr squash that looks like PINOY calabaza, another one that looks like a carbon copy of the mama squash, a GINORMOUS one (it weighed believe it or not close to 75 POUNDS!) that doesn’t look anything like the mama squashor the green one. No one in the Communiyt Garden believed that those seedlings came from 1 MAMA SQUASH. It looks like there were 3 DIFFERENT DADS!….hahahaha…I know, I know, it cross pollinated!

  24. oh, bettyq, how interesting! this happened to me, too. i bought sweet pepper plants from
    walmart. two from the six plants turned out to be a different variety…the peppers came
    out to be very long. i haven’t had those before!

  25. i tried this menu last nite, instead of using the long [tagalog] “ampalaya”, i tried the small ones, the ones used in “ilocano pinakbet,” sliced it, and to reduce the bitterness of the ampalaya, i soaked the sliced ampalaya in water with a little vinegar and salt for about 5 minutes, then rinsed with water, then stir-fried with tofu cubes and lean pork meat, i added oyster sauce, a little water, swirl, pepper and salt! and served it piping hot — ang sarap daw sabi ng hubby ko.


  26. don’t know why but that photo of the fresh, green ampalaya gives me goose bumps…brrr…

  27. Japanese ampalaya is readily available at S&R. One big ampalaya cost around P50. Compared to the native ampalaya, Japanese amplaya has a mild bitter taste. No need to add salt and extract the bitter juice. I cook goya chanpuru at home and I usually use one big Japanese ampalaya, 300g thinly sliced cut pork belly (skin off), one block silken tofu (about 2.5” X 4” size) , 4 tbsp. soy, 1 tbsp. mirin (because I like it to be slightly sweet but can be omitted), 1 whole white onions, 4 large eggs, salt and pepper to taste.

  28. any suggested website/s regarding preparation of ampalaya for the table. thank you.



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