Recipe: Chicken and Winter Melon Soup

November 7, 2022


What is the taste you had once, but remember years later?

One thing for me is winter melon soup.  When I lived in Manhattan right next to the World Trade Center in mid 90s, I used to live with Filipino brother and sister.  They have lots of siblings with children living in Jersey all came to Manhattan to THEIR FAMILY apartment (which I was renting) on weekends unannounced.  That was a bit inconvenient because all of a sudden, I would wake up in the morning (or early afternoon?) from hangover with the noise of children running on the wooden floor.  And my actual roommates were spending the weekend with their significant others…   The adults would go shopping to Century 21 which is virtually across the street from our place, and leave the kids with the nanny. The good thing is, though, the nanny cleaned the apartment, and cooked.  She introduced me to some interesting dishes — one is pork blood thing (I liked the flavor of the final dish, but HATED the smell while it was cooking!  Made me almost puke, especially since my room was right next to the kitchen!) another was winter melon soup.

I don’t miss the pork blood thing (especially the smell — thank GOD!), but I’ve longed for that soup.  The delicate texture of winter melon that soaked up all the flavor from chicken was unforgettable.  For some reason, I couldn’t figure out where to get it, or find any in the restaurant.  I remembered she told me the vegetable was called “Bitter Melon.”  So when I finally found some bitter melons at the farmers’ market at Lake Merritt near our house , I bought one in delight!  Finally I can recreate that soup, I thought, but soon it turned a huge disappointment.  Once I cut it, I knew… “This is not it!”  And it was extremely BITTER!  No matter what I did, salting, wringing all the moisture out, frying, it was way too bitter for me, so I ended up bringing it to a potluck.  I posted a sign stating “This contains Bitter Melon.  Try it ONLY if you like something very bitter” so that no one would kill me.

Well, to my surprise, there were quite a few Asian people and Asian food lovers in that group, and they thought it was the tastiest thing in the world.  Me?  No. My husband?  He thought it’s something not for human. Later I found on the internet that the thing I was looking for was probably winter melon, not bitter melon. (Although she was fluent in English, she often used some strange terminology, since she was new in the US from the Philippines, or my Japanese ear heard it  “Bitter Melon” in reality she said “Vinter Melon”.)

Bitter Melon

Winter Melon

I’m happy to let you know that I’ve found one at 99 Ranch market near our house a few weeks ago.  The sign says “Dong Qua 冬瓜”. 冬 means winter, 瓜 means squash or melon.  This must be it.  So recalling my memory from almost 20 years ago and some recipes from my favorite Japanese cooking site,, I made this chicken and winter melon soup. Winter melon is supposed to have cooling effect, but when you make a hot soup out of  it, it warms you up, both your body and soul.

Chicken and Winter Melon Soup


  • Chicken thigh meat — 2 (cut into bite size pieces)
  • Winter Melon or Daikon — 1 lbs (remove skin & seeds, and cut into bite size pieces)
  • Ginger 3-4 slices
  • Sake - 1-2 TBS
  • Fish Sauce or Soy Sauce - to taste
  • Liquid — water, chicken broth, dashi, etc.
  • Salt

1. Sprinkle salt on the chicken.  Heat canola oil in a pot with a wide bottom, saute ginger briefly.  When fragrant, add chicken, lightly salt and saute until lightly browned.  Add winter melon and coat with oil.

2. Add water to barely cover.  Add sake, fish sauce or soy sauce so that winter melon will absorb the flavor.  Cook until both chicken and winter melon are tender. Adjust seasoning.  If you like richer flavor, add about 2 TBS oyster sauce into the soup.

Alternatively, you can omit the water completely, and cover the pot to braise the chicken and winter melon with the moisture that comes out of the melon.  If you want richer flavor, use chicken with the bone in, chicken broth, dashi or kombu.

This can be served hot or chilled.  Yes… chilled.  The season for “WINTER MELON” is actually in the summer, but since they can be kept in cool dark place for the year round, they are called “winter melon”.  It has cooling effect, and good for detoxification and losing weight.

I like to make it soupy, eat the chicken and winter melon with just a little bit of broth. Then the next day or so, add cooked rice into the leftover broth, cook until hot, and add beaten egg at the end for a quick rice soup or zosui (Japanese risotto) depending on the amount of liquid.  Perfect for a cold winter night — for dinner and/or late night snack.  The picture above is actually Chicken and Winter Melon Noodle Soup.  All you have to do is boil noodles (I used fresh spinach noodles from a local noodle company, Yuen Hop in Oakland China Town) for a few minutes, drain, and pour hot winter melon soup over it.  So satisfying, and with spinach noodles, it’s really good for you too!

I was born and raised in Japan, so I actually LOVE eating things like this in the morning. Nothing warms me up and get me ready like this, in a cold dark morning.

What’s the food you remember from years ago?   Leave your answers in the comment box, I’d love to know. : )

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 tasteofbeirut November 11, 2022 at 8:48 am

I love anything to do with zaatar; and yogurt; not surprising since I grew up with the stuff.

2 Mari @ Secrets of a Kitchen Wizard November 11, 2022 at 5:57 pm

Thank you for your comment!
Oh I love zataar too. Rarely make it, but I love that flavor combination…. Gotta do that at home soon… What do you like it with the most????

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