Location: Asia, on the northern border of India
Geography: Landlocked, mountainous
Signature flavours: Chilli peppers, datshi (Bhutanese cheese), dried meats
I wanted to choose menu items that were characteristic of Bhutan. In my research, I looked for language like, “You can’t talk about Bhutanese cuisine without talking about [insert dish here].” I came across three menu items that are by all accounts staples of Bhutanese fare:
Ema Datshi: Literally “chilli cheese” in Dzongkha, this is a national dish of Bhutan. The recipe I used warned this dish would be VERY HOT (their use of capitals). Stewed on the stovetop, ema datshi contains chilli peppers (lots), cheese, onion, and tomato, but my understanding is that every cook in Bhutan has his or her own version.
Total prep and cooking time: 25 min
Cucumber Salad: To temper the heat of dishes like ema datshi, people in Bhutan enjoy mouth-cooling salads like this one. It is a simple mix of cucumber, onion, more datshi, salt, and pepper.
Total prep and cooking time: Less than 10 min
Hapai Hoentoe: Bhutanese cooking boasts all kind of dumplings, and I opted to attempt these buckwheat ones, with a filling of greens, garlic, poppy seeds, and—yes—more datshi.
Total prep and cooking time: 40 min
The Shopping List
Here in Toronto, we are surrounded by international food markets, which makes shopping for out-of-the-ordinary (by Canadian standards) items a whole lot easier. Datshi, Bhutanese cheese make from cow or yak milk, is very difficult to find outside of Bhutan. Feta was recommended as an alternative, so I bought that. All the other ingredients were pretty easy to come by, either in the supermarket or bulk store.
Due to a lot of sampling along the way (I tried not to, but it smelled so good), I knew everything was turning out well. The ema datshi had such a nice heat and strong cheesy flavour, and went so well with the crisp, cool cucumber salad. I made the salad a few hours before the rest of the food, so it got to marinate a bit, and I think it was all the better for it. The dumplings were the most difficult item to make, mostly because I’m not a very experienced dough-ster. That said, they turned out really well. They were my husband’s favourite item of the evening.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.