Chomping on cheese and chilli delights in Bhutan

April 29th, 2011 - 11:32 am ICT by IANS  

Thimphu, April 29 (IANS) Fancy some long, slit chillies cooked to creamy perfection with cheese? Or a combination of trotter, chillies and garlic? Then Bhutan is the place you are looking for.

Someone has rightly said it is the only country in the world where chillies red and green are eaten as vegetables. And cheese too melts its way into the curries and momos of the Himalayan kingdom.

Thinley Dorji, CEO of Terma Linca Resort and Spa in Thimphu, says chillies play an important role in keeping the body warm and that is why consuming them in large amounts in daily meals is justified in Bhutan’s cold environs.

“As you know, we grow almost all types of vegetables in Bhutan, but we are chilli-loving people. You will find fresh chillies in almost everything. But when it comes to offering food to tourists, we tend to cut down on the chilli,” Linca told IANS.

Chillies are such an integral part of their lives that almost on every rooftop, you will find people drying them out to store and use in various ways.

“We dry up a lot many vegetables like mushrooms, chillies and use them during winter when it gets difficult to get fresh vegetables,” said Tashi Lhaden, a housewife.

A most popular Bhutanese chilli cuisine is ‘emadatshi’, a mix of long, slit chillies cooked in cheese. It is not-so-hot as the cheese neutralises the sting and makes the dish creamy.

There are also dishes like kewa dachi - a mix of chilli, cheese and potato soup - and kangchu maroo - a combination of trotters, chillies and garlic.

And, yes, the Bhutanese love their cheese too.

Their hot and steamy cheese momos served with hot red chilli sauce is a welcome break from the regular chicken momos that one gets to eat in India. But their best momo preparation is with beef fillings - sinking your teeth into juicy beef momos is a delightful experience.

You can pamper your taste buds with other cheese-based curries - cauliflower, mushroom or potatoes is used a lot in this region. Vegetables like cabbage, eggplant, beans and carrots are also used to make mixed vegetable curry.

“And if one wants to enjoy a region, it’s always best to gorge on the local food and drinks,” said Priya Ahluwalia, a freelancer and tourist.

Bhutan, a country of 700,000, is a rice-eating nation and irrespective of the fact that they do grow white rice, people prefer the red variety.

Apart from regular chicken, lamb and fish dishes, the Bhutanese follow various pork and beef recipes as they too help keep the body warm.

Beef and mushroom tshoem (curry), jasha maroo (minced chicken), kewa phagsha (spicy pork with potatoes) and phakash pa (pork cubes) are quite popular.

A trip to the country is not complete without sampling the various flavours of tea - like green tea, jasmine tea or tshiringma. Then there is suja, the most popular beverage made of butter - but one needs to develop a taste for this salty tea as the flavour of melting butter grows on you slowly.

A country’s cuisine is incomplete without a mention of its drinks.

Some regions have locally brewed liquors and ara is the best. Stored in ‘palangas’ or traditional containers, it is made with grains like wheat, barley, millet, maize, jowar, bajra and rice. It is fermented with yeast and there is no written recipe to follow. The method is passed from generation to generation.

The most authentic ara is made from rice. “Ara has a taste similar to feni (Goa’s local brew), but it is a bit stronger,” said Ahluwalia.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at shilpa.r@ians.in)

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