Goya The World’s Bitterest Melon

I went to the dentist the other day.  He’d installed a “green wall.”  This is a wall of vines andgoya foliage that covers the southern side of the clinic to provide natural cooling.  When my visit was over (no cavities!), he pointed to the top of his green wall and said, “See that up there?”

I didn’t.

“It’s goya,” he said.  “There are two up there I think.  If you can reach them, you can have them.”

That was cool, because I love goya.  Goya comes from Okinawa.  It is also called nigauri (ニガウリ) and it’s actually a type of melon.  It’s a member of the gourd family and I’ve heard that it’s also found in India.

It’s probably the earth’s bitterest vegetable.  If there’s a bitterer vegetable in some jungle or on some mountainside somewhere, I’d like to see it.  But not eat it.  Because if it’s bitterer than goya it might be downright painful.

People eat it in the blazing sticky humid summer months.  The bitter taste hangs on your tongue and refreshes your mouth.  It’s an acquired taste and most people I know either love or hate it.  I’m on the love side, but then again I’m a big fan of bitter vegetables and bitter foods in general.

Most people know goya from the Okinawan dish goya champuru.  This is stir-fried pork, egg, tofu and goya.  Champuru (ちゃんぷる) is actually not an Okinawan or Ryukyuan word.  It actually comes from the Indonesian word ‘campur,’ which means ‘mixed.’  That’s according to my dictionary anyway.

But it doesn’t just end with champuru.  You can also find goya tempura, goya chips, goya curry, goya juice, goya tea, goya beer and lots more bitter delicacies.  My wife puts goya in yakisoba, fried rice and just about any other dish she can.

Goya’s not only tasty but extremely healthy.  It has something like 5 times as much Vitamin C as tomatoes.  Okinawans have always said that eating it makes you live longer and gives you healthier skin.  Recent studies show that it lowers blood pressure and helps with digestion.

It also grows really well everywhere.  One of my friends’ garden failed miserably this year, but her goya was growing good and strong.  You can even grow it in the urban jungle of Tokyo.

Oh yeah, by the way, I got the goya.  Being tall has its perks.  It just took a little climbing and stretching.  There were three of them actually.  I said to my dentist, “Are you sure you don’t want one, or two?  You can have them.”

He said, “No thanks, I hate goya.”

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