When Chef Kunal Kapur was invited to the Indo Bhutan Literary Festival, Mountain Echoes from May 22 to 24, to present his cook book, A Chef In Every Home, the Delhi-based celebrity chef extended his stay to visit Thimpu and Paro.

Chef Kunal Kapur at a market in Bhutan
Chef Kunal Kapur at a market in Bhutan

For one, he wanted to see the humble country locked between India, China and Nepal, and secondly, to get a taste of the Bhutanese cuisine he had little knowledge of. “It was a completely new cooking lesson for me. I had assumed the Bhutanese food would be heavily influenced by its three neighbours. But I was mistaken. It has a cuisine of its own,” says Kapur.

A produce-driven region, it grows vegetables such as asparagus, fiddlehead fern, along with red rice and maize, which is served with yak, chicken and pork meat. Red rice, which is a small, rough, unrefined and fibre-rich variety, is their staple food. “I tried the Ema Datshi, a dish made of chillies and homemade cheese.

While Ema is medium spicy chilli, datshi can either be yak or cow cheese, which is also available in the smoked version,” says Kapur. The chef smelled the dish when it was served to him and what followed was a barrage of sneezes. “My fellow companions bursted out laughing,” recalls Kapur.

Local ingredients also included buckwheat flour (called kuttu flour in Hindi), fiddlehead fern and asparagus. “Bhutanese food, be it at the queen mother’s royal palace or on the road-side cart is humble, filling and nutritious; served by smiling people exuding a sense of happiness,” he adds.