On a gourmet trail to Bhutan

Bhutan Times - - Editorial -

It’s im­pos­si­ble not to think of lush- green land­scapes, cloud­kissed misty moun­tains, happy peo­ple and an over­whelm­ing sense of seren­ity when it comes to Bhutan. But lit­tle do peo­ple know about its rich culi­nary his­tory. For an epi­curean, ready to ex­per­i­ment, the pos­si­bil­i­ties of de­light­ful dis­cov­er­ies are aplenty. Here are a few del­i­ca­cies that shouldn’t be missed by any self-re­spect­ing foodie ...

Kiss of chilli and cheese

The food­ies who go to Bhutan look­ing for a unique gourmet ex­pe­ri­ence, get a eu­reka mo­ment when they get up close and per­sonal with ema dat­she - a dish where chilli plays the main lead and cheese, a strong sup­port­ing role. It is a stew, which is ex­tremely hot and the more au­then­tic va­ri­ety is made us­ing molden Bhutanese cheese. Keep­ing an av­er­age trav­eller’s palate in mind, these days sev­eral chefs use tinned ched­dar cheese im­ported from In­dia too. You can en­joy this del­i­cacy with rice or bread, but are ad­vised to keep a few glasses of water nearby. Yes, a few. I tried both the va­ri­eties — with and with­out the molden cheese — and pre­ferred the fresh cheese one. Those who love the sharp taste of blue cheese, must opt for the lat­ter. A word of cau­tion: since this is sup­posed to be their na­tional dish, Bhutanese peo­ple con­sider it a slight if you crit­i­cise the strong flavour of the dish.

Home-grown well­ness

Cheese seems to be a thriv­ing cot­tage in­dus­try in Bhutan, and it’s sold in tea shops, gro­cery shops as well as colour­fully painted road­side tiny stalls and bus stops. Care­fully wrapped in in­di­vid­ual poly bags, small cheese mounds are sold by pe­tite Bhutanese women, dressed in colour­ful hand­wo­ven kira (their na­tional cos­tume). Sold at `50 to `60 a piece, this dat­she is en­joyed as a stand-alone snack with tea and is also used to pre­pare var­i­ous Bhutanese del­i­ca­cies. Dry cheese cubes are also sold in tiny mar­ket are­nas. A fel­low In­dian trav­eller and for­mer diplo­mat, Dr San­tosh Gan­guly, who I met on this trip added an­other in­sight to this cheese trail. “It tastes amaz­ing with wine or a glass of whiskey.” His wife Swapna, a pas­sion­ate chef, who loves to pick up ex­otic in­gre­di­ents from all over the world, bought a lot of Dat­she and as­pra­gaus for sal­ads to be made back home.

Tea and Meikhu

A visit to any part of Bhutan — right from the bor­der town of Phun­sheling to its cap­i­tal Thimpu and pop­u­lar river­side des­ti­na­tions like Pu­nakha and Paro — is in­com­plete with­out the tra­di­tional cups of tea, an in­te­gral part of the coun­try’s her­itage. But what doesn’t change is the avail­abil­ity of meikhu (large crispy swollen puris) in the en­tire length and breadth of this small high­land na­tion. “My morn­ing doesn’t be­gin till I en­joy a cou­ple of meikhus along with but­ter tea, made by my wife,” said our guide, Jimmy Dorji. You may not ex­actly take to it im­me­di­ately, since Meikhu isn’t sea­soned with spices, but af­ter a cou­ple of days, its bland crispi­ness al­most grows on you and com­ple­ments the sweet and tangy taste of but­ter tea.

Meats on the menu

If you tra­verse the Bhutanese land­scape by road and ob­serve things from close quar­ters, you re­alise that the peo­ple of this coun­try love their meats. “Pork, beef and lamb are mostly im­ported from In­dia, along with veg­eta­bles and fruits,” in­formed Yeshey Nam­gay, a gro­cery shop owner. Fried pork is a del­i­cacy that is favoured by these high­landers, al­though most of them also love to have dal and rice for lunch or din­ner along with an in­ter­est­ing potato pickle. Drolma, a busi­ness­woman, shared: “Meat is an in­te­gral part of our daily meals. Phak­sha paa, a pork dish made with red chill­ies, is a de­light. For snacks as well as side dish, mo­mos are most favoured, es­pe­cially those with pork or beef fill­ing.” Vege­tar­i­ans can gorge on some amaz­ing steamed mo­mos with cheese, onion and cab­bage fill­ing. In Paro, you also get fried mo­mos, which add a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion to this del­i­cacy. And af­ter com­plet­ing your pil­grim­age to Pu­nakha Tzong, Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Dochula Pass, Na­tional Museum, Royal Tex­tile Acad­emy of Bhutan, Bud­dha Point, Motithank Takin Pre­serve, Tongsa Tzong and var­i­ous other live relics of his­tory and cul­ture, when it is time for you to go back home, the sub­lime, yet di­verse, flavours of Bhutan linger on in your taste buds.

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