Friday, 6 June 2014

Ema Datshi and a Royal connection

The other day I was chatting with a friend from College. Her name is Sharmishtha. We have spent some good time in college, we talked a lot about random stuff in the common room for hours together. She had beautiful long hair and large eyes. She danced well too. I really enjoyed her company. Sharmishtha got married when we were in the first year of college,  I was invited. It was a beautiful wedding. She was the first among my friends to get married and boy were we excited. Post college, I left for England and she got along with her life, had a baby, moved cities. We lost touch until we connected on Facebook again and even then we hardly had a conversation until the other day.

She had posted a picture of her rustling up something that looked delish in her kitchen in a cute apron and I left a comment. So we got talking. It was a Bhutanese dish she has learnt from her cousin through marriage.The dish was called Ema Datschi, the national dish of Bhutan. More about the dish soon, but before that a very interesting story. Now I vaguely remembered her mentioning, back in college, a connection with the Bhutanese Royal family, and so she told me the story again and with her permission I am sharing it with you.

The story goes back almost four decades. S's father-in-law, a Bengali, worked as a surgeon in the Royal Army of Bhutan. One day he met a Bhutanese girl and they fell in love with each other. Now this girl was none other than the then King's brother's niece through marriage. The royal connection forbade the girl to marry a common man. She could only marry in nobility or to a minister of the state. But love defies every obstacle. The two lovers eloped and left the country. The woman, S's mother-in-law, let behind her family, her friends and her country for her love, and in the next 33 years she never returned or got in touch with her family. Until they we reunited through a businessman, a few years ago. "Now we are a big, happy Indo-Bhutanese family," beams Sharmishtha. Her little daughter Srishti, is nothing less than a princess herself.

S's parents-in-law with their granddaughter Srishti

Long ago, S's Mom-in-law extreme right

S with little S in the national garb of Bhutan on their recent trip to the mountain kingdom

Yes so that is the story. Seems like a film script no?

Now abbout Ema Datshi. Like I said it is without a doubt the national dish of Bhutan. The dish is nothing but a stew in which the two main ingredients are chilies and cheese. Ema means chili, and Datshi is Bhutanese cheese. Sometimes, Yak's cheese is used in the dish instead. Traditionally, the dish is prepared by sauteing some garlic, onions and chilies in butter.And finally adding in the cheese and the dish is best savoured with Bhutan's famed red rice. But over time, the dish has been modified and in newer versions they add potatoes, beans, mushrooms and other greens too. I couldn't recall at first  but later I remembered tasting the dish at Calcutta's Blue Poppy restaurant. A friend who is a vegetarian had ordered for it and I had had a spoonful between mouthfuls of Pork Kothe. I remember liking it too, but somehow it had slipped my mind.

Now I have friends who complain that I hardly post vegetarian dishes, so I thought I would share this beautiful dish. In my version I have added potatoes and beans. I do not have Datshi or Yak's cheese, so I have used feta mainly, having added a little ricotta. It has done wonders trust me. Though it is traditionally had with rice, I love it with toasted bread. A good breakfast option too me thinks.


Finely chopped garlic - 2 tbsp
Finely chopped onions - 2 large
Finely chopped tomatoes - 2 (seeded)
Boiled potatoes cut in roundels - 4 medium
French beans (blanched) - 100 g
Salt to taste
Green chilies slit - 15-20
Feta cheese - 1/2 cup
Ricotta cheese - 1 tbsp (optional)
Milk - 1/2 cup
Butter - 2 tbsp


Heat butter in a pan and add the garlic. Once it begins to catch colour add the onions and chilies. Fry for a few minutes until onions are translucent.

Now add the beans, season and stir fry for another few minutes and add tomatoes.

When the tomatoes begin to release juices, turned the heat up and give the veggies and good toss. Finally add the boiled potatoes and toss again.

Now add milk and simmer for  couple of minutes. Stir in the cheese and let melt. Mix carefully without upsetting the potatoes. Adjust seasoning and remover from heat. Serve piping hot.

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