When you live to eat, one of the worst afflictions you could ever suffer from is undoubtedly gout. Once known as “The Disease of Kings”, gout is usually brought on by a diet rich in purines, found often in offal like liver and heart as well as red meat and alcohol. So, basically… the yummiest things on a plate.
Personally, I’m a big fan of foie gras, and in my side gig as a freelance food writer, I often have to eat a lot of fatty goose/duck liver. It’s a really tough job, but I do it for you, folks. Really. So imagine my fear (terror, really), when I stumbled upon Frank Bruni’s column on his gout from March.
The former New York Times restaurant critic first regales readers with a story of a sensuous meal, replete with gout-inducing foods :
“… I dined [at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House] with the man who would succeed me in the critic’s job, Sam Sifton. And what we shared, once we had finished our martinis and white wine and had moved on to a bottle of red, was a côte de boeuf that easily weighed more than two pounds, had been basted in butter and was sliced in a fashion that allowed the interlacing of broad, glassy ribbons of seared foie gras between the thick, glistening dominoes of beef. To some of you, this may sound revolting in its bloat; to me, it was pure heaven. I remember thinking, ‘If I could get away with eating like this every night, I would.’”
So would we, Frank. So would we.
Bruni goes on to say, “I can no longer get away with eating like that even a few times a month, and in fact haven’t eaten like that in a while… My Ducasse meal amounts to a perfect storm of dietary no-no’s, a long swim in the Bermuda Triangle of gout, and a replica of it might land me in excruciating pain — and put me out of commission, in terms of my ability to walk — for 48 hours. I can’t risk it.”
His gout diagnosis four months ago has robbed his diet of the rich, fatty foods that comprise Ducasse’s decadent kitchen repertoire. And although I’m only 27 and have never been told by any doctor I’m predisposed to gout, I began to worry. How can I go on devouring foie gras and red meat, while also preventing the onset of this type of arthritis that is so painful it is comparable to child birth, according to Bruni’s doctor?
Well, the good news is, I’ve got gender on my side. Almost 95% of gout sufferers are male. But a recent UnTour guest who suffers from the disease let me in on a little gout-curing secret: bittermelon.
In Chinese, to “eat bitter” is an idiom that usual results in “tasting sweetness”, or learning through hardship. A very ‘Tiger Mom’ concept, but one that dates back millennia, English speakers could translate it as “No pain, no gain” or “Grin and bear it”. But if you take the idiom literally, there is no better place to start eating bitter than bittermelon.
Whenever I see a bittermelon, I immediately think of Roald Dahl’s “snozzcumber” – a warty, pale green version of a cucumber, the melon is most often cooked into stir-fries, which does little to temper the astringent flavor. But on a recent stop at a tea wholesale market, we saw dried, sliced bittermelon made for tea and decided to give it a try.
Bittermelon boasts more health benefits than any superfood popular in American grocery stores, and in our on-site taste test, we were pleasantly surprised that the tea wasn’t all that bitter. Drying it then rehydrating the slices rendered the melon utterly palatable – although still an acquired taste, but one we think we can “acquire” all the faster.
In addition to preventing gout, studies have shown that bittermelon prevents breast & prostate cancer; stabilizes blood sugar, increases insulin sensitivity & improve glucose tolerance in diabetics; prevents & treats malaria; treats herpes simplex type I virus & HIV; and treats skin problems. 50g of bittermelon tea weighed in at less than RMB 10 (US$1.58), so we’re definitely going to add this to our tea regimen. If even one of these alleged benefits proves true, we’re going to be happy we ate bitter… or well, drank it.
To pick up your own bittermelon tea, join UnTour Shanghai on its Street Eats Breakfast tour or Hands-On Dumpling Delights tour, where we head to a wet market and check out all the weird and wonderful vegetables in China!