The first time I’d ever had bitter melon, or ampalaya in Tagalog, it was cooked by my bestie and roomie (back in the day) Nico. Being from the Bay Area, I have always grown up around a very large and very tight knit-but so open-armed- Filipinx community. I’ve got very fond college day memories of hitting Jollibee in SF or Red Ribbon and Goldilocks in the South Bay-waaaaaay back in the day- just so we could get some cheap spaghetti with ketchup, pancit or at least some ube ice cream or some cassava cake. Is that too much to ask? And then… Nico’s mother moved to the US to be closer to him….and the floodgates flew open. Big potlucks at the family house with tables overflowing with infinite varieties of lumpia, huge piles of pancit, troughs of ox tongue in creamy mushroom sauce, trays upon trays of crispy lechon and my guilty pleasure- Dinuguan: pork in pig blood stew. Mind you, I was much more fit back then, with a faster metabolism and much more of a meat eater than I am now.
But I’ve gone off track. The first time I’d ever put a bitter melon in my mouth was in our old apartment in twin peaks. I wasn’t quite sure to make of it. The sound of a bitter, wrinkly, warty green gourdy melon wasn’t too appetizing to an 18 yo. But then I tried it….and I never looked back. I’ve eaten a lot of bitter melon in my life since and, while the Okinawan version remains my favorite, Ginisang Ampalaya reminds me of home. The bitterness of the melon is tempered beautifully by the sweetness of the tomatoes but supported and held high by the strength of the fried garlic and onions. And of course, I don’t think you can really have bitter melon without eggs. I just can’t imagine it without. When you eat this, please do think of broke-ass 18yo Adrian with post-raver spikey pink hair huddled over an 1970s electric stove in his 2 bedroom apartment with his 2 roomates. Agh memories. I think I’ll need to make this again now!
Ginisang Ampalaya- Bitter Melon with Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic and Eggs
Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side
1 Medium Bitter Melon (about 8 inches long) or 2-3 Small ones– cut in half lengthwise, seeds scooped out and thinly sliced into half moons.
1 medium yellow onion– Diced
3-4 cloves Garlic- thinly sliced
1 handful (approx) Cherry Tomatoes- Halved or quartered if large. 1 diced tomato would also work.
1Tbsp Fish Sauce (optional)
Sea Salt & Pepper to taste
This is going to be very easy and quick!
Prep all the veg and get about 2 Tbsp of canola oil heated in a wok or pan on Medium-High Heat.
First throw in the garlic for a few seconds until it’s fragrant and then toss in the onions and cook until they start becoming translucent. Together it’s about 1-2 minutes.
Toss in the bitter melon and cook for about 2-3 minutes until al dente. I personally don’t like my bitter melon too soft but if you aren’t keen on the bitterness you could cook it another 1-2 minutes more.
Throw in the tomato and keep stir frying until they start to soften.
Next push everything to the outer edges of the wok or pan. Whisk your eggs well, with the Fish Sauce if using, and pour them into the center, the middle of the ring you made with the veggies. Let the bottom set slightly and as the egg starts to set on the top, scramble them like you would any old scrambled eggs, mixing the vegetables into it and seasoning with sea salt and pepper. It will look ‘sloppy’ and that’s how you want it. Before the egg cooks all the way through, turn off the heat and transfer to a serving plate. I’m predictable and would eat this with rice but it would also be VERY nice over pasta like spaghetti, with a side of ketchup! A bit of Chinese garlic chili crisp also wouldn’t go amiss!