When in Bhutan, you have to eat Ema Datshi. It is afterall, their national dish.
Since the time my Bhutan tour was fixed, courtesy Taj Tashi, there was one dish which surfaced as a must have in Bhutan. It’s the national dish of Bhutan called – Ema Datshi. Ema means chilies and Datshi is the cheese. A meal at Chig Ja Gye and an extensive chat with Executive Chef Piyush Mishra meant that I get my concept clear about Ema Datshi. It is an easy to make chili and cheese stew, as he loves to put this across. The homemade ricotta cheese is very popular across Bhutan and almost every home makes it. It is little high on salt and has a crumbly texture. For better understanding, the taste is a mid way between a feta cheese and a gruyere cheese.
Bhutan and its tryst with chilies
Winter in Bhutan means scarcity of vegetables. They often dry their vegetables. So, when it comes to ema datshi, at times you can have either with the green chilies or red chilies or both. The cheese here is local cheese made of yak’s milk and butter is the medium of cooking for this dish. Bhutanese cuisine is guided by its simplicity and this dish is a perfect testimony to it. When we saw Executive Chef of Taj Tashi – Piyush Mishra making Ema Datshi, it was a smooth cover drive by Sourav Ganguly on Offside. The small picturesque country treats chili as a vegetable and one can find its presence in almost every dish. There was a clear mandate from Madhushree to not bring any home decor stuff but only local cooking stuff. Who would let go off a chance to cook Ema Datshi at home – picked up the red dried ‘wrinkled’ chilies at INR 500 a kg, the green chilies at INR 100 a kg and the local cheese – 5 cubes at INR 100. I had picked them up at the large vegetable market opposite to the place where the weekend market takes place in Thimpu and very near to our hotel.
The chilies, which otherwise cannot be tasted and burns your mouth, mellows down drastically in this cheese stew. When Madhushree was making this, she had by mistake popped a tiny portion of the green chili in her mouth and was short of being taken to the emergency room. Ok, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but yes, on its own, these chilies are simply fiery. The Datshi does not only come with Ema. There is kewa datshi (with potato), shamu datshi (with mushrooms), shakam ema datshi (Ema datshi with local Bhutanese dried beef) , shakam shukam datshi, which is the beef cooked with white chilies etc. As I stated in the beginning – Ema Datshi is the national dish, so anything and everything gets centred around the cheese.
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Ema Datshi - The national dish of Bhutan
- 12 nos Bhutanese Green Chilies
- 1 no Medium Sized Onion
- 1 no medium sized tomato
- 3/4 cup Bhutanese local cheese
- 3/4 cup processed cheese
- 1 tbsp Butter
- Salt To Taste
- Finely cut the green chillies length wise and discard the seeds.
- Slice the onions and the tomatoes too.
- In a frying pan or a sauce pan, take the butter and melt it.
- Add the onions to it and simply sweat them. Keep the heat at medium so that the onions don't turn brown.
- When the onions have become soft, add the tomatoes and then again cook for about five minutes and add the Bhutanese green chilies.
- Cook the chilies for five minutes and then add the local cheese and the processed cheese. Immediately add 2 cups of water and cook till the cheese has melted and formed a nice sauce.
- It takes about 10 to 12 minutes for the sauce to be prepared.
- Finally add salt if required and turn off the heat.
- Serve the stew hot and it can be had as it is or with rice if you wish.
- The quantities for the ingredients given by Chef Piyush were in tbsp whereas here I have given them in the quantities convenient for home cooks (eg one onion and one tomato).
- In case you want to make this dish when you do not have Bhutanese cheese, you can try it out with some feta and processed cheese. (I have not tried it hence cannot guarantee result. However, I do know that most people outside of Bhutan make this with just amul cheese)
- The amount of water required is also dependant on the thinness of the stew you prefer. Add more water if you feel like but add slowly instead of at one go.