Comforting and easy to make Taiwanese bitter melon soup with pork ribs 苦瓜排骨湯. I cook it two ways here - one on the stove for a shorter time and also in my trusty Tatung cooker 大同鍋 so you can set it and forget it.
The pork ribs balance out the bitter melon with each bite. And since the prep only takes 10 minutes, this soup can be on your regular meal rotation!
Let's talk about bitter melon... You might not have liked it as a kid (that was me!), but crave it on the regular now as an adult.
If you’re not sure, you just might start liking it as much as I do after trying this soup. Plus, I’ll show you exactly how to prep bitter melon for any dish you might want to recreate.
A bowl of perfectly cooked white rice would go really well with this. Or you can pair it with these juicy dumplings or stir-fried water spinach.
- bitter melon - Pick ones that are firm to the touch and aren't showing any pits or signs of mold. A local Taiwanese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese grocery store will likely carry bitter melon. If you don't have access to a local Asian grocery store, you can give these online stores a try: Asian Veggies (delivers in NYC, NJ, and Long Island), 99 Ranch Market (has a delivery app - iOS or Android - and currently has stores in CA, OR, WA, NV, TX, NJ, MA, MD, and VA), or Weee!
- pork spare ribs or pork ribs - You can find this pre-cut for soups at your local Asian grocery store. Otherwise, you can ask the butcher at most grocery stores to cut them into 2-3 inch pieces for you.
- kosher salt - I use the Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt (affiliate link) in most recipes since it has lower sodium levels, making it easier to layer the seasoning without accidentally oversalting a dish. You can find it in some grocery stores. *If using table salt or sea salt, use half of the amount listed in the recipe.
See the recipe card for quantities.
I’m going to go through each step in detail below, including step-by-step photos on how to cut bitter melon. If you’re in a hurry, click here to jump straight to the recipe.
...or watch the video below for a virtual cooking class at your own pace. I show every step of this recipe in The Sound of Cooking® video series.
Place pork spare ribs in a medium (3-quart) stockpot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to simmer over high heat, then immediately turn off the heat and strain the pork spare ribs.
Rinse the pork spare ribs with cold water and gently scrub until the water runs clear. (Scrubbing is optional but helps with creating a clear broth at the end).
While the pot is being heated, prepare the bitter melon.
Bitter melon is easy to prepare. You can use steps 1-6 shown below for various bitter melon recipes. Just cut the pieces according to the cooking method.
Cut the ends off of the bitter melon and then cut it in half as shown by the dotted lines.
Cut each half down the middle lengthwise.
A cleaver works well here since the blade is wider, but a regular chefs knife would work too.
Once it's cut open, you'll see seeds and foamy inners.
Using a metal spoon, scoop out the seeds and foamy inners.
Using the tip of the spoon, scrape out the remaining foamy portion that's usually white or cream-colored.
hint: scraping out the white or lighter color foamy inners will help the bitter melon taste less bitter, so try to give it an extra scrape if you still see a white layer on the inside.
Now cut each quarter into 1½-inch wide pieces. This is a good size for soups!
Transfer cleaned pork spare ribs, cut bitter melon, ginger slices, garlic cloves, salt, and ground white pepper to a large (4-quart) stockpot. Fill with cold water until the ingredients are fully submerged (about 2 quarts).
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.
Serve it hot by itself or enjoy it with a bowl of white rice.
To make a vegan or vegetarian version of this recipe, you can use the following substitutions:
- Spongy tofu - replace half of the pork ribs with spongy tofu (store-bought, or you can make your own by freezing medium-firm tofu in its original package, then defrosting it and squeezing out the liquid).
- Dried shiitake mushrooms - if using spongy tofu instead of plant-based burger patties, add 6 large dried shiitake mushrooms (affiliate link) to the soup. This will add in umami flavor that will otherwise be missing.
- Beyond Burger plant-based patties - replace the pork ribs with plant-based burger patties (affiliate link) broken into large chunks for a tasty vegan soup.
Note: if you're using table salt instead of Diamond Crystal kosher salt (affiliate link), make sure to cut back on the amount by half.
There's another Taiwanese version of this soup with pineapple. You can also substitute half of the bitter melon with another vegetable.
- Other vegetables to add - add 1-inch thick wedges of Asian white radish (commonly called by its Japanese name, daikon)
- Added sweetness - add chunks of fresh pineapple or large pieces of peeled and chopped carrots
- Umami boost - add dried shiitake mushrooms for a boost of umami
Note: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means we do make a small profit from your purchases (your price is not affected by this commission). We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you click on an affiliate link, you consent to a cookie being placed on your browser for purposes of tracking commissions.
I use a 4-quart Staub Cast Iron pot for most soups and it's the perfect size for this recipe.
This soup also cooks amazingly in a 大同電鍋 Tatung multi-cooker. The cook time will be longer, but you get to set it and forget it using your Tatung! (See instructions in the Notes section of the recipe card below).
Store any leftover soup in smaller containers so it can cool down faster before you transfer it to the fridge.
When properly cooled, this recipe will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days in a covered container. You can reheat it in a pot, steamer, or microwave.
These ingredients don't stand up well to freezing since the texture of the bitter melon will change.
💭 top tip
When cooking on stovetop, be sure to only simmer the soup for 30 minutes so the bitter melon doesn't get too soft.
This soup is meant to have a lighter flavor that highlights the main ingredients (as most classic Taiwanese soups do). You can add more salt to taste at the end if you'd like!
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.
Happy cooking! ~ Cin
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Please give this recipe a star rating if you make it. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions at all, let me know in the comments below.
bitter melon soup with pork ribs 苦瓜排骨湯
watch it step-by-step: the sound of cooking® video
- 1 pound pork spare ribs
- 2 medium bitter melon, about 9 ounces
- 2 quarts water
- 1- inch piece ginger, thinly sliced at an angle
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly smashed with the side of a knife
- 2 teaspoons salt, kosher, Diamond Crystal kosher salt (use half the amount if using sea salt or table salt)
- ⅛ teaspoon ground white pepper,
- Place pork spare ribs in a medium (3-quart) stockpot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to simmer over high heat, then immediately turn off the heat and strain the pork spare ribs. Rinse the pork spare ribs with cold water and gently scrub until the water runs clear. (Scrubbing is optional but helps with creating a clear broth at the end).1 pound pork spare ribs
- While the pork ribs are being blanched/heated, prepare the bitter melon. Cut the ends off of the bitter melon and then cut in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and foamy inners. Cut into 1½-inch wide pieces.2 medium bitter melon,
- Transfer cleaned pork spare ribs, cut bitter melon, ginger slices, garlic cloves, salt, and ground white pepper to a large (4-quart) stockpot. Fill with cold water until the ingredients are fully submerged (about 2 quarts).1 pound pork spare ribs, 2 medium bitter melon,, 2 quarts water, 1- inch piece ginger,, 3 cloves garlic,, 2 teaspoons salt, kosher,, ⅛ teaspoon ground white pepper,
- Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.
- Serve it hot by itself or with a bowl of rice.
equipment and highlighted ingredients
- Follow recipe steps 1-2 above.
- Transfer cleaned pork spare ribs, cut bitter melon, ginger slices, garlic cloves, salt, and ground white pepper to the inner pot of your Tatung Cooker. Fill with cold water until the ingredients are fully submerged (about 1½ quarts).
- Fill the outer pot with 2 rice cups of water (about 1½ cup if using a regular liquid measuring cup).
- Cover, turn on the cooker, and press the switch down to cook for 1 hour. The switch should automatically pop up around that time as well.
🌡️ food safety
- Wash the bitter melon under running water before cutting
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before prepping ingredients and after touching raw meat
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 165 °F (74 °C)
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods. If not enjoyed right away, allow the soup to cool down in smaller covered containers and then store it in the refrigerator.
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