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Okinawan Eats: Goya Chanpuru

The Travel Channel recently rebroadcasted Bizarre Food’s visit to Japan, with one segment having host Andrew Zimmern trying the various cuisine of Okinawa. In that segment, he noted how Okinawans are reputed to live very long and healthy lives, with more centinarians per capita there than anywhere else in the world. At that time, his guest’s mother was preparing a few of her favorite okinawan dishes, both of which featured Goya (bitter melon). She says This fruit is what gets partial credit to the amazing longevity of Okinawans.

A quick search online about bitter melon reveals its known effective uses in medicinal applications, from treating infections, to digestive problems, and even type 2 diabetes and cancer. Surely eating this wonder fruit from a young age must help prevent one from even getting these sometimes fatal ailments to begin with.

So during my usual relaxing browse through the KCC Farmers’ Market this past Saturday morning (where were you Nate?!), I seen a few vendors selling bitter melon, so I bought a couple and set off to make the most celebrated Okinawan dish of the genre, Goya Chanpuru.

It didn’t take long to find a recipe online, where I quickly landed upon a rather entertaining video cooking lesson by “Cooking with Dog”…

Kawaii nei! lol

Here’s the video…

Here’s the Goya (bitter melon)…

As per the instructions in the video lesson, I scraped the seeds and white pulp out of it using a spoon, which you can see still intact in the center example.

As you see by its outer appearance, it looks kinda’ like a shriveled cucumber. It’s also about as big as a typical cucumber.

Taste wise, I didn’t find it terribly bitter. It’s difficult to assimilate its flavor with something else, except to say it tastes “green”, which I suppose means it’s good for you! Texture-wise, it’s fairly crunchy in raw form, but softens quickly once it hits the heat.

So you chop the Goya into slices about 1/4″ thick, then dust it with salt to macerate it, which they say also regulates its bitterness. After letting it stand in salt for about 10 minutes, you rinse it with water then let it dry, where now they’re ready to use in the Goya Chanpuru…

As you see in the method of “Cooking with Dog”, each element of the final Chanpuru stir fry is done in steps prior. Now that the Goya is ready to go, next you prepare the egg by simply whisking it until the yolk is combined with the white, season with salt and pepper, then fry that up…

When the egg’s done, put in a plate and set aside.

Another key ingredient in Chanpuru is Tofu, which I used Aloha Brand (my favorite)…

According to the video lesson, you wrap the tofu block in a paper towel, then microwave it for a minute or two, then use another paper towel afterward, all in an effort to absorb and remove as much water out of it as possible. After doing that, you cut them in little “steaks” and pan fry them until gold brown on the outside…

When you’re done browning the tofu, set that aside on a plate.

Now make the “condiment”. This is the all-important sauce that will flavor the dish. It’s basically a simplified misoyaki, using miso paste…

The “condiment” (misoyaki) sauce used in this Goya Chanpuru dish is made using: 2 tbsp. miso, 2 tbsp. sake, 1/2 tbsp. sugar and 1 tsp. soy sauce. Here’s how it looks after those ingredients are thoroughly combined…

You know what? This sauce ROCKS! OMG, it so rocks. Easily another one of those culinary wonders that could make road kill taste great. Best of all, it’s so easy to make.

We’re getting close to putting this whole thing together. A few other flavor components to mention are the sliced onions…

And to finish the dish off, Katsuobushi flakes…

Katsuobushi flakes are shavings of bonito, which is a dried and smoked tuna. This is absolutely one of the most unique culinary signatures of Japanese cuisine. Anyhow, this will be used as a finishing touch to the Goya Chanpuru.

Last but not least, we have the pork, which here has been marinading in equal parts of shoyu and sake…

So now that all the elements have been prepared and pre-cooked and in place, it’s time to make Goya Chanpuru!

Here we have the pork pretty much cooked through, with the onions just added…

After the onions caramelized, next went in the Goya and fried eggs…

Then goes in the browned tofu and “condiment” (simplified misoyaki sauce)…

After thoroughly combining everything, here’s the finished Goya Chanpuru in the pan…

Then, once again, it goes to plate, with it garnished with Katsuobushi and – per my personal preference – the addition of sliced green onions (negi)…

How is it? Oishii desu! In the sum of its parts, this dish rings of comfort food. While my first take on it certainly will not compare to that which was made by your favorite obaasan, I’m quite proud and delighted how it came out.

Watch the video of “Cooking with Dog”, buy the ingredients, and try make Goya Chanpuru yourself. Highly recommended recipe and dish!

21 thoughts on “Okinawan Eats: Goya Chanpuru

  • April 12, 2009 at 10:05 pm
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    I love this dish!!! Not to mention pinakbet with lots of bitter melon. Awesome post.

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  • April 13, 2009 at 7:10 am
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    Pomai, I always eaten bitter melon made Chinese way. With it slice and stir fry with black bean and slice pork or stuffed with seasoned ground pork and steamed. Fish paste is sometime used in stuffed bitter melon. Taiwanese loved bitter melon very much too.

    I will try your recipe also.

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  • April 13, 2009 at 10:09 pm
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    Pomai – Of note is that the goya chanpuru pork I that is prepared here is prepared in Okinawa is with sliced rafute or prepared shoyu pork, the tofu is usually not sliced but broken into rough chunks by hand., the beaten egg is not cooked ahead too, but stirred into the almost completed chanpuru And usually don’t see round onions. A more simpler preparation. Is the norm as far as I can see.

    As far as the goya itself, there’s a different type in Okinawa. The stuff there has more sharper bumps, not sorta smooth like the stuff you got at KCC. I have a couple packages of Okinawan goya seed. Don’t know if still good but I’ll give it to. Was planning to plant over here when I was hhome a for a couple years but never got around it.

    Completely forgot about KCC last Saturday. You should have reminded me.

    On for Thursday a BWS?

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  • April 14, 2009 at 4:11 am
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    Ruben, I forgot to mention Pinakbet, one of my favorite Filipino dishes.

    Amy, the bitter melon stuffed with seasoned ground pork sounds like a winnah, especially with the fish paste. I have a recipe that could be easily adapted to make that.

    Nate, ooh, next time I make rafute, I’ll have to do a spin-off of it making Goya Chanpuru. Sounds much better than the quickly-marinated pork. Thanks for the tip!

    As for the type of bitter melon, I did find the ones I bought from the farmers market rather subtle in flavor. I was expecting much more bitterness. Every vendor I seen – including the supermarkets – only titled their bitter melon as such, not specific to any region, as say “Okinawan Bitter Melon”. Sure, I’ll try planting those Okinawan Goya Seeds you’ve got. May as well try, at least to see if they’re still good. Bring ’em with ya’ to BWS this Thursday. What time? eMail me the specifics.

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  • April 14, 2009 at 4:25 pm
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    Please note that I’m not picking on you for the recipe, anyone who likes goya is OK in my book.

    Having been born on Oki and lived there 18 years, I can tell you that the recipe used above might some city-slicker’s or Japanese mainland version of goya champuru. Sometimes meat is used but the basic version, and in my opinion the tastiest, doesn’t use it. Also, no miso or onions, just goya, tofu and eggs, a few drops of shoyu and some salt for macerating the goya. Too much stuff detracts from the taste of the goya.

    Like Nate says, the goya from Oki is different and much more bitter. The more bitter the better, I say. The stuff you find in SE Asian markets is what we call abashi-goya but that’s all I can get in Seattle. I try to buy the darker green ones to get the most bitter goya. When the seeds start getting red, the goya is overripe. The seeds, unfortunately, don’t last very long, two years tops so if they’re old they won’t sprout.

    The tofu makes a difference, too. Okinawan tofu is the chronic of the tofu world because much of it is still made from nigari/natural sea salt (shima ma-su) instead of calcium chloride. It gets delivered to the store twice a day still warm. Another great tofu is yushi-dofu which is free floating tofu chunks in the tofu water. You just punch a small hole in the plastic bag to drain it before use. They don’t compress it into cakes and we used it often for our goya champuru. Sliced goya and pig ear salad is quite tasty, too. Now, if I can find some real Okinawa Soba…

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    • July 19, 2015 at 2:34 am
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      jorgebob24: You can surely buy getto soba online. Have a look. It’s an artisan in Okinawa who ships it all over the world. Hope this helps!

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      • July 19, 2015 at 2:37 am
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        i mean, i don’t know about normal soba, but they surely sell gettou-flavoured soba online.

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  • April 14, 2009 at 5:29 pm
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    jorgebob28, Shucks. I should have posted this BEFORE Nate left from Okinawa to HNL. That way I could have requested the authentic Okinawan ingredients you mentioned for the dish for Nate to bring back for me.

    I just had some Pinakbet a few weeks ago that used bitter melon that was very dark green and had that bitter taste (in a good way!). They were also much smaller than the ones I bought. Perhaps they’re like Chili Peppers, where the smaller the bitter melon is, the more potent their bitterness is (compared to scoville units in the peppers).

    I had a feeling this recipe was an adopted “Tokyo-ized” version, but it’s still oishii, I gotta’ say. Especially with that misoyaki “condiment” (sauce)!

    Check out this post I did on Sun Noodle brand Okinawa Soba…

    http://tastyisland.wordpress.com/2007/11/04/sun-noodles-okinawa-yakisoba/

    Does that resemble (at all) the soba you remember having in Okinawa?

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  • April 15, 2009 at 10:23 pm
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    I <3 Cooking with Dog!!! :D It’s got this hypnotic quality to it. Heehee, “Hi, I’m Francis” lol.

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  • April 18, 2009 at 11:26 am
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    I also figured that this recipe might be a “yamatunchu” version! But, as there’s probably as many variations as there are people to make it, not such a big deal. I do agree that the version Nate describes seems to be the most traditional.

    I think it makes a big difference to stir the beaten egg in as the last step, instead of cooking it separately — that way everything is kind of covered in eggy-goodness. And the tofu really shines if you tear it into hunks by hand (squeezing excess water out in the process), instead of cutting it into clean-sided cubes (of course, you have to have seriously firm tofu to do this!). The egg clings to the rough sides of the hunks much better, and texturally it’s a little more interesting.

    The goya in your picture is the Chinese variation of bitter melon. Okinawa uses the Indian variation. In the SF Bay Area, all we really see is Chinese (although I should probably check an Indian market). It’s good, but I prefer the Indian. The first is a little less bitter, and I guess it has a higher water content, or something, because the texture doesn’t seem as crisp. A few years ago, my Dad brought some goya seeds back from Okinawa and planted them in his backyard (he won’t go near it, but he’s intrigued by it!). He got a lot of vine, but only a single fruit — and it was small. Although he lives in one of the warmer cities in the Bay Area, it’s no match for the sub-tropics, so we figured that might have been the problem. I’m trying to convince him to try again this year, but maybe those seeds will be too old? I have seen the Indian variation in Honolulu at one of the markets (the kind with several small individual stalls) in Chinatown and, of course, on sale in one of the tents at the Okinawa Festival.

    Obviously not really traditional (at least not before, say, WWII), but my favorite kind of pork to have in goya champuru is … SPAM (or Tulip, etc.)! The taste is strong enough to stand up really well against the bitter melon, and the crispiness you can get from a good piece of grilled spam adds to the overall depth of the dish.

    And speaking of that episode of Bizarre Foods, on my visit to Okinawa in January, my cousin and I bought fresh seafood and had it prepared at the same upstairs restaurant that Zimmerman where went. No goat testicles for us, but the seafood was fresh and fantastic, though I regret we didn’t try the big shellfish/snail thing that he had. Oh well, next trip!.

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  • April 18, 2009 at 12:09 pm
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    Debbie, arigato for that most thorough input about this dish! Yeah, it seems there’s as many opinions as there are variations in making Goya Chanpuru, with the definition of the term Chanpuru meaning, “something mixed”.

    I’ll search more supermarkets around town to find the Indian Bittermelon, which I now is available here. That should make all the difference.

    “HWN PAKE in OKINAWA” Nate gave me several packages of Okinawan Goya seeds to plant, so I’ll keep you updated later when/if that makes progress. It may be “iffy”, as these packages are already over a year old, but we’ll see.

    Even at the Honolulu Okinawan Festivals, the chanpuru is made with luncheon meat, not rafute or pork. Still, on my next Goya Chanpuru attempt, I’m gonna’ make it using home-made rafute, which is always the best!

    Thanks again for such a thorough comment. I really appreciate and learned from it!

    Kasey, yeah, the “Cooking with Dog” video is quite “hypnotic”. I was captured. lol

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  • April 18, 2009 at 12:39 pm
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    Pomai – Makishi Public Market in Heiwa-dori is an amazing place. Every Okinawa foodstuff you want can be found there. And the seafood section is something to behold. As are the restaurants on the second floor above the market. Love to go there when I can which is not too often. Hard to get someone to go with me, it’s an hour’s drive from my place,and parking is a bitch. Bizzare Foods did not do the market justice.

    And to agree with Debbie-chan, and I think I told you too, Spam and luncheon meat are very popular inclusions.

    Add a picture of the goya on the package of seeds I gave you.

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  • October 10, 2009 at 1:27 pm
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    Great reply to the recipe….i was wondering where those onions came from???!!! I knew I never ate any goya with onions!!

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  • October 10, 2009 at 2:55 pm
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    It was actually quite good! I’m sure every restaurant and home cook has their own twist on Goya Chanpuru, even in Okinawa. Yet I do respect the purist method as well. I’ll try making it in the simpler method as instructed above on my third attempt. Meatless sounds good too.

    I forgot to include my second attempt at making Goya Chanpuru on the index page (I’ll add it right now), which I included a photo of the Okinawan Goya Seeds Nate gave me. You can check it out here:

    http://tastyisland.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pearl-kai-eats-off-the-wall/

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  • October 14, 2009 at 11:43 am
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    Wondering if you still have the goya seeds. I live in the US and can’t find any here. Thanks

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  • October 14, 2009 at 5:28 pm
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    Here’s a link for some seeds. The Japanese variety is close to the Okinawan kind, very sharp ridges. http://www.evergreenseeds.com/bitgourbitme.html

    The last time I got seeds, my cousin took me to the No-Kyo (ag co-op) in his village. The seeds don’t last more than a couple of years, however. Soaking and nicking and planting in warm soil is supposed to be best method. I’ve seen small goya on a trellis as early as the middle of April on Okinawa.

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  • March 3, 2013 at 3:19 pm
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    I was wondering if you know a website that I can purchase Okanawa goya seeds,, I live in ca,,thank you,Tanya

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  • March 7, 2013 at 11:12 pm
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    Tanya – I can send you some. I just prepared some beautiful goya for this dish. I’ll be in CA in August and coult just throw them in an envelope.

    Reply

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