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In Cantonese cuisine, melons, gourds and cucumbers are all considered to be “melon fruits, ” where we consider them to all be members of the gourd family. They can be intimidating to foreigners with their strange textures and shapes but most of them are basically mild relatives of the zucchini and can be used instead in most dishes.
Hairy Gourd/Fuzzy Gourd – Zit Gwaa/Ma Gwaa
The hairy gourd, as its name suggests, is rather hairy and looks like a short, fat, fuzzy cucumber. Mild in flavour with sweet aftertaste, it has a cooling effect according on the body according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is preferred for consumption in the summer months.
High Season: April – August
How To Eat: Use it peeled anywhere where you would zucchini/courgettes. The Cantonese tend to use it soup and noodle dishes but it works great grated in a quiche or as a filler in healthy muffins/bread.
What To Look For: You want to find ones that are very furry, with the hairs stiff to the touch.
Storage: It can last for up to two weeks, store in a cool dry place. Ideally, not in the fridge (though in the summer months it is best to keep it in the fridge).
Chinese Cucumber – Zung Gwok Ceng Gwaa
The Chinese cucumber looks fairly similar to its Western counterpart, though it is longer, thinner and has rough skin with spiky ridges. It is one of the most popular fruits in Cantonese summer menu with its mild sweetness and crisp texture.
High Season: May – October
How To Eat: Peel it and slice it in pieces. Great for juicing and in salads, you can use them wherever you would use regular cukes. Popularly used to make Chinese picked cucumbers with sliced chillies, sugar and rice vinegar.
What To Look For: Avoid those with smooth skin and pick those with spiky ridges. The deep green skinned are the ones to choose.
Storage: They stay fresh in the fridge for up to a week.
Chayote/Chow Chow – Fat Sau Gwaa
The chayote is a light green ridged fruit shaped like a large pear that has a sweet, mild flavour and smooth flesh texture. Native to Mexico, this member of the gourd family is popular across Asia. Some people describe it as a cross between a potato and a pear on the taste and texture front. It is known in TCM as a common ailment for itchy throats (usually administered in the form of a soup).
High Season: Available all year round but ideal from November to January and April to June.
How To Eat: Low in calories and high in fiber, chayotes are great for juicing or sliced raw in a salad. Otherwise they work well as a fairly crunchy addition to stir fries – just wash it and cut it into chunks sized to your liking and you are good to go. An easy way to prepare them is to slice them in half, brush them with olive oil, season and roast for 25 minutes in a hot oven. Most people leave the skin on.
What To Look For: Choose those with a bright tinge to them and no damaged/brown bits.
Storage: Keep in a cool, dry space away from the sun. It can last for one to two weeks this way.
Luffa/Angled Gourd/Chinese Okra – Sing Gwaa/Si Gwaa
Sing Gwaa is a deep green elongated fruit with rough and angular skin, it looks sort of like a cucumber with ridges It tastes sweet and the seeds have a very soft texture. It is a common ingredient in Cantonese restaurant summer menu dishes.
High Season: April – October
How To Eat: Best used in dishes with mild-flavored ingredients which do not overpower its delicateness- works well with chicken or pork. Make sure to peel the angular parts off but leave the other part of the skin as it will lose its shape if you peel all the skin off. Don’t eat it raw and avoid overcooking.
What To Look For: You can wave the gourd slightly and see if it shakes along your movement. If yes, it is fresh and good to eat.
Storage: Keep it is a cool, dark space where it can last for up to two weeks.
Winter Melon/Winter Gourd – Dung Gwaa
Despite its name, this is actually a summer fruit. With its deep green skin, white flesh and yellow seeds, this extremely large melon is one of Cantonese people’s favorites during the humid months. Its high water content makes it a refreshing and juicy ingredient.
High Season: March – September
How To Eat: Peel it and remove the seeds (the Cantonese usually avoid eating the seeds though they are edible) and used it as a base for strong flavors since the melon itself is on the blander side taste-wise. It is mostly used in stews and soups and we highly recommend you try making Cantonese winter melon soup– an extremely refreshing dish that cools the body right down. Winter melon is not eaten raw. You can also use in a salad with mint and feta cheese instead of watermelon – just blanch it lightly.
What To Look For: Like with all gourds, make sure the skin is fairly smooth and devoid of any large stains or bruises. The heavier it is, the higher the water content, which is great.
Storage: Keep it in the shade and it can last for one week. Winter melon can weigh up to 25 kg! As a result, they are usually sold in pre-cut slices. However, once sliced, they don’t last very long so eat soon after you buy!
Bitter Cucumber/Bitter Gourd/Chinese Bitter Melon – Fu Gwaa/Loeng Gwaa
There is no denying that, as its name suggests, bitter gourds are indeed extremely bitter and for most, they are an acquired taste. However, to a certain generation of older Cantonese people, the pockmarked melons are a much loved comfort food. Once you get past the bitterness, there is a sweetness hiding in there with its soft texture when you eat it.
High Season: April – September
How To Eat: Keep the skin on but remove the seeds for cooking. Avoid eating bitter gourds raw. Use them where you would other bitter greens like chard or collard greens- pairs well with sharp cheeses.
What To Look For: Choose those with bright green hues, avoid the yellowy ones- they are past their ripeness.
Storage: It can last for for three to four days in a cool, dark space and up to a week in the fridge.
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