'Indian Karela' by Kirstin Massmann
A couple weeks ago here at CBI we were working on a few Indian concepts and knew right where to go to do some research and get some inspiration. If you have ever been to Devon Ave. in Chicago you know that it is Indian food heaven. If you haven’t been, GO! Up and down the street you see hundreds of restaurants, markets, and shops where you can buy authentic meals, food, and clothing. Our target, of course, was the food. We toured a few markets in search of new creative ideas. I came across a very interesting fruit/vegetable in the produce aisle that I hadn’t seen before. Not knowing what it was I decided to snap a shot of it and research later. Sure enough it is Indian karela also known as bitter melon. To my surprise it is pretty versatile depending on the cultural area. In Northern India it is usually mixed with potatoes and served with yogurt to offset the bitterness. In Southern India it can be found with curry and fried with nuts also in fried onion soups. In China, karela is mixed in with stir-fry. In Vietnam, in soups with shrimp. Needless to say the list goes on even to a ‘bitter melon soda’. So, if all of these other countries are finding uses for this product how is it not popular in the US? Traditionally, outside of a good Indian Pale Ale, Americans don’t like the bitter flavor as much as other flavors. It is unfortunate but maybe with the next generation being much more flavor-forward than the last, items like these will find their place on more menus. Now that I actually know what it is, I’m looking forward to keeping my eyes open for it on my next Indian restaurant tour on Devon Ave.