Bitter gourd is bitter

Last weekend, my girlfriend and I went for a wander down Wilmslow Road, aka the Curry Mile, in Rusholme, Manchester. We passed a vegetable market and decided to buy a few things for dinner. We got some onions, aubergines and okra, and then spotted something that looked like this:

It looked amazing, like the sort of vegetable you’d expect to encounter just after landing on an alien world. We were both fascinated, but we had no idea what it was. We asked another woman who was browsing the stalls. She didn’t know what it was called in English but suggested “karela”. She’d never cooked with it herself, but her mother did, and she knew it was very bitter and had to be salted before cooking to draw out the bitterness.

I’m a total sucker for weird fruit and vegetables, so we bought one, and looked it up when we got back. It turns out to be Momordica charantia, known in Hindi/Urdu as karela and in English as as bitter gourd or bitter melon.

Following the instructions in this video and on this website, we chopped the bitter gourd, salted it and left it overnight. The next day, we rinsed it thoroughly, and cooked it with tomatoes, onions, aubergine and lots of spices into a vegetable curry.

And… it was disgusting. So disgusting that after eating two small chunks, I’d decided I’d had enough, and picked the rest out of the curry. My girlfriend was even less impressed: she had one chunk and discarded the whole thing.

Even with the salting, it was incredibly bitter, and left a powerful, noxious aftertaste in the mouth. I’ve since seen other preparation instructions which tell you to boil or pickle, which might help mellow the flavour a bit more. Maybe we got it wrong. I’d be interested to know what bitter gourd tastes like when prepared by an expert: presumably the flavour is the same, but is it reduced enough to be palatable, or is it just an acquired taste?

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