11 Jun 2009

Chilli and Cheese

“Addictions to ema are formed early in life and the victims, I for one, never recovered,” said Abi Sonam Kitsho, 85, from Zhemgang. “On cold winter days, I get such a passionate yearning for a bowl of ema datsi that I nearly lose my mind.” Kuenselonline

I'm just sitting down with a nice cup of Twinings Lemon and Ginger Tea, as I begin this post. You can see it in the photo above. It's a pretty cup - a Christmas present - but that's not why I'm showing it to you. It's the brownie I want you to see. It's the last one of a batch that were given to us as we left our hotel in Paro, Bhutan...well, actually, it's the second to last, but I do have to share...and yes, we did declare them through Customs...

The reason that I'm showing you this piece of deliciousness, is because despite its inoccuous appearence, this brownie is loaded with chilli. Hot chilli. The kind that make you sweat. It's delicious, but you need to drink lots of tea, and I mean lots.

No food in Bhutan is prepared without chilli - not brownies - not even food for toddlers. Parents encourage their kids to eat chilli, and their children take great pride in their ability to do so, seeing it as being grown up, and the Bhutanese thing to do.
A Bhutanese cook will look bewildered and say, "I don't know how to cook without chilli," and, more seriously, most Bhutanese will declare: "I cannot eat food without chilli."
The Bhutanese consider ema datse to be their National Dish. It translates as Chilli and Cheese. Not cheese with chilli, you'll note; chilli with cheese. Bhutanese cooks are particularly proud of their ema datse. You are served it everywhere, and everyone has their favourite variation: fresh Bhutanese green chillis with cheese; dried red chillis and cheese; blanched dried white chillis with cheese; green Indian chillis and dried red chillis with cheese; green chillis and tomato with cheese...you get the idea.

You eat ema datse with side dishes: ezay, a decicious chilli dip, and gen hogay, a cucumber, tomato and chilli salad. A dish of condiments is served along side: dried ground chilli and a couple of chilli and cheese dips. I'm not kidding, you know - here's a photo...

This pic proves that Jemimah has eaten ema datse. As you can see, she prefers chocolate...

PS The quote above about Bhutanese cooks is from a book of Bhutanese Food and Society by Kunzang Choden. It's called...yep, you guessed it...Chilli and Cheese.


  1. Wow! That's some hot stuff. I like a little spice, but I'm not sure I could survive long on that fare!

  2. Hi Jemimah. I liked that picture a lot. My mom and I would try them but my brother won't.
    Love, your friend, Max


I'd love you to leave me a message. Tell me what you like - and what you don't. Just remember that this is what we do in our family - it doesn't have to be what you do in yours...