This ‘Lucky’ Pasta Could Save Bhutan from MSG Noo­dles

Bhutan Times - - Editorial -

Pema and Chimi were ner­vous. Not only had their start-up been se­lected for the Mekong Chal­lenge, a com­pe­ti­tion for young en­trepreneurs from South­east Asia, but the two fi­nance stu­dents had been paired by their col­lege lec­turer with hand­some San­gay.

San­gay, a self-de­scribed “party boy” also study­ing fi­nance at Royal Thim­phu Col­lege in Bhutan, won­dered how he would get on with his book­ish bud­dies.

“We worked on our en­try for six months,” says Chimi. “And the last three months, we spent ev­ery day and evening to­gether. It was dif­fi­cult but our shared dream helped us to stick to­gether.”

It’s thanks to this shared dream that the three stu­dents now find them­selves at the Raf­fles Ho­tel in Ph­nom Penh, Cam­bo­dia. They’re here for the fi­nal of the Mekong Chal­lenge, a chance for teams to present their busi­ness plans to a Dragon’s Den-style panel of busi­ness ex­perts.

Pema, Chimi, and San­gay’s en­try is a pasta made from tra­di­tional Bhutanese in­gre­di­ents: wild yam, red rice, wheat flour, and turmeric.

“Th­ese are the foods of our an­ces­tors,” ex­plains Pema.

To be fair, wheat flour isn’t tech­ni­cally a tra­di­tional in­gre­di­ent. It’s im­ported from In­dia.

“We use wheat flour be­cause we wanted to keep the pasta veg­e­tar­ian and not use eggs,” says Chimi, ex­plain­ing that in Bhutanese cul­ture eggs are not con­sid­ered veg­e­tar­ian food.

“The gluten prop­erty of wheat binds the pasta to­gether,” adds San­gay.

The trio are aware that, in the Western world, gluten is cur­rently is about as pop­u­lar as a rum ham at Eid, but say there’s no record of wheat al­ler­gies in Bhutan, de­spite the coun­try im­port­ing pro­cessed cakes and pasta since the 1970s.

“We’re not sure why that is,” says San­gay. “But it might be be­cause we don’t have the fa­cil­i­ties to find out if such al­ler­gies ex­ist or not.”

They are con­cerned, how­ever, that some of the judges who sam­pled their pasta ear­lier might be in­tol­er­ant.

“We should prob­a­bly up­date the pack­ag­ing to say it con­tains wheat,” says Pema.

Gluten aside, the rest of the Bhutanese pasta recipe is su­per healthy. Take wild yam, for ex­am­ple. In­dige­nous to Bhutan, the species they picked has a long his­tory of medic­i­nal use. In arecent study, sci­en­tists praised the yams hav­ing found “vi­ta­mins [and] phy­tonu­tri­ents that help to fight against most dis­eases of man.” The team also added turmeric which, un­less you’ve been stuck in an in­ter­net porn loop since 2002, you’ll know is the won­der spice said to cure ev­ery­thing from de­pres­sion to toothache.

Cre­at­ing a healthy al­ter­na­tive to the bales of dried noo­dles and pasta that are im­ported to Bhutan from In­dia and Thai­land ev­ery day was im­por­tant to the team.

“It’s a prob­lem that is re­lated to young adults and bachelors,” says Chimi. “They’re so busy, they can only fo­cus on eat­ing bad foods that have a lot of Monosodium Glu­ta­mate [or “MSG,” the flavour en­hancer with a check­ered past].”

In­deed, last year Bhutan banned Maggi Noo­dles— made by Nestlé In­dia— when it was re­vealed they con­tained dan­ger­ously high lev­els of MSG and lead, ac­cord­ing to a lo­cal me­dia re­port.

The stu­dents’ pasta is cer­tainly healthy in com­par­i­son. Tast­ing a bit like the Walk­ers’ health snack Sun­bites, it’s the kind of thing you would find in a ve­gan cafe in any ma­jor city. A sauce has also been pre­pared spe­cially for the com­pe­ti­tion by the ho­tel chef: a rich Tus­can lava sludged over the criss­cross-pat­terned pasta.

The pat­tern is one of the eight lucky signs that rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent aspects of the Bhutanese Bud­dhist tra­di­tion. The team chose the “end­less knot” sign be­cause it’s “some­what re­lated to health,” ac­cord­ing to Sangey. The end­less shape of the knot rep­re­sents long life and wis­dom and eat­ing it can be a good omen, ac­cord­ing to the team.

The other seven signs, which in­clude a conch and a white lotus flower, would have been too dif­fi­cult to ren­der in pasta form.

“Some of the signs rep­re­sent the teach­ings of the Bud­dha,” ex­plains Pema. “And su­per­sti­tious peo­ple might not be happy eat­ing those signs.”

De­spite six months of ef­fort, the team fin­ished fourth in the com­pe­ti­tion. But they still got a free trip to Angkor Wat—the first time all three had left Bhutan. As for their pasta, it could be set for the mass mar­ket in Bhutan, which has a chronic lack of home­grown busi­nesses and food prod­ucts.

“We have to fin­ish our education first,” says Chimi. “But af­ter that we might start a busi­ness of our own.”

San­gay smiles: “We can ap­ply for a low in­ter­est loan from the govern­ment.”

(Source : MUNCHIES)

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