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A taste of Bhutan's spicy cuisine

Chef Kunal Kapur, who was in the country last month, shares with us the taste of local homemade cheese and hot chillies

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.

Pork with dried chillies

Ingredients
>> 1/2 kg pork 
>> 3 dry red chillies 
>> 1/2cup sliced onions

Salt to taste
>> A pinch of turmeric
>> 1 tbsp chopped garlic
>> 2 tsp ginger

Method
>> Mix all ingredients in a pan. Add 4 cups of water, cover the lid and bring to boil
>> Cook till water is evaporated and the pork is cooked well
>> Cook on high flame and keep stirring it continuously 
>> Check for seasoning, and stir fry for two to three minutes

Ema Datshi

Ingredients
>> 2 tbsp oil
>> 1/2 cup onions, sliced 
>> 1/2 cup tomato, sliced 
>> 4 garlic cloves
>> 20 green chillies, (medium spicy) 
>> 2 cups water 
>> 1 cup soft cheese or grated cheese

Method
>> Slit the green chillies and remove the seeds and stems 
>> In a pan, add oil, onions, tomato, garlic cloves, green chillies and water
>> Bring to a boil and cover. Simmer for three minutes or till onions are golden brown 
>> Add the cheese and give it a good stir 
>> Cover again and cook on slow flame covered for three minutes 
>> Remove cover and give a good stir
>> Remove from fire and serve with red rice

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