During one long, hot summer day, I decided to search for a refreshing new food as an alternative to the endless watermelon wedges filling my plate. At the market I noticed a shiny object; an intriguing-looking vegetable called Chinese bitter melon. It looked like a pickling cucumber; but gnarly instead of knobby. Even the checkout clerk commented on its unusual appearance. “Hmm, interesting. Never seen one of these before. What is it? How do you cook it? What does it taste like?” What was more curious was that she couldn’t find its numerical code. As she ran her index finger up and down the produce code list again and again, I diffused my impatience by deciding that this special melon was going to be something worth waiting for. Eventually, with the help of someone from the produce department, the code was cracked and for just 43 cents, I was on my way to discover the delightful tastes of bitter melon. Back at home, I cleaned the melon and sliced into its crisp, green skin. It smelled wonderfully refreshing. I touched the enchanting circle to my tongue. And that was as close as it got. Next step, the trash can. Now, I’m not quite sure why I was expecting a watermelon-like sweetness from something called ‘bitter’ melon. And while I somewhat like the taste of bitter… dark chocolate, coffee (with a quarter cup of sugar and four Creamos), this bitter bite should contain a warning label. Indeed, I think the expression, ‘Once bitten twice shy’ originated after someone sunk his teeth into a bitter melon. Probably three months passed before I spotted another mysterious-looking green orb on the produce shelves. But this was a darker green, with decorative wrinkles etched throughout the skin. As I would soon find out, Karela, as it was labelled, is also known as Indian bitter melon. I think the expression, ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me,’ originated after that same someone sunk his teeth into a bitter melon again. Between the two types, I prefer the Indian Karela to the Chinese bitter melon. Perhaps I was better prepared the second time, sprinkling the slices with spices and lots of sugar, then sautéing with onions, garlic and bacon to help shed its bitterness. To be fair, bitter melon is very nutritious, widely enjoyed in Asian cuisine, and used by many cultures as medicine for diabetes, viruses, cancer and skin diseases. And the really good news is you don’t have to eat it to get the benefits. It comes in capsules! One day I may acquire a taste for bitter melon. I’m not hopeful. But at least I’m not bitter either.
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