Friday, October 21, 2011


There is a saying in Bhutan: "If it does not make you sweat, then why bother to eat?" This brought me much joy when I read it, and much chagrin to my long suffering wife who is not as enthusiastic about chilli as I am. While I am not yet ready to go up against the brute power of the Ghost Chili, Naga Viper Pepper, Guatamalan Insano Pepper, or Infinity Chili (three of these are actual chillis) I am finding myself getting rather addicted. I have read that the capsaicin in chili tricks the body into thinking it is being burnt, which then triggers pain receptors in the mouth that fire off signals to the brain. The brain then releases endorphins which act as natural painkillers and produce a physical rush which the body subsequently craves.
For me the dependance began as a young kid. My siblings and cousins used to challenge each other to eat some of the most feared condiment in the fridge: 'Al's Hellfire Chutney'. To a ten-year old, this was the ultimate in derring-do, as Al, a close friend of the family, clearly had a sick desire to inflict pain on his friends by handing out bottles of the home-made magma every Christmas. I once made the mistake of using foul language within earshot of my mother, and instead of soap, she washed my mouth out with chutney. While the method might seem unorthodox, it was certainly effective: you won't find any F-bombs on this blog. Little did I know that from such a young age I was already producing the aforementioned rush, which would lead to cravings, and let's face it, a few overdoses that were greatly regretted at about 9:30 the following morning.

Cuisine aside, Bhutan is one of the last really mysterious nations left in the "Far East". This is in part due to the restrictions on tourism in Bhutan. In order to preserve the cultural identity and minimise environmental impact, the government of Bhutan regulates the number (and quality) of tourists allowed to visit the country. Bhutan is one of the only countries in the world to recognise Buddhism as a state religion (the other being Cambodia), and their culture is steeped in the Buddhist tradition. One of the most recognisable structures in Bhutan is unsurprisingly a buddhist temple called Paro Taktsang or 'the Tiger's Nest'. Legend has it that a great tantric teacher, Guru Padmasambhava, flew to the location of the temple on the back of the wife of a Tibetan Emperor, whom he had turned into a winged tigress. There is nothing not to like about that legend. In fact I hope Disney-Pixar are reading this entry because that would make a killer movie plot.

Anyway you could probably have guessed from the above discourse that I am going to cook with chilli. Unlike the rest of the world, who generally use chilli as a spice or seasoning, the Bhutanese use it as a vegetable. One of the following recipes, Ema Datshi is true to this principle. This is a dish that no Bhutanese meal would be complete without, and literally translates to Chilli Cheese. As mentioned (complained about) in earlier posts, I do not live in the most cosmopolitan area of Australia, so again one of the ingredients was a little difficult to source: yak cheese (go figure). Anyway after much google searching I stumbled upon the Australia Bhutan Friendship Assoc. which gave the best substitution for this particular recipe as a 50-50 mix of kraft singles and feta cheese.

Ema Datshi (Chilli Cheese)


Big hot fresh chilli peppers (I used jalapeƱo)
Yak Cheese (see substitute above)
1 Tbsp Butter
Salt (to taste - traditionally this is a salty dish)


Wash chilli and split lengthways.

Melt butter in a pan, then add chilli, water and salt. Bring to the boil for a few minutes until chilli softens.

Add cheese until you have a gooey sauce (if using above substitution add kraft singles first then feta).

Phaksha Pa


1 Onion, diced

About 1 inch Fresh ginger root, grated

40g Unsalted butter

1/2 cup water

2 Tsp Salt

150g Dried pork (I used chinese pork sausage)

1 Fresh green chili pepper

Cook the bok choy in a saucepan of boiling water until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the pork shoulder, onion, daikon, water, chili powder, and salt and simmer over low heat until the pork is just tender, about 1 hour and 25 minutes.

Add the ginger, bok choy, dried pork, and chili pepper to the stew and simmer over low heat until heated through, 5 to 10 minutes.

Serve with red rice.

This recipe is dedicated to my wife, who bravely ate a full serve of Ema Datshi, and even pretended to like it.

3 Heads Bok choy sliced

2 Tbsp Chili powder

450g Pork shoulder, diced

1 medium Daikon (or white radish) shredded (I used food processor)


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  2. Bhutan is not part of the "far east". Bhutan is a tiny Himalayan country bordering India and Bangladesh in Southern Asia. And Tibet(prior to Chinese colonization) would be considered either part of South Asia or Central Asia( the Tibetan culture and way of life has many similarities with Central Asian countries-example, nomadic/pastoral lifestyle, dairy based foods, traditional reliance on horses and the landscape is unmistakably central asian too).