Vietnamese Bitter Melon Soup (Canh Kho Qua)

A grey bowl of bitter melon soup.

Bitter melon soup is a traditional dish that most Vietnamese people will have on Lunar New Year. It is made with hollowed out bitter melons (bitter gourd), stuffed with a pork mince mixture then cooked in a light soup. A simple and healthy dish to be eaten with steaming white jasmine rice.

Vietnamese Bitter Melon Soup (Canh Kho Qua)

Most Vietnamese people say this is a dish you either love or hate. I believe it is something that grows on you.

When I was younger, I really hated this soup due to the bitter melons being sooooo…. bitter. But as I’ve gotten older my tastes have changed. I now love this dish and can eat it on its own.

My favourite part is the pork mince mixture. I like to make a larger batch and turn the excess stuffing into meat balls which are also added to the soup. This is a good way to serve this soup to anyone who doesn’t like bitter melon as you can just give them the meatballs.

Buying Bitter Melon

I have only found bitter melon at Asian and Indian groceries. The Asian varieties are slightly different to the Indian ones, but either can be used for this recipe.

What I look for in bitter melons are:

  • Fatter/thicker – To fit more pork mince stuffing into them
  • Little to no dark spots – Dark spots can be a sign that the bitter melon is losing its freshness.
  • Firm – Avoid buying soft bitter melons since they tend to be near their expiry date.
  • Mostly green in colour – The greener bitter melons tend to be the best for this recipe. Melons with a yellowish tinge we still be good.

Preparing the Bitter Melon

Prepare the bitter melon by chopping it into 4 cm or 1.5 inch lengths, then use a teaspoon or knife to scoop out the pith and seeds.

Some people like to blanch the bitter melon in boiling water for a few minutes before stuffing them to release some of the bitterness. I personally do not do this. I believe removing the bitterness from bitter melons defeats the purpose of having bitter melon soup.

Stuffing the Bitter Melon

The main stuffing ingredients are:

  • Pork mince – Regular, premium or any other type will be fine.
  • Black fungus (wood ear mushrooms) – available at both Asian and some mainstream grocers. Buy the pre-shredded black fungus as it will be easier to chop into small pieces.
  • Bean thread noodles – available at Asian and some mainstream grocers. Make sure to cut them into small lengths of roughly 2 cm.
  • Seasoning – fish sauce, salt, pepper and sugar.

Combine the ingredients in a large bowl. Use a spoon to stuff the hollowed out bitter melons, packing the mixture in firmly.

This recipe will make more than enough stuffing for the bitter melons. The excess stuffing is rolled into meat balls and added to the soup.

Preparation for a Clear Soup (Optional)

To ensure a clear soup you should blanch the bitter melons and meat balls. This will wash off any scum from the pork mince.

  1. Put the stuffed bitter melons and meatballs in separate heatproof bowls.
  2. Completely cover with boiling water.
  3. Gently move the bitter melon and meatballs around to allow any scum to lift off.
  4. Remove the bitter melon and meatballs and discard the water.

I highly recommend this step, especially for the meat balls as they will release the most scum.

The Soup Base for Bitter Melon Soup

The soup ingredients are:

  • Vegetable stock powder – I like to use Vegeta vegetable stock for this recipe. You can also substitute with chicken stock powder.
  • Spring onions – left in large lengths to flavour the soup. The spring onions are typically removed before serving.
  • Seasoning – fish sauce, salt, sugar.

This is a light soup base, allowing the stuffed bitter melons and meatballs to be the star of this dish.

Cooking the Bitter Melon Soup

Simmer the soup for roughly 50 minutes on medium to cook the meat through and soften the bitter melon.

Make sure not to let the soup go on a rolling boil because it will pull apart the meat balls and cause your soup to go cloudy and have a lot of floaties.

What to Serve Bitter Melon Soup With?

Serve the bitter melon soup with:

  • White jasmine rice
  • Maggi seasoning sauce or regular soy sauce for dipping

Other Rice Dishes You Might Like

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Scruff and Steph

A bowl of bitter melon soup on a white cloth with a gold serving spoon

Bitter Melon Soup (Canh Kho Qua)

Bitter melon soup is made with hollowed out bitter melons (bitter gourd), stuffed with a pork mince mixture and cooked in a light soup. A simple and healthy dish to be eaten with steaming white jasmine rice.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Course Rice Dish
Cuisine Vietnamese
Servings 6 people
Calories 280 kcal


Stuffed Bitter Melons

  • 10 gm pre-shredded black fungus / wood ear mushroom, roughly chopped
  • 40 gm bean thread noodles cut into 2 cm / 1 in
  • 800 gm bitter melon (roughly 3 large or 4 medium sized) cut into 4 cm / 1.5 in chunks
  • 500 gm pork mince
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • boiling water


  • 2.5 L water
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable stock powder
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 spring onions cut into 10 cm / 4 in lengths
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce


Make the Stuffed Bitter Melons

  • Soak the black fungus in boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain then roughly chop into 1.5 cm / 0.5 inch pieces.
  • Soak the bean vermicelli noodles for 5 minutes. Drain then chop into 1.5 cm / 0.5 inch pieces.
  • Cut the bitter melons into 4 cm / 1.5 in chunks, then use a spoon to scoop out the pith and seeds.
  • Combine the black fungus, noodles, pork mince, sugar, salt and fish sauce in a large bowl.
  • Stuff each of the bitter melons with the pork mince mixture. Roll any leftover stuffing into balls.
  • Optional Step: Put the meat balls and the stuffed melons into separate large bowls and pour boiling water over them. Gently move them around to release the scum.

Making the Soup

  • Add the water, vegetable stock powder, sugar and salt to a large stock pot and bring it to the boil on high.
  • Add the stuffed bitter melons, meat balls, spring onions and fish sauce to the soup. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for 50 minutes or until tender.
  • After 50 minutes, remove one of the stuffed bitter melons and check it for tenderness. If at desired tenderness, turn off the heat. If not then allow to cook further.
  • Check the seasoning of your soup and adjust to your liking.
  • Serve with white jasmine rice and soy sauce.


Calories: 280kcalCarbohydrates: 14gProtein: 16gFat: 18gSaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 60mgSodium: 1471mgPotassium: 680mgFiber: 5gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 688IUVitamin C: 114mgCalcium: 59mgIron: 2mg
Keyword bitter melon soup
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