Savory Pork & Bitter Melon Broth: A Cantonese Delight

July 31, 2023

Embracing the Essence of Bitter Melon

As late summer approaches, it beckons the prime time for the healthful Cantonese pork & bitter melon broth. Despite its daunting name, Bitter Melon stands as a nutritional colossus, much adored by wellness aficionados. Paired with pork, its robust flavor becomes a delightful transition from summer to fall. When Sarah relishes two servings in a single sitting, one realizes the unrivaled taste of this soup.

Crafting from Kitchen Leftovers

With a series of cookbook photo sessions underway, I found myself with some unused rib bones from slabs of pork belly. Despite their lack of photogenic charm, these bones were destined to be the heart of a nourishing stock. With the summer sun blazing and my bitter melon plants flourishing, it seemed the stars had aligned for the creation of this cherished Cantonese Bitter Melon Soup.

The Underrated Charm of Bitter Melon

While the name “bitter melon” might not instantly appeal to many, it remains one of our most cherished seasonal vegetables. As summer matures, these melons sprout generously in gardens and overflow in local Chinese markets. Beyond its addictive taste to some, the melon boasts impressive health benefits, from detoxifying the body to combating inflammation. When merged with barley, its healing properties are believed, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, to rid the body of dampness, a hidden cause behind numerous health ailments. And for those wary of its bitterness, cooking it for extended periods or pairing it with robust flavors like meat can make it palatably delightful.

The Subtlety of Cantonese Soups

Cantonese soups might seem understated to the uninitiated, but their simplicity is their strength. These soups emphasize the natural essence of their ingredients, allowing each flavor to shine independently. They’re not just about taste; they’re therapeutic. Many restaurants serve only the broth, focusing on its medicinal benefits, though a homemade version should be enjoyed in its entirety.

Quick Tip:

While many Cantonese soups leverage pork bones for that unique umami flavor, chicken can be a suitable substitute for those who avoid pork.


  • 2 ounces pearl barley (about 1/3 cup, pre-soaked)
  • 1 1/2 pounds meaty pork bones (neck bones or ribs recommended)
  • 2-3 dried red dates (dried jujubes)
  • 8 cups water
  • 4 ginger slices (each about 1-inch long and ⅛-inch thick)
  • 12 ounces bitter melon (approximately 1 large melon)
  • Salt (as per preference)
  • MSG (optional, for enhanced flavor)

Steps to Culinary Bliss:

  1. Pre-soak the pearl barley for a minimum of 2 hours. Concurrently, immerse the pork bones in cold water for 1-2 hours to rid them of any impurities, switching out the water once.
  2. After purging the bones, place them in a stockpot with enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil for a minute, then rinse the bones and clean the pot.
  3. Return the cleansed bones to the pot, combining them with the barley, dates, 8 cups water, and ginger slices. Start on high heat, let it boil, then reduce to a medium-low simmer for 2 hours.
  4. During the simmering, prep the bitter melon: split it lengthwise, scoop out its seeds and the white pith. Chop the halves into large chunks and set them aside.
  5. Post the 2-hour simmer, skim off any excess fat from the soup’s surface. Add in the bitter melon chunks and let it simmer for another half hour. Before serving, season with salt (and optionally, MSG). Serve the sumptuous broth with light soy sauce for dipping those succulent pork ribs.

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