Sri Lankan Bitter Gourd Fry (Pavakkai Fry)

Bitter Gourd Fry (or Pavakkai Fry) is a really popular dry curry dish in Sri-Lanka. Healthy and packed with spices; it makes a delicious accompaniment to curries. If you’re in the west, like me, Asian supermarkets are sure to stock Bitter Gourd along with other ‘exotic’ vegetables you may have not discovered. (They are also a great place to stock up on all your spices!)

As the name suggests the vegetable has a bitter taste to it. This really makes it a veggie you’ll either love or hate. As a child, I’d refuse to eat Bitter Gourd when my mum would cook it and absolutely hated it. Since rediscovering this vegetable last year, it’s a dish I really enjoy eating (to the relief of my mum – it’s her favourite). I’ve also found that a dollop of yoghurt or a yoghurt salad on the side really cuts the bitterness.

Bitter Gourd (aka Bitter Melon or Pavakkai) Recipes and Food Photography by Shika Finnemore, The BellephantGive it a go, and let me know if you’re a Bitter Gourd lover or hater 😉

Sri Lankan Bitter Gourd Fry (Pavakkai Fry)

Serves: 4-6

Sri Lankan Bitter Gourd Fry (Pavakkai Fry)


  • 500g Bitter Gourd (Around 5)
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tbsps coconut oil
  • 1 tsp jeera seeds
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 teaspoons chilli powder (adapt to suit your spice levels)
  • 10-15 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt to taste


  1. Cut the tips off the Bitter Gourd and slice in half long ways. Scoop out and discard the middle where there are seeds.
  2. Slice thinly then rinse, place in a bowl and cover with cold water. Stir in a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of turmeric and leave to soak.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan with the oil. Add the jeera, cumin and mustard seeds to the hot oil. Cook for roughly 30 seconds until they start popping.
  4. Throw in the onions and fry for 2-3 minutes until softened and browned. Then drain the bitter gourd from the water and add to the frying pan.
  5. Mix in a teaspoon of turmeric and the chilli powder; coating the bitter gourd in the spices.
  6. Cover and leave for 5 minutes, occasionally stirring.
  7. Add the minced garlic, white wine vinegar, lemon juice and salt to taste. Cover and cook for a further 10-15 minutes. Again, stir from time to time to ensure it cooks thoroughly.



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