Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Field Notes--Hechima vs. Gouya

Walking the kids to school last week I noticed  a big vine with bright yellow flowers.  Hmmm--what's that?  So I walked home on the other side of the river to have a look.  When what to my wandering eyes should appear...

Hechima!  Ooooh--first time to actually see this...this...vegetable?  Gourd?  I knocked on it (because, well, you would, too, wouldn't you?), and it had that hollow, gourdy sound.  I asked a passing mom (who confirmed that it was, indeed, Hechima) how you were supposed to eat it.  No idea.  Does anybody actually eat this?  Is it used for anything?  Just decorative?  Well, the flowers are bright and pretty and attracted a number of moths and butterflies (and also a good-sized preying mantis):

The lovely flower above, the start of a Hechima below

Oh!  Just went to Wiki.  This is Luffa Cylindrica, aka Loofa.  You know, that thing you can use to scrub with in the shower!  Ah ha!  I probably should have looked it up first.  Consider this liveblogging, then--those oohs and Ah Ha's are real (meaning, I really do get all excited about stuff like this.  As does my mom:))

Later that day...  my oldest comes home from school, see these photos and insists that his class (4th grade) is growing this stuff at school.  Really?  Are you sure, honey?  Usually you guys grow some kind of flower or vegetable (last year was okra), and I'm not so sure you can eat this...this...thingumbob.  He insisted that the flower was the same.  Hmmm--I was pretty sure they weren't growing Hechima at school.  But what exactly were they growing?  What else could they grow that Koshi would mix it up with Hechima?  Ahhhh--honey, is the vegetable you're growing at school green and bumpy?  Yes!  Got it--it's Goya.  The bitter-but-edible cucumber-like vegetable, not the spanish artist.  But, well, here's why he was confused:

...very similar-looking flower and leaf.  Well, similar to a 10-year-old, anyway.  The Hechima flower is quite a bit bigger, Goya's is quarter-sized.  But both are, indeed, cheery yellow flowers.  The vegetable, though, is quite a bit different, and as soon as I showed Koshi a photo of this...

...he immediately said, "Yeah!! That's it!"  Thank you, thank you very much.  I expect he'll bring one home one of these days, which means I'd better start hunting up recipies now.  It's most commonly cooked in Okinawa in "champuru" (sounds like "jumble"), a kind of eggy stir-fry.  But Momordica charantia, or Bitter Gourd/Melon, actually grows all over Southeast Asia, China, and the tropics.

See the bumpies?  I've never seen this for sale in a US supermarket, but this time of year in Japan, it's everywhere.  They look like they're related to cucumbers, albeit big, bumpy mutant cucumbers that look like a lab experiment gone wrong.

If I end up cooking with it, I'll post the recipie:))

In Addition:

I stopped by school the other morning to see how the 4th graders' Goya was coming along--

Nicely, nicely:))  No veggies yet, but some flowers on a good-sized, healthy-looking vine!  The vine has male and female flowers, and I'm guessing the flower above is female.  The Wiki page on Bitter Melon has some interesting info on medicinal uses for Goya, and several pics of other phenotypes. I picked up some sauce at the store to cook it with pork, onion and shimeji.  Maybe I'll use egg, too, like they do in Okinawa, where it is said that eating Goya increases lifespan (even longer, it seems, than the Japanese generally).

Mata asobou, ne!


  1. Is gardening more common in Japan, or is it that you take more notice than most? All we seem to get round my way is bare lawns and the occasional rose-bush!

    On another note, I'm shamelessly self-linking here, 'cause I think this needs spreading far and wide...

  2. The Japanese put gardens in the ittiest wee spaces imaginable. Or, at least, they grow something. A vine of some sort, morning glories in the summer, and bonsai in the foot-and-a-half of space along side the house. I don't know whether bonsai evolved in Japan because of space constraints or some other reason...hmmm....research (or did it originate in China, which the Japanese would be loathe to admit...?)

    Off to check the link!

  3. Very cool link! Thanks--watching more now:))

  4. On the Bonsai: it was China, but the Japanese definitely put their own stamp on it, and made it the artform we see today. The Chinese versions were much more like a potted tree than a truly pinched and trimmed and contorted object d'art.

    On the Goya, you definitely won't find it in the regular grocery store here, but in every asian grocery, you see it!
    The magazine "Giant Robot" actually had part of an issue dedicated to somebody's experiments with goya recipes... they mainly focused on trying desperately to do something to conceal the bitterness, with only moderate success.
    I think I remember the author admitting that he just had to develop a taste for it in order to enjoy it...
    soo.... ganbare,yo!

    exciting about the 'loofah' plant! who knew it looked like that! Well, aside from botanists and loofah harvesters, anyway.

    PS, working all day tomorrow, but when I get home I'll turn my skype on :-)

  5. Figured the chinese must have figured it out first (they nearly always do, don't they:)).

    As for the goya--people cook with it, and nobody ever really seems to mention the bitterness... as if it would be vulgar to do so. Mottainai! If it grows, then you'd better eat it, unless it's actually poisionous!
    I'll give it a go, but I don't expect the kiddies to be jumping up an down demanding seconds. Although, come to think of it, Cici likes coffee...which it bitter... of course, coffee's not green... and she sees her parents drinking it every morning...