Canh Khổ Qua – Bitter Melon Soup


I’m through spewing angst on the floor and keyboard for now. With the intent to bring levity here, I’m sharing my mom’s recipe for Canh Khổ Qua – Bitter Melon Soup. As the name suggests, this soup has a very bitter, strong taste. Eating this was something my sisters and I scoffed at when we were younger but now, as adults, we can appreciate it’s interesting flavor as well as its purported health benefits. My mom insists that it is mát, something that cools or settles your stomach.

In my home, we tend not to make another meat dish to go along with this as there is plenty enough meat in the stuffing. We enjoy it with a steamy bowl of rice.

INGREDIENTS: (4 servings as part of a meal)

  • 3 pieces of black (wood ear) mushroom, re-hydrated in warm water, and finely chopped
  • (edit): 1/2 lb. 2/3 lb. ground pork
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 2 med/large bitter melon, cut into 1 1/2 – 2 inch segments, removing spongy center and seeds
  • 1 quart quality chicken stock
  • 1 Tbl. fish sauce
  • 1 small rock sugar cube or 1 tsp. raw sugar


  • Thoroughly combine the first 7 ingredients (black mushroom, pork, shallot, garlic, egg, S+P) in a bowl.
  • Equally divide and stuff the mixture among the bitter melon segments.
  • Bring chicken stock to a rolling boil and add the stuffed bitter melon.
  • Add the fish sauce and sugar. Bring to a boil.
  • Then, turn down the heat to low, cover with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes.
  • At this point, the stuffing should be cooked through, the bitter melon should be tender and its color has changed from jade green to olive green.
  • Taste the soup and add more fish sauce if necessary. Serve with steamed rice.

Bon appétit!

34 Responses to “Canh Khổ Qua – Bitter Melon Soup”

  1. Anh Says:

    Both my grandmothers and mother always insist me trying this soup… Too bad even as an adult, bitter melon soup is not something I can handle. 😦 But I know it’s very good for our body, as you pointed out.

    I think the only time I enjoyed bitter melon is in a vegetarian dish, which resembles ca kho. It is lovely, I even forget how much I dislike the vegetable!

  2. Lindsay Says:

    there’s a cantonese version of bitter melon soup that I love (at least I’m pretty sure it’s cantonese… my grandmother’s a fan of making it, and my mum does a pretty mean version, too), where it’s pretty much bitter melon, lots of water chestnut, and pork bones. This sounds like it’d be very tasty, too! 🙂

  3. Rasa Malaysia Says:

    I am really not a fan of bitter melon at all and never liked the taste, but your soup does make it very edible. 🙂

    I also like the way you frame your pictures with black and that little basil logo thingy at the lower left. Beautiful!

  4. Jen Says:

    You are braver than I. I have always loved the look of bitter melon (it’s beautiful, isn’t it?) and have always wanted to love it, but every time I try it – ugh! My mom makes it in so many wonderful ways too. Your dish also looks amazing. I *want* to love this vegetable but it gets me every time. I’d probably take one bite, then pick out all of the filling and drink all of the broth 😉

  5. Wendy Says:

    This sounds really interesting. Always find Asian soups restorative but have never heard of this. Is bitter melon the same as gourd?

  6. manggy Says:

    Once every 3 months I try bitter melon (called ampalaya here), just to see if my taste buds have grown up, but I really, really can’t take it. It’s too bitter. Then again, I am not the coffee drinking type either… Maybe not all our taste buds mature at the same age. 🙂

  7. holybasil Says:

    I’ve never tried it as a kho. Is it made with caramel sauce?

    I’ve also tried a version similar to your mom’s and grandma’s. I think the fattiness of the pork helps to cut a little of the bitterness.

    Rasa Malaysia,
    I really appreciate that you like the border and leaf motif. The leaf is my personal stamp as I feel ambiguous about watermarks on photographs. I mean, if people really want to copy your photo, they can and will — but it’s a low res file. I don’t think they can do too much with that, right?

    Yeah, it’s not easy to like this. Sometimes, I think I eat it for nostalgic reasons. Plus, my mom was tricky — she’d tell us that only sophisticated folks could appreciate the bitter flavor. So now, I find myself eating this and thinking, “Who’s sophisticated now, Ma???”

    It’s funny you say that you’d eat just the filling and broth. I still do that sometimes. (Glad my mom doesn’t read my blog!)

    I’m not certain, but I think “melon” and “gourd” are used interchangeably here. Thanks for mentioning that.

    I think you’re right – maybe our taste buds don’t all mature at the same time. But you know, the bitterness depends on how mature the plant is. Also, the level of bitterness can vary from plant to plant. To acquire a taste for them, my mom suggests buying them when they’re not so mature and eating a little bit at a time.

    Is it worth it, though? I don’t know…

  8. Anh Says:

    hoybasil, for the Kho Qua Kho, you need to dry the slices first… Do you have an email address? I can send you the recipe?



  9. Passionate Eater Says:

    I am so glad that I chanced upon your site! I love your recipes! Thank you for directing me to a recipe for bo la lop too. My sister likes to add glass noodles into the meat filling too. Your version looks so colorful and savory.

  10. Passionate Eater Says:

    Oops, I meant into the meat filling for these hollowed-out bittermelon dumpling/packages, and not bo la lop. 🙂

  11. holybasil Says:

    Hi Anh,
    Thanks – I’d love the recipe. My email is: holybasil (at) mail (dot) com.

    Hi Passionate Eater,
    Glass noodles are a great addition. Thanks for mentioning that! Hopefully you can find the betel leaf to make the Bò lá lốt.

  12. Jenn Says:

    That looks amazing! I have never tried this type of soup before but looking at the mix of ingredients how could it not be delicious! And it is nice that as adults we are able to truly appreciate the recipes that as children we found to be bitter.

  13. Chuck Says:

    My parents love bitter melon and I’ve grown to enjoy it too. My mom makes this canh with bitter melon and sometimes with cucumber. I think I still prefer the cucumber version.

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  16. luv2tastenewthings Says:

    So happy to come across this recipe! My ex-boyfriend used to make this for me. He is Vietnamese, and though I think we determined it was not a Vietnamese dish, his mother used to make this when he was little. The first time I tried it, I didn’t like it, but wouldn’t admit it because I wanted to impress him. The second time I ate it, I thought it wasn’t too bad. The third time, I absolutely (and genuinely) loved it, and begged him to make it for me time and time again. Oh, do I miss his cooking!

    I look forward to trying this for myself. Thank you.

  17. holybasil Says:

    luv2tastenewthings – Hmmm – I would say that this is a very typical Vietnamese dish. I know what you mean about not liking it initially. But, there’s something interesting about its bitterness that grew on me and I also like it now. Thanks for your comment!

  18. artistbuon Says:

    Bitter melon soup is very great!my mother used to make it when i was a little boy!at that time i felt scared because it was not delicious even a bit.Now I am living far from my home,i miss its sweet bitterness but it is difficult to get a meal with bitter melon soup.
    I come across this page by chance when i am looking for an essay about bitter melon soup.I am learning English and I have to write an essay about my favorite food.I’ really interested in reading your writing.I think you will recognize that bitter melon soup is not only a delicious food but also its name (in vietnamese is “Khổ Qua”) has a poignant meaning.You helped me more than you imagine.Thank you very much!

  19. holybasil Says:

    Artistbuon – Thank you for your kind comments. Actually, I never thought of its name that way – how interesting.

  20. hoz49 Says:

    I am Fil/Am from Indiana USA. My father gave me seeds and taught me to grow Ampalya 20 years ago. I have kept at it every year and now we enjoy Kho Gua almost year around. (We freeze the excess.) Like most, I didn’t enjoy the taste when I was younger but developed it as years went by.
    We usually cook it sauteed in “Pinakbet”. with “bagoong”.

    Kho Gua soup was a delightful surprise when we discovered it. A Vietnamese waitress made some for us when we gave her several fruits.

    I always wondered the exact ingredients. Thanks for the recipe. And I am going to bookmark your blog!

  21. hoz49 Says:

    Oh, and a local Vietnamese cook said to carefully scrape the white inner lining and soak the Kho Gua in salt water before cooking to eliminate some of the bitterness.

    He also advised the soup should be slow simmered, not boiled as boiling brings out more bitterness.

  22. Judy Says:

    Thank you for this wonderful & simple recipe!! I have a Cambodian friend who introduced many Vietnamese dishes to me. I know most western people find bitter flavour repugnant but I quite like it when mixed with other flavours. In fact, I don’t even find the melon very bitter once it’s been simmered in a soup broth. Canh Khổ Qua has to be one of my favourite dishes along with Bò Kho – this soup for its delicious & simple flavours & Bò Kho for its complexe flavours. Thank you again!

  23. To-Lan Says:

    To cut the bitterness, I add a medium sized tomato cut in wedges if fresh, whole and then smashed with the soup ladle at the end, if frozen, and about 3 heaping tablespoons of crispy fried shallots for the last 15 minutes or so of the soup.

  24. To-Lan Says:

    P.S. I forgot a few tablespoons of fresh chopped cilantro.

  25. Tom Says:

    Every Thursday night my boyfriend would go have dinner with his parents, and his Mom can really cook. She’d pack him a tupperware meal for lunch the next day, which he’d bring home and I’d eat that night. She loves her bitter mellon, and I got to love it too. Stuffed bitter mellon with wood ears was my all time favorite. If you want to get rid of some of the bitterness, you par-boil it, and then throw out the water, stuff the mellon, and make the soup. Just delicious!

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  27. Nhiro Says:

    Saw your post on Tastespotting and just had to comment. I hated this dish growing up (I would always poke the meat out), but like you I’ve grown to appreciate the bitter melon too. Will have to try this version sometime.

    Browsing Viet recipes has made me hungry (and a bit homesick). :/

  28. Didi Says:

    I first tried bitter melon when my manfriend took me to dim sum…I did not know the name but when I tried it I loved it…I have tried making bitter melon at home…I felt I did not do a good job but the manfriend loved it…I really want to give your recipe a try…I am looking for more bitter melon recipes if you have any others you would like to share… 🙂

  29. Vinh Says:

    Hey! I used a combination of your recipe and a different blog’s…very similar, I liked that you added shallots and garlic (pretty essential I’d say), but you’re missing the bean thread noodles. The best method I found is to give it a quick soak (maybe a minute) in hot water before roughly chopping them. Then add the chopped noodles to the stuffing, it adds a nice texture to the dish. Anyway, my parents used to do that as well in their version, just make sure the noodles aren’t too cooked or they end up mushy (yuck!)

  30. macau_ray Says:

    thanks so much for this recipe. contrary to most posts here, i loved bitter melon from the start. granted, being american i didn’t try it until i was in my twenties and living in SF. that was the cantonese stir fried version with beef and fermented black soy bean and garlic sauce. i was introduced to this soup by a cambodian friend. i am excited to try it with a vietnamese twist (i guess that would be the fish sauce? or is it the same?), especially now that it’s winter here in macau and i’ve gone soup-crazy! i can vouch for bitter melon’s cooling properties. in summer i often order a bitter-melon/star fruit juice from a juice stand and i stop sweating right away, even in the sweltering south china summers. for non-bitter-lovers, sweating the veggie with salt and then rinsing, or soaking in salt water greatly reduces the bitterness; a shame imho.

  31. Tracy Says:

    My mom used to try to make us kids eat this soup when we were younger but we refused so she would make meatballs out of the leftover meat mixture with the soup. The meatballs we could handle. Now as an adult…I crave this soup especially when it’s cold outside. The only thing different that I do is I add bean thread noodle to the meat mixture and season the meat mixture with fish sauce instead of salt. I also use pork broth made from stewing pork bones and I season the broth with a little salt and rock sugar instead of fish sauce. I’m sure every Vietnamese mom makes it a little different. I also make sure to make extra meat mixture to make the little meatballs in my soup that my mom used to make me. Enjoy!!!

  32. Mike M. Says:

    Took three meals eating bitter melon, and have been hooked since that third meal. We grow our own and have stir-fried and steamed with pork, chicken & beef. But, the most delicious recipe using picked steam crab meat (Maryland style crab) with ground pork and stuffed into bitter melon ring and steamed. Summertime is a pure joy and we eat at least two meals a week with bitter melon.

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