Bitter Melon Soup - Canh Khổ Qua

4-5 Servings

0:25 Prep

1:10 Cook

Moderate - You'll be right!

In Vietnamese cuisine, bitter melon is commonly used in soups and stir-fries and can even be served raw in a Vietnamese salad when prepared correctly. Bitter melon soup consists of bitter melons stuffed with a pork and prawn mixture, then simmered in an umami broth. As the name suggests, it has bitter tasting notes but is characterised and popular amongst Vietnamese people for the harmonious balance of flavours that is possible when these notes are complimented and highlighted with other ingredients.

Some families like to soak the bitter melon in salted cold water for 20 minutes to help extract some of those bitter notes. This is highly recommended if you are trying bitter melon for the first time or introducing it to kids. Like taking coffee without milk or sugar the first few times, it won’t be long before you’ll develop a taste for the melon’s bitter notes and throw the salt preparation out the window. Instead, you’ll look to enhance and appreciate those bitter notes.

The savoury, umami and robust flavours of fish sauce, dried shrimp, prawns and garlic are key components to creating a bitter melon soup that is refined in flavour. The act of complimenting rather than masking those bitter notes creates a dynamic flavour profile within the soup broth and the stuffed bitter melons. For this reason, bitter melon soup is often paired with a savoury dish such as Vietnamese braised pork belly with eggs (thịt kho).

Bitter melon is by no means exclusive to Vietnam and can be found throughout Asia. However, this flavour pairing of bitter and savoury (and sometimes sweet) is a theme that is significant to Vietnamese culture, reflecting prominently in our cuisine. Luckily in Australia, we have a large Asian population and the climate is ideal for bitter melon to be grown on local soil, making this ingredient readily available in Asian grocers and supermarkets. So, do yourself a favour and try this recipe to explore some unique flavours that are closely associated with Vietnamese people and their culture.


Stuffed bitter melon

  • 4 medium sized bitter melons 

  • 300g pork mince

  • 400g prawn cutlets 

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1 teaspoon salt or ½ teaspoon anchovy salt

  • ½ teaspoon white pepper

  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce

  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil

  • 25g bean vermicelli, rehydrated and cut into 4-5cm strands

  • 15g dried wood ear mushrooms, rehydrated and thinly sliced

Bitter melon soup

  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed

  • 2L chicken broth

  • 15g dried shrimp 

  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1 teaspoon salt or ½ teaspoon anchovy salt

Soup garnish

  • ½  bunch coriander, roughly chopped

  • ¼  bunch spring onions, finely chopped


Stuffed bitter melon 

  1. Wash and cut bitter melon in half or 7cm segments depending on the size of the bitter melons. 

  2. Remove internal bitter melon flesh and seeds with the handle of a tablespoon or fork.  

  3. In a medium mixing bowl, add pork mince and mix well for 5 minutes to work the protein. Alternatively use a stand mixer. 

  4. Separate tail third of prawns from main body and reserve. In a food processor, blend the main body of the prawns into a paste-like texture and add to the bowl (see pork and prawn spring rolls  for a photo of this important step). 

  5. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix until well incorporated then gently fold through the prawn tail pieces.  

  6. With a teaspoon, stuff the mixture into the bitter melon segments, ensuring there are no air pockets inside, then set aside.   

Bitter melon soup 

  1. In a medium pot bring dried shrimp, garlic and chicken stock to the boil, then add stuffed bitter melon and simmer on low for 1 hour. 

  2. Season at the end with remaining ingredients. 

  3. Garnish with spring onions, coriander and serve with steamed rice and a savoury side such as Vietnamese braised pork belly and eggs.


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