Quest for the Holy Gourd

You may recall – but probably don’t, so here’s a link – that I left Nepal with a slightly bitter taste in my mouth because I failed to get my hands on a karela, appropriately translated for the sake of this sentence’s irony, as ‘bitter gourd’.

I googled ‘karela’, ‘bitter gourd’, ‘bitter melon’ – pretty much every variant of the name I could think of, trying to find somewhere selling it in the Greater Seattle Metropolitan area. When those searches proved fruitless (or, I suppose, vegetableless), I gave up on the idea of actually locating one for sale near my home; Google’s about as sophisticated as I get these days. Karela would have to wait for my next trip to Nepal.

Then one night, the TV was turned on during dinner – unusual, because we typically only leave it on for Mariners games, Republican debates, and other spectator sports – as a report aired about diversity-themed walking tours on offer in Columbia City. You see, 98118 – my zip code – is officially the most diverse in America, and some local organization was offering to escort people around the ‘hood for $120. I suppose if you can afford to pay $120 for a few-hour guided tour of your own city, the escort service – sorry, tour guide – is probably a good idea.

In the course of the Televised Report, the crew interviewed the proprietor of a grocery store at the heart of this hotbed of diversity, and took some shots inside the typically diverse vegetable bins. I was only half paying attention, but snapped to it when I spotted an entire bin of karela. Too late, I’d already missed the name of the store. And the tour is only offered on Saturday.

So I found my mission once again at a dead end. Until, that is, I stopped at Safeway to pick up a butternut squash for my mother. The store was out of butternut – which is both surprising, and not, given that it was erev Thanksgiving – so I settled for a 2.5-pound buttercup squash, on sale for $.99/lb.

I brought it to the cash register, and the cashier had clearly never seen one before. To be fair, I don’t know if I had either. It certainly looks nothing like a butternut:

She consulted with another cashier, then with her produce book, and was about to go ask the produce manager when I realized the hang-up. I volunteered the name, she thanked me, and rang it up: $11.88. That couldn’t have been right: I did some quick math, and weighed the buttercup in my hand. The squash was definitely not 12 pounds. So I looked closely at the screen over her shoulder, and pointed out that she had accidentally input the code for ‘Bitter Melon’. They’re both green, I guess.

So now I know that the Safeway near my house, at some point in time, carried or plans to carry karela. That would be one less reason to go back to Nepal. Fortunately, I’ll still have plenty of others.

If you happen to find yourself in a situation in which karela is available, I’ve included a recipe, courtesy of Upama Miss and Facebook mobile, after the jump:

if there are big seeds in the karela, throw
make fire
put little bit more oil on pan
heat oil
put karela
do fry
put salt n turmeric
u can put garlic, ginger as u like


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