MAIN STORY: It has just been over five decades since Bhutan opened her door to modernisation ushering in many changes. One of the significant changes is in food culture.
Due to the country’s difficult terrain and lack of communication, regions developed their own food culture that evolved over the centuries.
The people of Haa and Paro in the west of the country recently celebrated Lomba (new year) with their special local delicacy known as Hoentey – dumpling made from sweet buckwheat flour and stuffed with green turnip leaves, amaranth seeds, cottage cheese and butter mixed with red chili powder, onion and ginger.
When the people of Haa celebrate their new year with Hoentey, Parops do with Jomja – a local version of pizza, which is cooked with rice powder kneaded into dough and garnished with a paste made from walnut, red chili powder, ginger and onion. In the same valley, locals known as Bjawops also celebrate their local festival called Naru with a cake made from roasted rice mixed with butter and honey.
And Nyilo is just around the corner. Nyilo is celebrated in western parts of the country such as Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue, Haa and Paro, coinciding with the Winter Solstice. This is also an occasion to celebrate the day with special regional food.
During Nyilo, children go around singing Loley to the neighbours. They receive various gifts such as rice, meat, butter, eggs, sugar, tealeaves and cheese. They collect the gifts and go for picnic.
Many western regions celebrate Nyilo with a rice cake garnished with ezay or a feast of traditional Bhutanese food. But the people of Bumthang in the central region celebrate the day with Puta, a noodle made from sweet buckwheat flour and garnished with red chili powder, onion, ginger and amaranth seeds.
In the southern parts of the country, during the festival of Dassain, which is celebrated in the month of October, families prepare Shelroti from the paste of rice flour that is fried in oil in the form of rings. They prepare them for their consumption as well as to give them to the relatives and friends. The families also make other delicacies such as Kheer and Dakani, both made from white rice and milk.
Pema Wangmo, mother of three, said Bhutan has rich and strong food culture. “Food symbolises abundance and prosperity. That’s why they are vital part of offerings on special occasions.”
In Bhutan, formal ceremonies begin with the offering of Zhudey Phunsum Tshogpa and Marchang, which is an offering of rice, suja tea, fruits, nuts, and local alcohol. Other offerings such as dresi, shamdrey and droem dizang are also prepared during special rituals.
Offering food without expectation is also an essence of Buddhism and compassion, which most of the Bhutanese practice, Pema Wangmo said. “The food tradition has been handed down from generation to generation, with each generation making their own modifications and innovations depending on availability of ingredients.”
Although the exact origin and history of Bhutanese dishes cannot be known, the word ‘dru-na-gu’ meaning the ‘nine cereals’ is an indication that our forefathers ate much the same food as we do today.
Today, with the advent of modernisation, several dishes have been introduced in the country through foreign influence, especially from India and Tibet. These dishes have changed the Bhutanese taste and have become very much part of Bhutanese menu. Besides momo, thukpa, roti, bread and Indian cuisines, sandwiches and pizza have made their way into the country.
Dried pork – 150g
Dried beef – 150g
1 ball of datse (cheese)
Several spring onion
Dried red chillies/fresh green chillies
2 tbsp oil
Chop meat about half-inch size and cook well with water and oil. Add cheese, chillies, onion and eggs and cook again for about 5 minutes. Mix well and garnish with spring onions. Serve gravy with rice.
This dish can be prepared either dry or with gravy. Chillies can be dried, steamed or fresh. This dish is best enjoyed with rice.
Authentic Bhutanese Cook Book
Locally known as Buksa Makhu, it is the Bhutanese version of Pasta. Prepared from fine wheat flour mixed with sugar, it is a special cuisine of the southeastern dzongkhag of Samdrupjongkhar.
Jambuli or wheat flour noodle is made from wheat flour and is flavoured with a mixture of pepper (thingye) and chillies. It is also considered special cuisine from Bumthang dzongkhag.
Dzongkhags’ specialty list
Thimphu : Shamdray
Zhemgang: Bum-Pai-Cha (Bamboo shoot)
Tsirang: Khir and Da-Ka-Ni
Monger: O-Ray-To (Bean Rice)
S/Jongkhar: Buk-sa Mar-Khu
Samtse: Puri Alu-Dham