Nestled in the Himalayas, the fabled kingdom of Bhutan is a place of romance and mystery, none the least because of how difficult and how expensive it is to visit and how little about its daily strives leaks out to the outside world. It's one of the smallest and poorest countries in the world, 90% of its 1 to 2 million people work in agriculture, and probably the most resistant to outside influences.
They haven't been resistant to chili peppers, however, and chilies now appear in virtually all Bhutanese dishes. Bhutanese chilies are large and medium heat and I still haven't been able to figure out what their American equivalent is. Bhutanese food is very simple, it uses very few ingredients and practically no spices. I hesitated to cook it for quite a long time as its simplicity fooled me into thinking it wouldn't be appetizing. My experiences with bland Tibetan food and the fact that most visitors to Bhutan are served continental food further fed this prejudice. As it's often the case when I fear that a cuisine will be boring, I was wrong - the Bhutanese dishes I made were actually quite good. Indeed, I was once again amazed at how simple dishes can be so full of taste.
Bhutanese involves cooking meats and/or vegetables with a little bit of water and oil. This was a new technique for me, used as I am to using large quantities of liquid and avoiding water whenever possible. This method works surprisingly well and quickly! Most of these dishes can be made in half an hour or less.
Bhutanese often eat a number of dishes accompanied by white or red rice, a short grain rice with a light, nutty flavor. As I was afraid of what the food would taste like, I decided to cook each of the three dishes below for my family alone in separate nights. But they are good enough to serve to guests, so you should feel free to cook them as a part of a larger Bhutanese banquet. The Bhutanese also eat Tibetan specialties like momos and noodles which you could incorporate. Fruits like watermelon seem to be ubiquitous for dessert.
The dishes I cooked were:
- Ema Datshi
A chili and cheese stew
- Kewa Phagsha
A pork and potatoes dish
A beef and mushroom curry
- Basmati rice and Bhutanese red rice
Bhutanese Food Links