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It's always chili season in Bhutan

Update: January, 05/2015 - 16:01

by Jigme Wangchuk

Bhutan's most popular dish is called ema datshi. In the Bhutanese language, Ema is chili and datshi is cheese. This fiery stew of chili and molded cheese is so utterly beloved among the Bhutanese that it has gained culinary prominence as the national dish of the country.

Before the unification of the country in the early 1600s, Bhutan was divided culturally and geographically into many distinct groups. The difficult terrain might have given rise to various independent factions, but there was one uniting thread that bound the country-ema datshi. Bhutanese of all regional entities love could not live without this dish.

But what is its origin and how did it become Bhutan's national dish?

In other parts of the world, chilli is used as a spice, to add a tang to a dish. In Bhutan, chili is a vegetable. It has to be in every dish; a dish is incomplete without chilies.

RECIPE:

Ingredients

  • "8 ounce chili (red/green, cut lengthwise)
  • "1 onion, chopped
  • "Molded cheese
  • "4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • "2 tomatoes
  • "Oil (optional)

Method

  • 1. Put the chopped onions, chillies and garlic in a pot. Add water and boil for about 10 minutes on medium heat. Add tomato.
  • 2. Add molded cheese and leave to simmer.
  • 3. Turn off the heat and serve hot with rice.

Dorji Om, a cookbook writer, believes that Bhutanese developed a penchant for chilli due to the cold weather of the mountainous country. Bhutanese eat spicy food to keep warm. Traditionally, ema datshi is made in an earthern pot for a better taste. The ingredients are usually just chillies and cheese and nothing else.

Aun, a food blogger who has visited Bhutan, says that, frighteningly, at almost every meal, he was served the same dish – the powerful, super-spicy ema datshi and rice. "After that visit, I came to the belief - shared famously by America food writer Ruth Reichl - that Bhutanese cuisine might just be the worst in the world."

Notwithstanding, tourists visiting Bhutan must give Ema Datshi a try but they may go berserk with its spiciness.

But whatever the reason, wherever in Bhutan you go, you will be served ema datshi. It is so famous among the Bhutanese that this signature dish was served to US President Barack Obama by celebrated Indian chef Vikas Khanna during a fundraiser dinner at New York's Rubin Museum of Art in 2012.

"The thing with ema datshi is that it is very simple. Because it is boiled with less or no oil at all, it is healthy," says 26-year-old Deki, a restaurateur in Thimphu. "Whether it is too bland or devilishly hot, it suits mountain people like us."

If you are flying to Bhutan, ask for ema datshi on national carrier Drukair. The airline serves a toned down version of the national dish.— Kuensel Online (Bhutan)

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