We all know chili as a spice, but did you know it as a vegetable?
No? If so, you should try Bhutan’s national dish “Ema Datshi” made of chili (Ema) and a cheese sauce (Datshi). Rice is served as a side-dish – every Bhutanese eats on average 300 kg of the grain per year, which is a fair bit.
Let’s talk about chili.
‘Ema Datshi’ is made in three variants, with green, white, or red chili. The three variations not only look different, they also taste different. The chili are not different strains. The green chili is just harvested early. If the green chili pepper is soaked in boiling water, it turns white or cream-colored. Afterwards they are dried. When chili papers are harvested later, they have the typical red colour. These peppers are again primarily sun-dried. Chili peppers can be found virtually everywhere when strolling through streets in Bhutan. They are hanging in windows, lying on roof tops, or on mats on the floor – a typical site for Bhutan.
If you think Bhutan has nothing culinary to offer to you, let me show you otherwise. Other than ‘Ema Datshi’, there are plenty of delicious and less spicy dishes such as ‘Kewa Datshi’ (potato curry), ‘Schamu Datshi’ (mushroom curry), or ‘Samchum Datshi’ (bean curry). Even exotic vegetables such as lichen or ferns are used in Bhutanese cooking, especially fried, and the selection of dishes. And you don’t have to eat rice all the time either. There are, for example, ‘Momos’ which are easiest explained as Bhutanese perogies that can contain different types of fillings. Vegetable ‘Momos’ contain a mixture of cabbage and onions, while non-vegetarian versions can contain beef or pork in addition to many other ingredients. Moreover, there are regional variations in the preparation of ‘Momos’. However, since ‘Momos’ contain no chili at all, Bhutanese generally do not eat them by themselves but serve them with a paste called ‘Ezay’ – which, as you probably guessed, is primarily made of ground up chili. Again, ‘Ezay’ comes in many variations: with or without coriander, or tomatoes, and other spices. The good thing about eating ‘Momos’ is that you determine how spicy your meal is.
The list of delicious and, especially for visitors from the west, exotic meals is long. However, even Bhutanese love exotic food. For some time now, especially in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu, you will find Italian, Korean, and Thai restaurants – a good alternative for tourists who don’t enjoy Bhutan’s spicy dishes too much.
One thing is worth mentioning: Bhutan is very aware of health and the environment. It aims to grow 100% organic agricultural products by 2020. But even today the quality for most food products is fantastic, which you taste in every bite.