Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Chilli seedlings : a time to plant

After repeated reminders ( nagging!)  from our housekeeper I finally bought some chilli seedlings for our garden. We have had a wet cold spring and have neglected our garden. Here is hoping that  this purchase is the beginning of change. I am admittedly neither a knowledgeable  or consistent gardener but now that my parents have moved back to rural Bhutan we are being expected to take a more active role. Finger crossed?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Reading Notes:How "typical" is Kewa Datsi?

Frequently when Bhutanese live outside Bhutan are asked to cook a "typical" Bhutanese meal they will whip up Kewa Datsi- a stew-like dish with potatoes, chilli and cheese. However research on history of potato in Bhutan suggests that potato might be a  fairly new "typical" Bhutanese food. The below extract comes from the " The Potato in Bhutan" ( 2008) by Walter Roder, Karma Nidup and Ganesh B. Chettri.

"Potato consumption in Bhutan was low up to the 1970s. In the early 70s, when farmers started growing potato for export, they were generally reluctant to consume the tuber. Eating potato as a staple was socially and culturally unacceptable as many Bhutanese believed that potatoes caused problems of the lower abdomen, vomiting, constipation and diarrhea. Similarly, in the 19th century ethnographical descriptions of Tibet, potato  consumption was said to be " confined to the poorer classes" ( Rockhill 1891). Over the last four decades, the status of potato as a food or vegetable has changed tremendously. Today unlike in the 70s , potato is widely eaten as a vegetable and sometimes even as a staple food." 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Reading Notes: Bhutanese Eating Etiquette

From:  Tshering C Dorji and Rinchen Dorji (2005) "Living the Bhutanese Way"  DSB Publications, Thimphu

Under the Driglam Choesum or Za Cha Do(e) Sum, a code of standard practices was framed, based on three kinds of human activity: eating, doing things and walking. It is said that no matter how rich a person is, he should never eat sleeping and no matter how poor a person is, he should not eat standing.  Therefore, a person eats sitting properly.
A person can only eat that  amount of food which can be held within two fingers and a thumb of the right hand. He is expected to keep the drinks on the left side and the solid things to the right. A person should not pile bones in front or behind. The person keeps them inside his hemcho ( the pouch). Jokes are told about  a person who carried all the bones in his pouch and ate peacefully outside without having to fear an imposition of any discipline.
A person is expected to eat his food with closed mouth and not make much noise while eating. He is expected not to talk which he has food in his mouth.
Bhutanese in the villages usually crush the cereal into small balls and eat. The more compact the cereal ball, the more filling of the stomach, so they don't get hungry soon. Stories are being said that in the olden days the people judged a person whether he could work or not from the amount of breakfast he ate. If the person ate a smaller amount of breakfast, the person was regarded as a weakling.  


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bitter Flowers

My sister recently traveled to the south of Bhutan for work and came back with low-land treats including lots of bananas and some of the flowers you see on the left.  Yes, the flowers are to eat! In Dzongkha we call them bashika. I am not  sure of what they would be called in English but the scientific name for the shrub that these flowers grow on is Adhatoda vasica. The flowers are collected from the wild and was were fact among the many plants documented in a survey of  wild and edible plants in Bhutan. Bhutanese believe that the bitter  flowers have medicinal properties.

The same plant is in fact part of the range of plants used in traditional Indian medicine but instead of the flowers they use the  leaves which are either brewed into a tea or ground into a paste.

According to the survey of wild and edible plants there are several ways in which the flowers can be prepared including with meat, stir-fried or made into a datshi with chili and cheese. Our house-keeper, Yeshi made a datshi out of the flowers for lunch yesterday.

She began by boiling the flowers on our gas stove, she explained that this would  clean the flowers as well as  remove some of the bitterness. Below is the pot of flowers after they were boiled. Yeshi points out how brown the water has become.

 Next the flowers were drained and placed in a bowl with fresh water. Yeshi then scooped out the flowers and pressed out the water by hand.

 This is what the boiled, drained and hand strained flowers looked like.

Then Yeshi had to painstakingly clean the flowers by hand, removing any remaining dirt  as well as a large green, very boiled caterpillar. ( Poor guy!)

Afterwards she added the typical ingredients for a datshi. Chili, salt , a little bit of vegetable oil and water. The cheese is added after the dish is almost cooked. In this case we were out of Bhutanese cheese, so Yeshi used the processed Indian cheese that is becoming the standard in many Bhutanese kitchens.

And here we have the finished product, ready to eat.The texture of the flowers was a little slimy but not unpleasant and the taste was less bitter than I remember. Its possible that they were boiled a little too zealously removing too much bitterness.

For more on survey of wild and edible Bhutanese plants: 
Kinlay Tshering ( 2012 “ Edible and Wild Plants of Bhutan  and their contribution to food and nutritionsecurity”  Horticulture Division, Department of Agriculture Ministry of Agriculture & Forests, Royal Government of Bhutan

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Reading Notes: Fishing in Haa

From: " Memoirs of a Political Officer's Wife in Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan" by Margaret D. Williamson, an account of her life and travels in the Himalayas during the early 1930's.
" Our final day in Ha, we watched an unusual way of fishing. One line of boys, beating the water with sticks, drove the fish downstream to where another line of boys were waiting in a 'V' formation. The latter than funnelled the fish into the wide mouth of a tapering bamboo basket" 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The return of "To Zowa Sho"

 I recently caught up with an old friend from high school who wants to take up blogging about local food traditions in her home country, Nepal. Since she was always the best cook in our dorm I can't believe she didn't come to this idea sooner. She can't believe I stopped updating this blog. "You are in the perfect place to do this kind of writing," she reminded me. As always her enthusiasm was infectious. Its been  more than a year since my last post but after that conversation  I am finally ready to come back to regularly blogging about Bhutanese food. 

To celebrate my return, here is my favorite food photo of the last year.  A close up of the beautiful and very tasty beans I helped my mother harvest in her garden in Tang, Bumthang last fall. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tshomin's Tree Tomato Ezay

This time of year, when tree tomatoes are in season, Tshomin often whips up a batch of her  famous Ezay, a sort of side dish/ condiment  to add a little spice to any rice-based  meal.  Above is a handful of the fresh tree tomatoes, you can see that tree tomatoes are little more egg shaped than "regular tomatoes." This ezay is the only recipe I know for the tree tomato though once at the lovely  Zhiwa Ling hotel in Paro, I ate them  poached in honey as dessert. Very tasty!

Tshomin always makes it sound like this is an easy dish to throw together but it does take a bit of effort and time. Its also best served fresh. Tshomin starts by pre-soaking dried red chillies, this help to soften them up a little. 

Then both the tomatoes and the red chilli have to be roasted. In our house this is done over an open flame . Tshomin braves burnt fingers as she carefully turns the chili and tomato until they are both nicely roasted as indicated by the blackening skin seen in the picture below. 

The roasted tomato must then be peeled. The skin is tough but the flesh is wonderfully pulpy once its been roasted. Again this takes quick fingers, unafraid of a little heat. I love the tufts of steam you can see rising as Tshomin peels

Next both the peeled tomato and the roasted chili are roughly chopped. If you wanted to take the heat down a little you can take the seeds out of the chili but we are not that kind of family. Again look at that steam!

The chopped tomato and chili are then added to a mortar that already contains chopped onions and a peeled chunk of ginger ( no need to chop the ginger) . Generally its about one regular red onion and a finger of ginger. Tshomin tends to keep roasting and adding chili and tomatoes until she feels like she had made enough. She is very much one of those, "I know it when I see it" type cooks!

Now its time to use the pestle to crush and grind the ingredients down into a thick, chunky paste.  Just before the ezay is done Tshomin adds salt, crushed Sichuan peppers and fresh chopped coriander.

The end produce looks like this. Thought admittedly at many meals we serve it straight for the mortar!

As you can tell this particular batch of ezay was not made for a typical Bhutanese meal but it was just as appreciated with oven roasted chicken and peas as it might have been with a more traditional spread.