Week 17. Bhutan. Ema Datshi


My wife is leaving me.

On Monday she is packing up, taking Henry (our son), heading to Heathrow and then flying  as far from London as is possible.

I won’t, however, be found curled up in the corner of our bedroom with the lights off, rocking, tears running down my ruined face. Instead, she is only off on holiday to her home country of New Zealand, and to see her Sister get wed.

For me, whilst I will miss them terribly, it creates all sorts of possibilities. Not only will I have a bed to myself for two weeks (at 6 foot 4 it’s always a squash), I will also be able to selfishly ,and without guilt, get in the kitchen, turn 5-Live Sport up and create some dishes. I will keep you updated with some additional blog posts. I won’t cook every night though, as there are a few pubs with some pints of Real Ale in them waiting for me to sample, as my Real Ale Cookbook is taking shape at speed. I will tell you about that another time.

This week the country I will be cooking is Bhutan. Nestled between India, Nepal and China, and in the Himalayas I was initially excited that it sits between two mega-cuisines, that of India and China; and I expected it to take on some influence from both. Whilst it does, to an extent, the major influence is India, with ginger, garlic and onions forming the base of almost every dish I looked at.

The overriding point of interest when it comes to Bhutanese cuisine is their use of chillies. I am a man who loves all things hot. It was back in my student days, circa 1999, that I heard the best description for spice heat. On a boozed fuelled night, which resulted in a curry, I had asked the owner of restaurant (in Nottingham I seem to remember) how hot his Lamb Jalfrezi was. In a thick Bangladeshi accent he responded “Not fucking hot……more tingly hot”. After hugging him for being so brilliant, I realised he had perfectly described how hot I love my food. I want my tongue to tingle, maybe my head to bead with sweat, but I want it to fall short of pain.

A quote from the BBC website in 2005 states this of the Bhutanese use of chillies.

Unlike other parts of South Asia and the rest of the world, in this tiny Himalayan kingdom chilies are not used as a spice to flavour food.

Here chilies are used as a vegetable – and the national dish of Bhutan is the chilli cheese curry. It is called ema datshi. Ema means chilli and datshi is cheese”

My lord. Chilies as vegetables. That has to hurt. I wasn’t going to shirk from my responsibilities though, so Ema Datshi it is!

Review:

Yes yes yes. This dish is brilliant, but jesus don’t eat it like it is suggested you should. In Bhutan you are supposed to cover your tongue in rice before spooning in the Ema Datshi, as otherwise you will melt your tongue. In England, I tried that, but the mix bore through the rice and burnt me regardless. Instead, after thinking we would have to leave it alone, we started dipping into it with bread and we loved it. It was rich and very hot and strangely it didn’t taste that much of cheese. It was a dip! We dipped all night, and it all went. We might not have eaten it as we should have, and it might have been suprising, but we loved it.

Recipe.

Boil 1.5 cups of water and in that water add 8 chillies and 1 chopped onion (quarter the chillies)

After 20 mins add 5 diced garlic cloves and 3 chopped tomatoes

After 10 mins add 350g of yaks cheese (I used feta as Tesco was all out)

Simmer it down and then serve.

Eat on its own…or use as a dip!

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3 thoughts on “Week 17. Bhutan. Ema Datshi

    • Thank you. I’m still a little uneasy about the change, but definately try this dish. It’s hot and strange, but really good in an unusual way!

  1. If you cannot find Yak cheese, use a mixture of good quality processed cheese with some blue cheese, the processed american cheese will melt and mix in and the blue cheese will flavor it. Also, I prefer the original version with the tiny chillies that are so totally hot that you must eat it with Ting Momo which is a rice flour bread.

    Okay, yes, I have a tongue of steel. Or equivalent.

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