At the outset, preparing any Bhutanese dish can seem like adding in all the ingredients in a pot and cooking it until it’s ready to serve. While that is true in certain cases because those dishes are celebrated in its simplicity however most other dishes require a good amount of culinary skills gathered with experience. The local’s belief that certain people are gifted with hands that is capable of squeezing out the flavor from any ingredients. In this article we take a look at some of the classic Bhutanese dishes that are popular and tastes great.
- Ema Datshi
Ema Datshi translates to Chili with Cheese. It is the de facto, although unofficial, national dish of Bhutan. Very rarely will you find a local who does not enjoy eating an Ema Datshi dish. It is a fairly simple dish requiring few ingredients. According to the elders, the traditional classic Ema Datshi dish was prepared with fresh green chilies, locally churned butter and cheese and garlic. The chilies are cut open to ensure seasoning and chopped garlics are added and it is sprinkled with generous amount of crumbled fresh cheese and a good dollop of butter and finally good amount of water to cook and bring all the flavors together. However over the years, every household have come up with their own version of cooking the dish and adding with additional ingredients such as onion and spring onion and the dish is either cooked with thick cheese gravy or with runny soup that has the essence of the cheese. The dish prepared with dried red chili is also very popular.
- Sha kam
Sha Kam is sun dried meat and occasionally smoked for the extra flavor. It is popularly sourced from cow and yak meat. The two popular ways of preparing the dried meat are Sha kam Datshi, which is literally the non-vegetarian version of the Ema Datshi and Sha Kam Paa. Preparing Sha Kam paa can take up to an hour. The meat is paired with other vegetables such as radish or cabbage and red chilies are a classic combination. The thorough cooking process ensures that the flavor of the meat is infused to the vegetables and chili. Other spices such garlic and ginger is necessary ingredient.
- Si Kam
Si Kam is air dried pork belly. Like Sha Kam, the pork belly is also prepared with chili and cheese with gravy or as Si Kam Paa however along with the regular vegetables such as radish and red chili, dried turnip leaves are also added with the air dried pork belly. During the 90’s, every household in the villages would raise a pig to source meat for the annual religious ritual. Grand feast is an essential part of the celebration and air dried pork belly and pork sausages are a popular choice. Just before slaughtering the pig, the household would get another piglet to ensure continuity.
Hoentey is a buckwheat dumpling indigenous to Haa district in western Bhutan. Traditionally the dumplings are prepared to celebrate an annual local festival. The buckwheat dumplings are stuffed with dried turnip leaves, cheese spices and very generous amount of butter. The dumplings are then steamed to cook the stuffing and some prefer fried Hoentey.
Puta is a buckwheat noodle popular in the central region of Bumthang valley. The noodle is cooked and then stir fried with spcies and eggs. The noodle has a similar texture as the Japanese soba noodle. While preparing the dish was quite simple, preparing the noodle was quite labor intensive in the olden days. Some household still have their wood based simple technology that could process the buckwheat dough into noodles.
- Khoo lay
Khoo lay is a buckwheat pan cake. It is also a regional dish of Bumthang valley. The hot pan cake is served with butter on top and Ema Datshi. The high energy and protein buckwheat pan cakes helped people carry out intensive physical field works.
Ezay is a popular condiment that goes well with almost every Bhutanese dish. The texture varies depending on one’s preferences; either it is served as a chili salad or a dipping sauce. Like Ema Datshi, everyone has their own version of making the dish however common ingredients include, dried red chili or fresh green chili, onion, tomatoes, fresh cheese, coriander, garlic, cucumber and Sichuan pepper.