Monday, August 23, 2010

Pork-stuffed bitter melon in clear soup

Over the weekend my friend Rina took me to her homeland in Kandal province. She spent the time at her parent's house alternately working in the rice paddy, tormenting me, and cooking huge meals for all of the family friends who came to help with the farming.

I did my best to try and record the recipes as she was making them, but the amounts given are just estimates. One of the things I have learned so far about Khmer food is that it is not a precise science. If you don't have an ingredient, you substitute something else. If you have something extra, you can probably add it in. Every recipe is made slightly different every time, but still turns out delicious.

Bitter melon is bitter. There's no way around it. The boiling does soften the taste as does the pork, but it's still a bitter flavor. Americans don't have much appreciation for bitter the way many other cultures do, and although I'm learning to adjust, it's not on the top of my list of favorite foods (and is why I haven't tested this recipe at home before posting it).

Ingredients (approximate):

3 bitter melons

For the filling:
2 cups pork
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tsp msg
2 scallions/spring onions, chopped
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

For the soup:
3.5 tablespoons fish sauce
1.5 tablespoons sugar
1 tsp msg
1 tsp salt

Note about the msg--although it was used in this recipe, you can omit it. It will still be flavorful without. You'd be surprised how often you find msg in food around here.


1. Rina got a giant hunk of pork and then basically battered it with a knife to make it into a mince/mush. The notes I took while she was doing this was "chop shit out of pork." You can use her method or get minced pork.
2. Combine pork with all of the other filling ingredients. Mix well.
3. Cut the bitter melons in half and remove seeds with a spoon.
4. Stuff hollowed-out melon with the pork mixture.
5. Add to pot and fill with water until covered. Bring to a boil.
6. When melon becomes soft enough to break with a spoon, add additional fish sauce, sugar, msg and salt to the broth.

This dish is made in Thailand and Vietnam as well. In Khmer, it's name sounds like "sngor mras." Here, it's served with rice, and is not eaten the way we westerners usually approach a soup. The soup is served family style and each person gets their own bowl of rice. Everyone serves themselves and small spoonfuls of the meat, melon and broth are added bite by bite to the bowl of rice.


  1. I so miss this Khmer dish! I should try it at home. We got lots of bitter melons.

  2. This is also a commom dish in Vietnam....and eaten very similarly with rice at the end of the meal. Maybe it's a Khmer influence on Vietnamese cuisine?
    The bitter melon is also sliced thinly and briefly stirfried with egg in another dish available at some bia hoi restaurants. Very bitter, almost astringent, in that dish.

    Didn't know you had a blog, BTW.

  3. red faced ambiguousAugust 23, 2010 at 7:13 PM

    Bitter is very healthful! It causes the liver to secrete bile and thus clean it out. A clogged up liver can really cloud one's outlook.

  4. Sticky: I think it's very hard to know where these dishes came from first. I have noticed a lot of similarities between Khmer food and Vietnamese food though. I wish I knew more about this sort of thing, but I pretty much just eat as much as possible.

    Red faced: They say that if you are sick and too hot, bitter melon makes you cool.

  5. Does MSG make you eat more? I feel like when I get Chinese takeout I pig out more than usual. Is this because they add MSG?