Nestled up in Eastern Himalayas is a small country that I would love to visit someday but may not gather the coin to do so: Bhutan. Thanks to the mountainous terrain, Bhutan has been able to remain somewhat isolated from the world for many centuries, until fairly recently that is.
This means that in terms of culture, and therefore cuisine, Bhutan has been able to diverge from the path of Indian and Mongol food (who previously occupied the nation) and carve out their own culinary identity. There are a lot of dishes that are distinctly Bhutanese, which has actually gave me a wealth to choose from for this post.
Now obviously I am not able to procure Bhutanese yak cheese and other local ingredients to make the dishes, but I have been to use a 20 year old website called A Window to Bhutan to find suitable recipes and substitutes. Rather than make a main and a dessert I opted for two mains to serve together. Probably not how this works normally, but in for a penny etc.
There was no way that I could cover Bhutan without making a version of ema datshi – their national dish which is mainly flavoured with cheese and a whole lot of green chillies. The recipe for this indicates an equal amount of cheese and chilli is used… which is what I did.
What really surprised me is that despite putting in three packs of green chilli, this ema datshi was medium spiced at most. This is likely down to me using jalapenos rather than native Bhutanese, but this in no way blew my head off. In fact, the best way I could describe this would be if you made a stew to taste like jalapeno poppers (minus the breading). With the rice this was absolutely delicious and will be a recipe that I can trot out whenever I have to cook for someone vegetarian.
On the other side of the mountain of rice (because I thought I would need something to cool my tongue down) is a pork dish called Kewa Phagsha. The principle ingredients are pork, potato, chilli, ginger and garlic. Again, this was not as spicy as I had expected with all the heat being generated by the ginger. This is something that (with a little cornflour for thickening) would make for a really nice dish to have on it’s own with rice or noodles.
There is plenty more that can be mined from Bhutanese cuisine, so I think I’ll have to do a bit more exploring in the future. It would be great to know what the perfect substitute for their yak cheese is (as they use it in plenty of dishes) but feta will do for now.
Back again to Africa next time. I’ve noticed a big space on the map where there are no pins, so will probably look to fill that in. Means I’ll either be cooking something from North Africa or something in the mid-region around the Congos. I guess I’ll just have to see which recipe inspires me.