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Bitter Melon Rib Soup {Cantonese Classic}

by Shirley

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Bitter Melon Rib Soup {Ku Gua Pai Gu Tang 苦瓜排骨汤 Cantonese Classic}

Bitter Melon Rib Soup {Ku Gua Pai Gu Tang 苦瓜排骨汤} is a traditional Cantonese Soup popular in China’s Guang Dong {Canton} area. It features soft bitter melon, meat falls off the bone pork ribs, and previously slow cooked soybeans. All in an extremely naturally delicious clear soup. Red jujube not only provides the contrast of the color but also helps sweeten the soup.

In Guang Dong, the locals usually call them “cooling melon” {Liang Gua 凉瓜} instead of “bitter melon” {Ku Gua 苦瓜} for a more upbeat connotation. This is because “Ku” {苦} in Chinese is also associated with hardship or misery. TCM {Traditional Chinese Medicine} believes bitter melon can help calm and clarify our internal body systems, hence the nickname.

Bitter Melon Rib Soup {Ku Gua Pai Gu Tang 苦瓜排骨汤 Cantonese Classic}

I lived in Shenzhen for two years after having graduated from college in the early 90’s. Among all the Cantonese food I enjoyed, Bitter Melon Rib Soup has a special place in my heart. True, bitter melon is bitter. However, that subtle bitterness, coupled with the satisfying pork yumminess and nutty soy beans, created such a sophisticated palate.

Keep reading to learn all the tips on how to make bitter melon less bitter and how to make a satisfying soup out of it.

Bitter Melon Fun Facts and Health Benefits

Bitter Melon Growing on the Vine in our garden
Bitter Melon Growing on the Vine in our garden

They are gourd native to many locations around the globe, and are especially popular in areas such as Southern China Guang Dong area, India and Vietnam. The gourd gets its name from its taste.

The melon itself look differently in terms of shade of green and the shape of the gourd, depending on the specific species. The one we have thsi year has pale green color, pointy ends and rough skins. The ones common in China have a jade green color, smooth skin and round ends.

Home Garden Bitter Melon
Home Garden Bitter Melon

Bitter Melons are super nutritious food. They are rich in essential vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Folate, potassium, zinc and iron. It worth mentioning that Bitter Melon contains loads of Vitamin C.

Especially, Bitter Melon is well-known for its ability to lower blood sugar. For that reason, people consider bitter melon an alternative medicine to treat diabetes-related conditions.

Read here to learn more about this impressive gourd.

How to make Bitter Melon less bitter for Bitter Melon Rib Soup?

First thing first is to remove the pith of Bitter Melon thoroughly

Remove the pith of bitter melon
Remove the pith of bitter melon

Remove the pith, including the seeds thoroughly, and scrape clean using a spoon. The seeds, initially whitish green, turn into shiny orange red as they mature.

Tip #2 is to Rub Bitter Melon with Salt for Bitter Melon Rib Soup

The salt counter reacts with the bitterness and helps ease the over-powering bitterness. When making a soup, I usually just let the salt stay on while the soup broth is simmering. I then rinse off the salt and cut the bitter melon into bite-size pieces and add to the soup.

Marinate Bitter Melon with Salt
Bitter Melon Bite-Size Slices on a plate

Tip #3 is to complement Bitter Melon with naturally sweet ingredients for the soup

Red Jujube {Hong Zao 红枣} or Goji Berry are two excellent ingredients that are naturally sweet to compensate for the bitterness. Both Goji Berry and Red Jujube are superfood by themselves, by the way.

Bitter Melon Rib Soup {Ku Gua Pai Gu Tang 苦瓜排骨汤 Cantonese Classic}

How to make a delicious Bitter Melon Rib Soup?

Ingredients for Bitter Melon Rib Soup

Tip No. 1 is to marinate the bitter melon to cut down the overpowering bitterness

See “How to make Bitter Melon Less Bitter” for more details.

Tip No.2 is to add complementary ingredients such as soybeans and red jujube

Soybeans have a satisfying nutty aroma and flavor which complement this soup so well. Red jujube adds the color appealing and sweetens the soup naturally and subtly.

Tip No.3 is to add a splash of white vinegar when cooking soup

The white vinegar will further cut down the bitterness of the melon and makes rib tender.

TIP No.4 is to pan fry or sear the ribs first

Pan fry and sear the ribs with green onion, ginger, and a touch of Shaoxing Wine and Light Soy Sauce. Then add boiling water to slow cook, about 45 minutes into an extremely yummy soup base.

Sear Ribs First for Rib Soup

Last but not least is to add bitter melon to the soup in the last 15 minutes of cooking

This is the key for a tasty soup and more refreshing look and bite of bitter melon.

Cooking Bitter Melon Rib Soup
Bitter Melon Rib Soup {Ku Gua Pai Gu Tang 苦瓜排骨汤 Cantonese Classic}

Bitter Melon Rib Soup {苦瓜排骨汤 Cantonese Classic}

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Additional Time: 5 hours
Total Time: 6 hours 20 minutes

Bitter Melon Rib Soup {Ku Gua Pai Gu Tang 苦瓜排骨汤} is a traditional Cantonese Soup popular in China’s Guang Dong {Canton} area. It features soft bitter melon, meat falls off the bone pork ribs, and previously slow cooked soybeans. All in an extremely naturally delicious clear soup. Red jujube not only provides the contrast of the color but also helps sweeten the soup.

Ingredients

  • 2 lb pork ribs
  • 3 Bitter Melons, a little under 1 lb
  • 1 cup dried soy beans, 150 g or 5.2 oz
  • 4 red jujube
  • 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 2 tbsp Light Soy Sauce
  • 16 g ginger, thin sliced
  • 1 stalk green onion, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp canola oil, for pan fry ribs
  • 1/2 tsp Himalayan Pink Salt, {additional 1/2 tsp for marinating Bitter Melon}
  • 2 tbsp White Vinegar
  • 10 cups of boiing water

Instructions

Prep Soybeans and Bitter Melon:

  1. Soak dried soybeans in plenty of water at least 6 hours before cooking.
  2. Wash and rinse soybeans well and add to a saucepan, along with 4 cups of water. Bring it to a boil and then simmer for 2 hours and set aside. To streamline the cooking, better do these two steps one day prior.
  3. Gather all ingredients. Seperate ribs into individual pieces, wash and rinse well.
    Ingredients for Bitter Melon Rib Soup
  4. Wash and rinse Bitter Melon well, cut open vertically, remove the pith, including the seeds thoroughly, and scrape clean using a spoon. 
    Remove the pith of bitter melon
  5. Sprinkle 1 tsp Himalyan pink salt in the chamber of bitter melon, gently rubbing and set aside.
    Marinate Bitter Melon with Salt

Make the Rib Soup Base:

  1. Turn the heat to medium-high and heat a large cast-rion stockpot or triply stockpot for 1 minute. Spray 1/2 tsp canola oil into the pot using a home oil sprayer, along with chopped green onion and sliced ginger. Stir fry for 10 seconds or till fragrant, and add ribs into the pot.
    Sear Ribs in Stockpot first for making Rib Soup
  2. Stir Fry ribs for 1 minute and then try to lay them flat with minimal overlay. Cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Pour Shaoxing wine and Light soy Sauce over the ribs in a circula motion. Stir fry for 1 minute and let them cook the other side for 1 minute.
    Stir Fry Ribs First for Rib Soup
  4. Add 10 cups of boiling water to the pot, along with the previously slow cooked soybeans, bring to a boil, about 5 minutes, and then turn the heat to simmer and cook for 45 minutes.

Cook Bitter Melon Rib Soup:

  1. Wash and rinse bitter melon throughly and then cut into bite size slices.
    Bitter Melon Bite-Size Slices on a plate
  2. Add bitter melon pieces, 4 red jujubes into the soup and 2 tbsp white vinegar into the soup. Gently stir to mix. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring it to a boil.
    Cooking Bitter Melon Rib Soup
  3. Once it reaches a boil, turn the heat to simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Remove foams floating on top of the soup, if needed.
  4. All done! Enjoy a super naturally yummy and healthy soup.
    Bitter Melon Rib Soup {Ku Gua Pai Gu Tang 苦瓜排骨汤 Cantonese Classic}

Notes

  • Soybeans tend to be extremly dry and take long time to cook. They are much drier compared to black beans, for instance. It is better if you prepare the soybeans one day prior. Leave at least 4 hours for soybeans to soak, preferably soak overnight. Simmer the soybeans for 2 hours.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 servings Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 748Total Fat: 54gSaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 26gCholesterol: 165mgSodium: 699mgCarbohydrates: 27gFiber: 4gSugar: 2gProtein: 40g

Nutrition calculation is provided by Nutritionix to the best knowledge per ingredients description and isn't always accurate.

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