Huge apologies that it’s taken me so long to put up a new post. S and I have been back from Bhutan for just 5 days and it feels like we haven’t even begun to catch up on all the work that’s piled up while we’ve been away.
Our trip to Bhutan was, as I’ve said before, simply amazing. It’s a truly stunning, gorgeous and unique place. And while it’s a country in the midst of some pretty amazing transitions, I have faith that the folks in charge will ensure that its culture and natural beauty will be respected and protected.
While I love so many aspects of this magical kingdom, the one aspect that I’ve never been a huge fan of is its cuisine. When I first visited Bhutan back in 1996 (years before all the fancy-shmancy hotels opened up), I traveled across the country for a couple of weeks. Frighteningly, at almost every meal, I was served the same dish — emadatse and rice. Emadatse is considered by many to be Bhutan’s national dish. It’s a powerful, super-spicy curry made with cheese and chillies. At brekkie, I was offered cold rice and emadatse. Lunch and dinner was hot rice with some edatatse. After that visit, I came to the belief — shared famously by Ruth Reichl — that Bhutanese cuisine might just be the worst in the world.
On this most recent trip, however, S and I were served two home-cooked Bhutanese meals, one cooked by my friend’s wife and the other by a friend of theirs. While emadatse (to my slight horror) was served at both meals, so too were many other local dishes, many of which were surprisingly very good.
But of all the local treats that S and I tasted and enjoyed during our trip, the one that I have to admit I actually enjoyed the most may actually have been the most bizarre. Before lunch with our friends on our last day in town, my buddy’s wife asked if we’d ever eaten hornets. I think I answered something like, “Um… sorry, what? Did you say hornets?” She had. And served us what she explained was a local delicacy two ways: stir-fried with garlic, shallots and ginger and smoked. The stir-fried hornets were delicious. Crispy, spicy, full of yummy meaty flavors. Of course, it was only after S and I had devoured a full serving of the fried hornets, my Bhutanese buddy whispered to me that he actually doesn’t eat the things himself.
Hornets aside, the very best thing I ate in Bhutan was a simple Indian soup served at Uma Paro. In fact, all the very best things I ate during the trip were at Uma Paro. The chefs there are simply fantastic, offering their customers a wide range of Western classics, fusion dishes, Bhutanese specialties and Indian fare. Two night in a row, I opted to eat Indian. On both occasions, I had the Tomato Dhania Shorba as my first course. This tomato soup was simply stunning, made with the freshest ingredients and prepared beautifully. I’ve begged the chefs at Uma Paro to share their recipe and am running it below. Please note that it’s been written in “chef-speak”, i.e. it’s a tad brief and perhaps not even accurate. I plan to try making it later this week and see if it actually works or not. If any of you try it out, I’d be keen to know how or if you tweak it.
Uma Paro Tomato Dhania Shorba
20g coriander leaves
250ml vegetable stock
1 whole red chilli
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic
1 inch of fresh ginger, crushed into a paste
salt to taste
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 pinch Kasoori Methi powder
Make a stock of tomatoes and the stems from the coriander.
Add the vegetable stock.
Blend when the tomatoes become soft.
Temper with ginger paste, garlic cloves, asafoetida, crushed pepper, whole cumin, and the red chilli.
Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and and some cream.
Add a pinch of Kasoori Methi powder before serving.