For those of you who don’t know what bitter melon is, it is a green, long oval shaped, and kind of wrinkly looking Chinese vegetable. When I was a little kid, my mom would make bitter melon stir-fry with fermented black beans, sometimes with beef or pork. The sight of it just made me feel gross. “Ew…it is bitter”, I thought. Why do grown ups like bitter melons? Why not candy? I would cry, nag, fight and do anything for candy!
It was the fighter in me, which constantly caused battles between my sister and I. First it was the battle for candy, then it was the battle for chicken wings, then it was ice-cream. Sometimes my Mom would get pulledinto these silly conflicts. “Mom, how come her bowl of ice-cream is bigger? That’s not fair!”, I cried. It was my very first lesson that life is not fair. Later I moved on to more important battles: school, college, careers, relationships, etc. But no matter if I won or lost I would always go back to my Mom’s place; her food would comfort me.
In the Chinese culture, we have a feast on every occasion, including birthdays, child births, weddings, and funerals. I used to wonder, how could people eat after funerals? Then I experienced the comforting power food could give me. When I was 23, I was going through a bad break-up with some guy. To cheer me up, my mom made me some soup, a piece of fish, and bitter melons with fermented black beans. It came full circle. Here it is! Bitter melons again. I haven’t had bitter melons for a very long time. While chewing it, something strange happened. It tasted different. It was bitter, but I liked it in a strange way. Did the taste of the bitter melon change? I don’t think so. I think I changed. I had become a grown-up who liked bitter melon. Now I was the one who made the kids feel puzzled and asked “Why do grown-ups like bitter melon?”