A taste of Bhutan Can food be the rea­son why Bhutan is the hap­pi­est na­tion in the world?

Bhutan Times - - Editorial -

M y jour­ney into the world of Bhutanese cui­sine be­gan al­most im­me­di­ately upon my ar­rival at Paro In­ter­na­tional Air­port, when I was whisked away for a tra­di­tional meal with Fin Norbu, co- owner of so­cial en­ter­prise, Bridge to Bhutan ( www.bridgetob­hutan.com).

Dressed in tra­di­tional gho ( a knee- length judo- style robe), Fin blended in with the Bhutanese crowd, yet be­neath his ex­te­rior was a new- age, so­cially con­scious en­tre­pre­neur. Hav­ing stud­ied in the United States, Fin re­turned to Bhutan six years ago to set up Bridge to Bhutan with his brother, in the hopes of pro­mot­ing sus­tain­able tourism.

Ac­cord­ing to Fin, the Bhutanese peo­ple have a deep rev­er­ence for na­ture and cul­ture be­cause of their Bud­dhist cul­ture. I asked him if that was also the rea­son why this tiny Hi­malayan king­dom was named the hap­pi­est na­tion in the world.

He shrugged his shoul­ders, and said: “I don’t know, maybe it’s be­cause we’re Bud­dhists, maybe it’s the food!”

Lunch ar­rived soon enough and end­less plat­ters of vi­brantly colour­ful dishes were spread across the ta­ble, like a Chi­nese New Year feast — from the pi­quant phak­sha paa, chunky pork fil­lets fried with spicy red chillies, to the heavy jasha maru chicken curry. A moun­tain of red nutty rice was piled onto my plate, along with a dozen of aro­matic hoen­toe, buck­wheat dumplings stuffed with turnip greens.

The last plate that was dished out caught my eye: Large green chillies soaked in melted cheese. Finn ex­plained with much en­thu­si­asm: “This is ema dat­shi. You’ll find it at ev­ery meal.”

A Love Af­fair with Spices

The next morn­ing, I headed to Thim­phu, the largest city and cap­i­tal of Bhutan, ac­com­pa­nied by my guide San­gay. We were just in time for the week­end- only Cen­te­nary Farmer’s Mar­ket, the largest do­mes­tic mar­ket for farm­ers in Bhutan.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the most com­mon prod­uct found in the mar­ket was chilli. The va­ri­ety of chillies was mind­bog­gling: Red, green, fleshy, slen­der, round, dried, blanched, pow- dered, and pick­led. In var­i­ous forms and species, they hailed from dif­fer­ent parts of cen­tral and west­ern Bhutan. Ac­cord­ing to San­gay, chillies prob­a­bly came to Bhutan through In­dia and be­came an in­te­gral part of their lives be­cause it was a nat­u­ral way to stay warm in win­ter.

Chillies also hold im­por­tance in Bhutanese rit­u­als out­side the kitchen. “From time to time, ev­ery house burns some chillies to keep the bad spir­its or the demons away,” he said.

That evening, San­gay and I drank a round of lo­cal rice wine, ara. And guess what was float­ing in the trans­par­ent fire­wa­ter? A trio of red chillies.

Lo­cal Culi­nary Tra­di­tions

Back in Paro, San­gay brought me to a farm­house just a few kilo­me­tres out­side of town to join Ama Om in her kitchen. When we ar­rived, she was fry­ing up ten­der chunks of beef with a hand­ful of dried chillies and melt­ing down blocks of yak cheese. The aroma of fresh, steamed rice and pun­gent chilli per­me­ated through the air.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Bhutan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.