Wednesday, 25 August 2010

A Small Taste of the Delights of Bhutan

I never really dreamed I would ever goto Bhutan. It had something to do with the pre paid tour fee of $200 a day plus visa fees and only doing a set itinerary and not travelling freely as I always do. I’m hard to please I know.
But with my new job I was told that I am going to Bhutan for 10 days. It’s not the schedule I would have planned, as double backing on ones self is not the best plan, but it’s free and that counts a lot. So who cares.

So as I had a leisurely trip through Oman, and a mental one through Rajasthan and northern India and Nepal done in a ridiculous amount of time. I had not looked at anything about Bhutan. Never really had time to.
So when we arrived in Bhutan we literally at gunpoint had to force our guide and driver to take us to where the locals eat, and eat typical Bhutanese food. It turns out they were not that willing, as if we eat in a hotel, they eat for free. If you have been reading my previous blog posts about India, I was up to here with hotel food. So their plan went out the window on day one. It is like or lump it boys. We broke them in early and it was for the best.

The Bhutanese are very fond of chillis, and not just any old chilli, a fiery bloody one as well. Their idea of a snack is to eat a raw green chilli with salt. Although saying this, I heard a lot about this habit, but never actually saw anyone eating it.
I reckon the national dish of Bhutan is ema datshi. Which basically is chilli and cheese sauce. Yes, I know. Chilli and cheese sauce. It sounds rank, but somehow it works. Plus you need rice with this, to diffuse the smack in the face of the chillies. They can be a bitch sometimes. They are pre boiled for a time to take out some of the heat, but after eating about 20 of them, no boiling can diffuse the pain you start to feel.
They also serve mushrooms with cheese sauce and also potatoes. Now depending on where you are, you may or may not get the sauce with a slight tangy chilli flavour. It’s good.
Their curries and dhal are pretty watery and not that good. They need to employ someone from India to teach how to make dhal fry or dhal makni, as we never had a decent one. Always like a bad watery lentil soup. Yuck, plus no matter how much we said no, we would always get it.

The other odd thing in the Bhutanese diet is paa. This I think means dried. Well I assume this as I tried pork and beef paa and both were dried. Beef paa is basically strips of beef left out to dry in the sun. It is similar to jerky or biltong, but not left as long, then served with a tiny bit of gravy and some local radish. It’s yum.
The pork paa is a whole different kettle of fish. This mainly consists of dried pork fat and served with a spicy red chilli sauce. It tastes divine as I am a big big big fan of pork fat. But boy did I always pay for it the next day, and pay for it I mean in a big way.
The other treat I had on a daily basis was red rice. This is with out doubt the best tasting rice I have ever eaten. It beats basmati rice with its hands tied behind its back. So much ricey flavour, it is unreal. I have never seen it in London, but I have been told it is available in Southall and Alperton, so we will see. If it is there, I am buying it by the kilo, or several kilos at least.

In and around Bumthang, they grow buckwheat flour, to which they make into noodles, and serve as a cold buckwheat noodle salad called puta. Quite funny if you understand Spanish. I thought so anyhows.
All in all Bhutanese food is pretty good, but eating it on a daily basis would drive you nuts, especially as they cannot cook dhal properly. Maybe I should move there and open up a small café serving decent dhal fry. It’s not that hard.
It’s unlikely that I will ever return to Bhutan, so I will have to cherish the memories of my time there. Bit I will be making a version of ema datshi one day soon and posting it here. Not sure if drying pork fat outside my flat for a few days will be a good idea. But we’ll see.

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