Farmers Markets

What's In Season at the Farmers Markets: Bitter Melon

Comments (0)


Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 1:14 PM
click to enlarge Vietnamese bitter melon. - FELICIA FRIESEMA
  • Felicia Friesema
  • Vietnamese bitter melon.

It wasn't that long ago that the only place you could get good, freshly harvested bitter melon was as the local Asian grocer, or someone's backyard. Bitter melon, a lumpy-skinned cucurbit related to cucumbers and pumpkins, is a Southeast Asian summer crop with a somewhat unfortunate English name that prevents the uninitiated from giving it a try. However, this is L.A., and chances are pretty good that you've had it at some point, even if unintentionally. Today, there are many farm vendors at both big (Hollywood) and small (Eagle Rock) markets who have a few different varieties available, Yasutomi Farms being one of them.

click to enlarge Chinese bitter melon. - FELICIA FRIESEMA
  • Felicia Friesema
  • Chinese bitter melon.

The versions we usually see in markets are the young, pre-ripe melons. The flesh is denser, with fewer seeds (naturally), and is, well, edible. A fully mature bitter melon is actually mostly hollow, with very little flesh and pink or red seeds, and no culinary redeeming qualities whatsoever. But short of cutting them open, there's no real way to tell if the melons are young except by their size. A general rule of thumb is the smaller the better.

Chinese varieties tend to be the longest and largest, with an even lime green color and smooth, elongated lobes stretching the length of the fruit. Vietnamese varieties veer toward the sharp and pointy end of the bitter melon spectrum and can be anywhere from almost grey green to a deep and vibrant Kelly green. Indian varieties range in color too and tend to have even sharper lobes. You want to avoid two colors: yellow skin and red seeds. Both mean the fruit is too mature to be really good eating.

And speaking of eating, what do you do with it? Yes, they are bitter, as the name implies, but they are appealing and appetizing, the same way eggplant is. In this heat, we're loathe to recommend soup or stews, but bitter melon is excellent in both. The melons are also very good deep fried whole, and then sliced on a plate with a little salt and chile. You'll find them in season into the fall, but some of the best bitter melons are available from now until the end of summer.

Related Content

Now Trending


  • Ladies Gunboat Society at Flores
    At Ladies Gunboat Society, the new operation out of the restaurant that used to be Flores on Sawtelle Boulevard, the Hoppin’ John is served as an appetizer or a small plate rather than a side, and the price is the stuff of comedy.
  • Malibu Pier Restaurant and Bar
    Malibu Pier Restaurant and Bar, with chef Jason Fullilove at the helm, is in the two buildings at the pier’s entrance that used to be Beachcomber Cafe and Ruby’s Diner. Those buildings, which have been overhauled completely, reflect both the pier’s 109-year-old history and the cultural import of Malibu itself.
  • The Tasting Menu Trend
    In Los Angeles especially, but increasingly across the country, restaurants are either switching to tasting menus, putting a greater focus on a tasting-menu option (while offering à la carte items as well), or opening as tasting-menu operations from day one. The format that used to be the calling card of only the fanciest of restaurants is becoming ubiquitous, even at places where the waiter calls you “dude” and there isn’t a white tablecloth in sight.