Monday, June 4, 2012

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Bhutan

After making a four course Haitian meal, my personal culinary challenge takes me across the globe to the Kingdom of Bhutan or, as the locals call it, "Druk Yul," the Land of the Thundering Dragon.  The location of Bhutan has left it relatively isolated from the rest of the world.  As I accepted this challenge, I had only heard of the Kingdom.  I did not know anything about the cuisine or culture of the Bhutanese. 

The Bhutanese identity, as well as the country itself, first emerged in the early 17th century after Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, a Tibetan Buddhist lama,  fled to the region to escape religious persecution.  The Shabdrung, which is a title used to address Buddhist lamas, unified warring factions, which led to the founding of Bhutan.  Over the centuries, the Bhutanese cultivated their identity, which is predominantly Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist in nature  (As I write this, I feel compelled to note that, during the 1980s and 1990s, the Buddhist government passed laws to preserve that Tibetan Buddhist identity, which resulted in discrimination and forced eviction of thousands of Bhutanese who are of Nepalese decent and who practice Hinduism.)

The hallmark of Bhutanese cuisine is simplicity.  Rice, buckwheat and maize are staples foods, but the Bhutanese have access to meats such as pork, beef, yak, chicken and mutton.  The Bhutanese typically prepare dishes by cooking meats and vegetables in water or oil, which would suggest a certain amount of blandness.  Such a suggestion is deceptive, because the Bhutanese love chiles, called "ema," and they add peppers to many of their dishes.  The use of chiles is clearly something that I can work with.


For a first dish, I decided to make Ema Datshi, which is commonly referred to as the "national dish" of Bhutan.  It is a mixture of cheese and chiles, that is served over cracked red rice.  I could not find cracked red rice; however, the Bhutanese also use white rice.  Emadatshi is very spicy, primarily because of the chiles.  As with cracked red rice, I could not track down the specific chiles used by the Bhutanese in their cooking.  Most recipes provide substitutions, such as a mixture of Anaheim and Serrano chiles.  You could probably use other chiles, such as Hatch chiles or Sanaam chiles.

Serves 2 to 4

2 Anaheim peppers
1 Serrano chile
1/4 cup farmer’s cheese
2 cups Monterrey jack, grated
water as needed
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

1.  Cook the peppers.  Slice the peppers into thin strips.  You can remove the seeds and membranes from the peppers if you want to reduce the heat from the peppers.  Heat the vegetable oil in a covered pan on medium heat.  Add the peppers and saute for several minutes until the peppers are soft.  

2.  Add the cheese.  Take the pan off of the heat.  Add the monterey jack and stir as the cheese melts.  Add a little water (about 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup), stirring until the mixture becomes creamy.   Season with salt and pepper. 

3.  Finish the dish.  Crumble the farmer's cheese and add to the sauce.  Stir to incorporate the farmer's cheese into the sauce.

4.  Plate the dish.  Place some precooked rice in a dish or bowl.  Spoon the cheese and chiles over the rice.


Although Emadatshi may be the national dish of Bhutan, I did not think that it was enough of a dish for my personal culinary challenge.  The challenge is to make a main course, and, more specifically, I wanted to make a dish that incorporated some kind of protein, whether it was beef, pork, chicken or fish.  After a lot of research, I came across dishes referred to as "tshoem" in Dzongkha, the native language of the Bhutanese.  The word "tshoem" roughly translates to "curry."  Although a Tshoem may mean a curry in Bhutan, the dish differs significantly from the types of curries that may grace the table of a family in India or Thailand.  Bhutanese Tshoem use only a handful of ingredients, and, they do not involve a lot of spices.  Instead, the Bhutanese typically prepare a tshoem with a protein (such as beef, chicken or pork), garlic, ginger and chiles.

There was one particular Tshoem that caught my attention ... Kangchu Maroo or "Pig Trotter Curry."  Although there is not a lot of information about this dish, it is described as one of the classic curries or tshoem in Bhutan.  The recipes for Kangchu Maroo seem to fit the mold of a Bhutanese dish ... the use of a few ingredients and a lot of chiles. 

Adapted from
Serves 4

2 pounds of pig's feet
1 bunch of spring onions
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons salt
6 chilies, finely chopped

1.  Boil the pig's feet.  Wash, chop, and place the pig's feet in a pan.  Cover with water and boil for about one hour and forty minutes.

2.  Cook the pig's feet.  Remove the meat from the bones.  Return the meat to the pan and add 1 cup of the cooking liquid and all of the other ingredients.  Bring to a boil and cook for fifteen minutes.

3.  Plate the dish.  Spoon some rice in the middle of the dish.  Spoon the tshoem over the rice.

*     *     *

In the end, I would consider this challenge to be a success.  I think that I was far more successful making the Kangchu Maroo than I was making the Emadatshi.   I think that the difference was due to the fact that I spent more time thinking through the process of making the main course.  I added the Emadatshi because I felt it was a good opportunity to make the national dish of Bhutan.

Both the Kangchu Maroo and the Emadatshi share one thing in common ... both dishes are fairly spicy.  The mix of Anaheim peppers and Serrano chiles (especially the latter) provided a lot of heat in the dish.  Given the mountainous and cold terrain in which the Bhutanese find themselves, I guess any kind of heat helps, especially in the winter time.

Well, I now turn to the next challenge.  Until that time ...


For more about Bhutan and its cuisine, check out the KingdomofBhutan.comWikipedia and India Forums.

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