As we crawled up the decorated staircase like a hungry tribe of monkeys, an aroma of spices and chilies wafted through the air. It was our first encounter with the unique spicy cuisine of Bhutan. We faced off with the renowned ema datsi, which consists of green chilies in a cheesy broth.
By Emma Orndahl ’17
As we crawled up the decorated staircase like a hungry tribe of monkeys, an aroma of spices and chilies wafted through the air. It was our first encounter with the unique spicy cuisine of Bhutan. We faced off with the renowned ema datsi, which consists of green chilies in a cheesy broth. We continued to explore through different vegetable dishes, testing and ranking the spiciness of each.
As we traveled from Paro, to Haa Valley, and then to Thimphu, we ate our way through eclectic types of cuisine from around the country. In Paro, we had our first of many experiences with the famous Bhutanese dumpling, the momo. Everyone soon fell in love with this simply delicious delicacy, and next thing we knew, we were taking every opportunity to find the best momo in Bhutan.
The next stop on our journey through this intriguing country was the beautiful Haa Valley. As each of us built relationships with our host families, we got to fully experience the Bhutanese style of cooking from the locals themselves. We prepared, cooked, and ate in the traditional ways, so that we could truly understand and immerse ourselves in the Bhutanese lifestyle. I specifically remember my favorite moment of the visit to Haa was being in the shed outside our house, sitting with Marissa, my host brother, and cousin, peeling sticks over an open fire. We were preparing them for our host mom to use later in the process of cheese-making. It was intimate moments like that that made this visit worthwhile. We were truly part of the family, participating in their tradition of cheese making. The next day we had the amazing opportunity to learn the process of making another famous Bhutanese dumpling, the hoentay. Later, we learned that this unique dish was only found in the secluded Haa Valley. Made with the special buckwheat and local vegetables, we learned the steps to making this delicious dish. From kneading the sticky dough to filling the dumplings and studying the refined technique of pinching the tops, our host brother led us through each step. The best part of the meal was that we were part of the process.
We continued our journey though the spicy land of food to the capital city of Thimphu. On our second day in Thimphu we ventured through the vast central farmer’s market. There, we explored the rows of local vegetables and organic fruit. Not to our surprise, we were surrounded by piles of colorful chilies so crisp that you could smell the spicy aroma float off of them and dance through the fresh air. I know many of us would agree that we all wanted to start cooking in our own kitchen back at the hotel after visiting the market.
Bhutanese cuisine is so different from that of any other. The combination of spices, rice, vegetables, and cheese encompass and define each meal. It is the type of food that you can’t get anywhere else. Learning the techniques of preparing these meals was the best cultural experience I could ever ask for. I hope to continue this traditional cooking back home, and bring the Bhutanese culture back to the islands.