Eat Right

Melon with long history in TCM

Winter melon has cooling properties; said to help clear heat and dampness

Poached winter melon with assorted mushrooms
Poached winter melon with assorted mushrooms PHOTO: ERIC TEO

It may not be the most popular melon around, but the winter melon - or dong gua in Chinese - has an edge over its peers, such as the watermelon or cucumber.

For one thing, it has a long history in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), thanks to its slightly cooling properties.

The humble winter melon is said to be able to help clear heat and dampness, such as by increasing urination, according to well-referenced TCM textbook Ben Cao Jing Zhi Zu (Collected Annotations Of The Materia Medica Classic).

The winter melon also makes a great option for family meals as it is not expensive - usually costing about $2 per kg at supermarkets - and has enough bulk to feed plenty.

Perhaps that is why it still features heavily in modern-day Chinese cuisine and even in dishes for new mothers during confinement.

The winter melon also makes a great option for family meals as it is not expensive - usually costing about $2 per kg at supermarkets - and has enough bulk to feed plenty.

In this recipe created by celebrity chef Eric Teo, several ingredients commonly found in Chinese dishes also make an appearance - black fungus, wolfberries and black beans, to name a few.

The melon doubles as a "bowl" for the rest of the ingredients, so you can be sure of an eye-catching dish at the table.

The recipe is created in partnership with the Health Promotion Board.

Mr Teo, who owns food consultancy firm ET Culinary Arts, also used two types of mushrooms for a different mouth feel. He opted for shimeji and baby abalone mushrooms, but feel free to experiment with your favourite mushroom varieties.

Poon Chian Hui

Poached winter melon with assorted mushrooms


  • 350g winter melon, with cross-sections cut from top and bottom so it can be placed flat on the table, skin and seeds removed to obtain a hollowed-out centre
  • 30g black fungus small, soaked
  • 50g fresh shimeji mushrooms
  • 50g fresh baby abalone mushrooms
  • 10g carrot , sliced
  • 10g ginger, sliced
  • 12 pcs wolfberries, soaked in Chinese wine
  • 1.5 litre chicken stock


  • 40g ginger, chopped
  • 40g onion, chopped
  • 40g garlic, chopped
  • 20g spring onion, sliced
  • 60g black beans, chopped
  • 3 tbs oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbs sesame oil
  • 2 tbs Chinese wine
  • ½ tsp white pepper powder
  • 2 tbs canola oil


  • Place the chicken stock in a soup pot and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and place the winter melon in the pot. Simmer for 25 mins over low heat.
  •  Remove the winter melon once it is soft and tender. Carefully place on a serving plate and keep warm.
  • Blanch the mushrooms, carrots, fungus and ginger in boiling water for 30 seconds, then remove.
  • In a heated wok , add the canola oil, and stir-fry the ginger, onion, garlic and black beans over low heat until fragrant. Add the blanched vegetables and continue to toss thoroughly.
  • Add the oyster sauce, sugar, sesame oil and Chinese wine. Toss thoroughly again.
  • Place the cooked mushrooms and fungus in the hollowed-out centre of the winter melon. Garnish with the wolfberries and serve hot.



(per serving)

Calories: 380kcal

Total Fat: 18g

Carbohydrates: 45g

Protein: 11g

Dietary fibre: 7g


Cook vegetables lightly or until just cooked to retain their crunch and flavour as overcooking will reduce the amount of nutrients in the vegetables, suggests the Health Promotion Board.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2016, with the headline 'Melon with long history in TCM'. Subscribe