The health benefits make goya a taste worth acquiring.
In Japan, every town and region has its own local, representative dish that residents and visitors alike have come to enjoy. In Osaka, it’s okonomiyaki. Hokkaido and many other regions have their own specialty ramen. Okinawa is no different, fostering a unique regional twist on Japanese food. Arguably, Okinawan food is more distinct due to the islands’ cultural and geographical distance from the rest of the Japanese archipelago. This hasn’t stopped Okinawan cuisine from growing in popularity throughout the rest of Japan, both for its distinct flavours and the health benefits it offers.
The tropical climate of Okinawa lends itself to the cultivation of goya, a popular gourd that’s grown and eaten throughout Southeast Asia. For many Okinawans, there is nothing like sitting down to a can of Orion Beer and a plate of goya champuru. In the local dialect, the meaning of the word champuru is akin to “mixed together,” and refers to a stir-fry-style dish made from tofu, pork belly, egg and nutritious slices of goya.
Generally known as bitter melon in English, goya as it is found in Japanese cuisine generally resembles a stout cucumber with a dark green, bumpy and toad-like outer texture. As the English name suggests, goya is known for its bitter taste, and it has a crisp texture when eaten raw. Beyond goya champuru, this fruit is also sometimes eaten in salads, fried as tempura, used as a soft drink flavour and even sometimes as the bitter element in beer in lieu of hops. Some even believe it should be consumed after a night of too much beer to ease a hangover.
Goya is also extremely nutritious. It is known for being rich in vitamins A and C— so rich that it contains four times as much vitamin C as a lemon. The high content of these vitamins makes goya a popular food for those suffering from a number of skin ailments, from eczema to acne, as well as boosting the immune system. Some studies have shown that consuming goya on a regular basis can lower bad cholesterol and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Like many other dark-coloured fruit and vegetables, goya is rich in antioxidants, making it helpful in preventing cancer.
Due to the bitter flavour, goya is still an acquired taste for many. Adding salt before cooking, or boiling slices of goya in salt water, is said to reduce the bitterness and can be done to taste. Small quantities of goya can also be added to stir-fries, salads or smoothies to help acquire the taste for this nutritious food. It can easily be found in most Asian supermarkets, especially from July to September when it is in season.