Bhutanese food

Eating out

A couple of friends and I went out for lunch the other day. We ate at Cousins, a new restaurant that specializes in authentic Bhutanese food. You’ll find the restaurant on the first floor of the new building opposite the BNB.

The food at Cousins is good. We had ribs (with dried red chillies and spring onions in a hot garlic sauce),chopped dried beef (in a chilli and cheese sauce), kewa-datsi, dal, rice and, for desert, fresh apples in cream.

The food, like I said earlier, was good. And it was mainly traditional Bhutanese fare.

But in fact, there was very little that was really Bhutanese on the table; almost all the ingredients had been imported. Pork, beef, green chillies, cheese, onions, garlic, cooking oil, salt, potatoes, apples, cream, rice – they’d all been imported; they’d all come from India. As far as I could tell, the only ingredients which had been produced locally were the dried red chillies and the spring onions.

But it wasn’t just the ingredients that had been imported. The plates, bowls, cutlery, shakers, napkins and table cloth all came from outside, as did the wooden tables and chairs. And the building itself was built by Indian workers using mostly imported material.

Cousins is not alone. All restaurants, throughout the country, rely, almost completely, on imported ingredients. And almost all restaurants, throughout the country, are housed in buildings that have been built using mainly foreign material and foreign workers. But it’s not just restaurants. The story is repeated throughout our country, in every school, every hospital, every monastery, and in almost every home.

We don’t grow our own food. We don’t build our own houses. And, besides hydropower, we don’t produce much else. So it’s no wonder that we depend so heavily on imports. It’s no wonder that have such a huge trade deficit. And it’s no wonder that we’re facing such serious currency crisis.


The Musk

Musk Nepali ThaliAbout a hundred years ago, a Haap left Bhutan for Kalimpong. He didn’t return home, choosing, instead, to settle down, with other Bhutanese, in Dolopchen, a small hamlet near Pedong.

Several generations later, his great granddaughter, Deki Lhamu, is back in Bhutan. And, together with her husband, Jigme Norbu, she owns and runs Musk, a restaurant in the clock tower square. Musk (formed by reversing the last four letters of CHOKSUM, their daughter’s name) specializes in Kalimpong food – a delightful blend of Bhutanese, Sikkimese, Tibetan and Nepali cuisines.

I enjoy their menu. So, I go there often. If you like Nepali food, go there on any Thursday. That’s when they serve their Nepali Thali, a sumptuous set lunch consisting of rice, mutton or pork curry, aloo sabji, gundrook (fermented saag soup), alu bhaji (shredded potatoes fried to a crisp), papad and a spicy sauce made from dale, tomatoes and garlic. Simply delicious. I know, because that’s what I had for lunch today.

But, if you prefer Bhutanese food, go there on Fridays for their Bhutanese Bangchu.

And they serve up many other delicacies too, from roast chicken to momos and thukpa. My favourite is “dhopdhop”, a spice-less curry made from beef, tomatoes, onions, ginger and chilies. Deki says that the “dhopdhop” was created by her grandmother, and that it is not available anywhere else.

Except for Mondays, Musk is open everyday for lunch and dinner.