Thursday, August 17, 2023


Years ago I encountered the word 'sopropo' on an internet page in the context of a recipe. Not knowing what was meant, I asked the author of that page, whose response was basically "not a clue what it's called in English, there is no other Dutch word for it, but it's delicious". So five days later, having intensively browsed through a dictionary of Surinamese Dutch I had bought the previous year in Amsterdam, and two books about Asian ingredients I sent him a spreadsheet with food names in Surinamese (Dutch and Sranantongo), Chinese (Canto and Mandarin usages and pronunciations), Hindi, Gujarati, Latin, Malay / Indonesian, and English. Where applicable.

Sopropo is bittermelon.

Which is indeed delicious. As well as thoroughly hated by very many people: little Cantonese kiddies, Midwesterners, most Caucasian Americans, and a Parsee lady from Bombay who is a former colleague and knows what she's missing.
It's quite understandable that Midwesterners hate it, as where they come from all vegetables are sweet, sweeter, sweetest, and if necessary they'll add sugar. That's why it's never a the Safeway or Piggly Wiggly in Detroit. And Caucasian Americans mostly are spiritual Midwesterners, so no im gonzen also.

Lord Of The Rings fanboys and girls will hate it too. Despite, in my estimation, its excellent suitability for Second Breakfast. After which they can do their Morris Dancing with renewed vigour. It's what they need. Vigour! Habitual second breakfasts make one lethargic.

[Just got another phonecall from Samuel Anderson at Senior American Financial in Hyderabad or Madras wishing to kindly inform me sir about a new plan which allows me to withdraw fifty percent AND leave a little bit for my loved ones! He too probably enjoys Morris Dancing and Second Breakfast. It's alway a challenge to get all the Samuel Anderson wallahs off the phone and back to noshing on medu vadda or muruku. With a nice hot cup of chai. Bapribap!]

My first encounter with bittermelon was in English literature where someone mentioned the Karela, the bitter Karela, being a plant of damnation. Which, for the English living in India, it probably was. It made no impact. My second and several subsequent exposures were at friends' houses. Where it sort of got lost among the flavours of guleh, asinan, with atjar, serundeng, bawang goreng, and the hot salty sour tastes of sambal.

When I came back to the United States I knew what it was under the name pareya. Sometimes also called kambai. Fu gwa or leung gwa in Cantonese, I discovered.

We never had it at the Indian restaurant where I part-timed for several years.
Because, erm, well, you know, eh, what, yessiree. Americans.

We had tofu masala there, very briefly.
Because of Americans.

It's still delicious. Especially with black bean sauce and garlic, or stewed with shrimp paste and peanuts, or fatty meat with ginger and chilipaste .....


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Anonymous said...

Well I finally tried it last week. Sautéed it up with garlic, chili flakes in chili oil, and light soy. Mixed in one of those flavorful sausages (lap cheung?) and then made a slurry and put it all over sticky rice. The texture is pleasant enough but still the aftertaste of bitterness lingered with each bite. No damage to my belly though so that’s a good thing. I still have about a cup left and will probably finish it off for lunch today.

Regarding the grouper, Yee’s didn’t seem to carry it (unless it is listed in a different language of course) but on Broadway, apparently one can have a VIP experience.

The back of the hill said...

Many people salt it and let it stand for a whilt e to draw out the bitterness, then rinse and squeeze to remove the salt. Blanching it after slicing also removes bitterness. Or simply lightly dressing it for a salad, then setting it in the fridge overnight, will tone done the bitter.

The VIP coffee shop and bakery? Owned by the same people as Double AA on Stockton. Decent food, interesting for people watching, sometimes 'colourful' or 'eccentric'.

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