No discussion on Okinawan food is complete without the inclusion of the infamous vegetable goya ゴーヤー, a.k.a. bitter melon. This beloved vegetable is often touted as one of the reasons behind Okinawan people’s longevity. That being said, many non-Okinawans do not care for goya. Bizarrely, it is the complete opposite in my house– my husband loves it!
Goya is fairly easy to prepare and can be turned into a variety of dishes. When you get a goya, follow a few simple steps to prepare it for cooking and mitigate the bitter taste. First, cut the goya in half lengthwise, so you have 2 long strips of goya. The seeds and pith will be exposed; if any of the seeds are reddish color THAT IS OKAY, do not panic and throw it out, it is is normal. Next you will need to remove and discard the seeds and pith; my favorite way to do this is actually with a grapefruit spoon because it has those nice little scraping edges. Once the middle is cleaned, sprinkle the INSIDE (not outside) of the goya with salt and let it sit for awhile (maybe 15 minutes, half hour). Rinse and it is ready to use.
There are many ways to use it, although probably #1 in Okinawa is in a dish called goya chanpuru ゴーヤーチャンプルー. Chanpuru just means a stir-fry type dish (you will see many types of chanpuru listed on the menus in Okinawa shokudo). Goya chanpuru is typically a combination of egg, goya, tofu, bean sprouts, spam, and chanpuru sauce. You can make your own chanpuru sauce or buy it from the grocery.
You can also make goya pickles, goya tenpura, or even just grill the goya. My husband loves to just grill goya in the summertime, as a side to hotdogs or hamburgers. He just takes a half goya (cleaned) and marinates in some oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper, then grills until tender.
**I have updated the page with some goya recipes.
Goya pickles can be seen at the bottom of this picture; pickles are a must for izakaya food.
Additionally, Okinawa’s home-grown fast food joint Jef is home of goya burgers, rings, and juice. If you are touristing around Okinawa, you may want to check them out!