Week 19: Bhutan

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is closer linked culturally, ethnically, and culinarily to Tibet than to India with which it shares most of its border. Given its generally high altitudes, the standard way to cook is with slow simmering over a small fire, with lots of yak butter and cheese for energy in the cold climate. The stovetop is a fine substitute for the fire, but for better or for worse (and, given what I’ve read, perhaps for better), yak dairy just isn’t available in the States.

This was our second West Coast nosh, in rainy Tacoma, Washington, at Laura’s parents’ place. Happily we were able to find everything we needed (besides yak dairy) in town, even the rare Bhutanese red rice. At the table were Laura’s parents Lyall and Eileen, sister Jen, Jen’s friend Mike, and Laura’s high school friends Ellen and Molly.

Emma datshi | Chilies with cheese sauce | Recipe

This appears to be, without a doubt, the Bhutanese national dish. I found a number of recipes that essentially look like jalapeños with feta cheese, which just seemed too simple. And then I found this one, which claimed to best replicate the taste and texture of yak cheese with a combination of blue and cream cheeses. So that’s what I made, cutting down the chilies by 80% to increase the likelihood that at least someone would like it. And Molly did!

Phaksha pa | Pork with radish and bok choi | Recipe

Pork is a staple meat in Bhutan, and this dish has it two ways, fresh and dried. The meat and radish are cooked on super low heat for an hour and a half in plenty of butter, and it’s nice and tender.

Kewa datshi | Potatoes with cheese sauce | Recipe

Aditi, the Moth’s intern these days, told us about this dish that a Bhutanese student taught her while she was away at school in India. The cheese she described was something goopy in a can, which I attempted to replicate with half Swiss cheese and half queso fresco. Mixed in with the water for boiling, it was kinda like Himalayan mac ‘n’ cheese, which paired well with the rice.

Chum | Bhutanese red rice

Lucky we’re doing United Noshes now and not a few years ago, because this rice has only been imported by Lotus Foods for the last few years, and remains Bhutan’s only export to the US (or so I’m led to believe). It’s really flavorful and tender but not mushy, we all really liked it.

Cucumber with onion and cheese | Recipe

It’s about as simple as salad gets, not even any dressing. A nice, fresh foil to all the other simmered stuff.

Suja | Butter tea | Recipe

And on to the grand finale that we were all kinda dreading: tea made with butter, cream, and salt. But really, it wasn’t all that bad. The butter taste was definitely there (but probably not as much as if it’d been yak butter!), and it would have been more palatable with sugar, but hey.

And with that, we are a tenth of the way through the UN countries! We’re now on pace to finish in a bit over five years. And we’re having a lot of fun.


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