Q:Do you know any Chinese restaurants in L.A. that serve bitter melon (ku gua)? It's the weirdest-looking of all vegetables and, as the name suggests, profoundly bitter – a vegetable that seems to make its own vinegar. It's an acquired taste – indeed, even most Chinese people hate it; but some are seriously hooked. I had it in China, stir-fried with shredded beef, and the crisp texture, green flesh, and intense flavor have haunted me ever since.
Sautéed bitter gourd, as prepared at the splendid Taiwanese-style Nice Time Deli in San Gabriel Square, has the mephitic funk of the green beans they used to serve at your elementary school cafeteria, and the luscious succulence of ripe honeydew melon. Your first taste of the stuff, mellowed by the sweetness of shredded pork and the small pungency of fermented black beans, may remind you of braised celery . . . until the onset a second or two later of the aftertaste, a shocking, penetrating bitterness with all the subtlety of a tongue piercing; not chocolate bitter or even tea bitter, but cancer-medicine bitter, a bitterness that will still be with you four hours later. There is indeed something oddly appealing about it. Nice Time Deli, 140 Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 288-0149.
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