Pork Ribs and Bitter Gourd in Fermented Black Bean Sauce

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Most of us have a story of how we used to hate bitter gourd (or bitter melon) when we were young.

Somehow, growing up, as our taste buds and receptors mature, we begin to appreciate the nuances that bitter flavours bring to our food. For some, it changes from tolerance to cravings for this gourd.

The same can be said of life. We all like things sweet but life as we know it, will be pretty one-dimensional if we have not encountered difficulties and suffering. In fact, the Bible talks a lot about suffering and the darker realities of life. If life has been "bitter" for you, you know where you can turn to. As I am writing this, the sufferings of our friends in Nepal comes to mind.

I have actually posted a recipe on bitter gourd. Dig around under Hakka Yong Tofu and you will find a wonderful recipe there.

If you like bitter gourd, you have probably eaten it with fermented black bean ("tau see"). It is a classic combination. Interestingly, it is not sweet which balance the bitters, but saltiness.

The one thing you need to know about bitter gourd is that it cooks fast. Texture is important and you want it to have a bit of crunch, not mushy. So, don't overcook it. I find you hardly need more then 5 or 10 minutes to cook it right, depending on how thin you slice it.

Use the larger ones as they are less bitter. Soak it in lightly salted water for 10 minutes to refresh it and move some of the bitter edge. They come very cheap here and keep well in the fridge.

As pork ribs go so well with fermented black bean, it make sense to have all three together. Gently braise the pork ribs first and towards the end, add the slices of bitter gourd. I have posted a braised pork ribs recipe here and the technique is similar.

I will say that this is a very easy 101 dish to make. Try it.


2 Key ingredients: Garlic and Tau See
1 kg of pork ribs, cut into bite sizes
2 tablespoons of fermented black bean
2 tsp of dark sauce
2 tsp of soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
2 tablespoon of chopped garlic
5 piece of dried chilies (optional)
2 tablespoon of cooking oil
1 bitter gourd

  1. Slice the bitter gourd. About half a cm in thickness.
  2. Rehydrate the dried chilies. Slice or cut it up.  
  3. Blanch the pork ribs for about 3 minutes in hot water. 
  4. If you are using dry fermented black beans, chop it up first. You may have to run it through water if it comes coated with with salt.
  5. In a wok or pot, heat up the oil. Fry the garlic, fermented black pean paste.
  6. Add the ribs, sugar, dark and soy sauces. Stir-fry. 
  7. Then add small cup of water and in very small flame, simmer it till it is tender (about 30-40 minutes). Cover the wok. If the water dries up, add some hot water. 
  8. Towards the end, add the slices of bitter gourd, stir and simmer it for 5 minutes.
Serve immediately.

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  1. Hi, would you please advise when to add the chilies? Perhaps step 5 or 6? Thanks much!

  2. After action report: I added the chilies in step 5, and the dish came out splendidly! Thanks much again for your offerings, which always please. I used not to like bitter gourd so much when I was younger but with time have come to enjoy it more, too. This dish has a pleasing balance of flavours.

  3. Hi heb - I think it does not make much difference when you add the chillies in. Yes, this recipe is a superb combination and an all-time favourite of mine.

  4. Hi, I was just wondering beside bitter gourd, any other vegetables that can be substituted in this recipe and also taste good?