A Uniquely Bitter Melon: AMPALAYA

Something upsets you. A friend tries to console, “Oh, just take it with a grain of salt.” What the admonition means is that the matter is of little consequence, and therefore could be ignored.

A related saying came later: ” If you can’t take life with a grain of salt, try pepper!”  If things are really difficult, you’ll need something stronger than salt to brace yourself up. Your ability to handle pepper symbolizes the strength of your endurance.

I would top that statement, thus: If you can’t take life with a grain of salt, try pepper… and, if things are really bad, try bittermelon!

When we were kids, my siblings and I could not leave the dining table until we finished our servings of food… specifically the vegetable(s).
We had no problem “putting away” the sitao (yard-long beans), kalabasa (squash), kangkong (water spinach), and sayote (chayote or mirliton).

One vegetable we found difficult to eat, however, was ampalaya / amargoso (bittermelon ).  The very name evoked an unbelievable unpleasantness on the tongue.  The English name is self-explanatory; it’s a melon that tastes bitter.  Amargoso derives from the Spanish adjective amargo, bitter.  

The plant is said to have originated from the Indian subcontinent; the Telugu word kakarakaya, bitter gourd, might be the root of the Filipino term ampalaya.
KODAK Digital Still Camera

Our mother devised different ways of serving it, sometimes sautéed with onion, tomatoes, shrimp, and a little broth.

Through it all, we ate our token shares, drinking some water with every spoonful of rice and  ulam (viand).   After months and years, we learned to tolerate ampalaya.  We were convinced that it was good for us, that it “made our blood strong.”


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