BHUTAN: Kingdom of the Clouds
Hapai Hantue – Bok Choy & Poppy Seed Buckwheat Dumplings
I’ve always dreamed of going to Bhutan, one of the most unspoilt and picturesque countries in the world -alas the cost is so prohibitively high, only the well heeled can afford it. Sadly I know I’ll never make it there. But I have been to Myanmar, which (in 1990) was also one of the most difficult countries to travel to. And that was very special, but still not as entrancing as Bhutan……..
Bhutan Fact File
The Kingdom of Bhutan has been known as Southland of the Herbs, the Sandalwood Country and the Land of Happiness. A high altitude land-locked country sandwiched between Tibet to the North and Northern Indian states to the West And South. It’s a land of towering high peaks, fast flowing rivers and deep valleys. Sub-tropical jungle in the south, it becomes Polar and snow-bound in the north, this allows it’s outstanding range of biodiversity. There are five seasons, spring,summer,autumn, winter and monsoon.
Tradition is very strong in a country which was almost completely isolated from the modern world until the 1960’s and only allowed TV and the Internet in 1999! So it’s rich and unique culture has remained intact, the government decried that all citizens must wear traditional clothing when in public! Thanks to the hefty mandatory charge of US$250+ per day per tourist, tourism will be limited and it will probably remain so unspoilt.
Sights to see
Religion is intrinsic to Bhutanese life, predominantly Buddhist with Hinduism practiced in the south. Some of the most spectacular sights are the precariously situated Dzongs (fortress) such as Punakha and Trongsa and the Taktshang Goemba (monastery) and other historic buildings in the capital Thimpu. Check out fantastic wildlife, go on cycling tours, mountain treks, snow treks, fly fishing or admire spectacular alpine scenery.
Heavily influenced by the proximity of Chinese culinary traditions and Indian cuisines, Bhutan has come to love the chilli as no other – so much so that they eat it as a vegetable not just a condiment! The national; and ubiquitous dish is a chilli and cheese dip served with everything, rather like a sambal or pickle, called Ema Datsi.
Dairy mostly cheese and butter is a very important source of protein, from cows, yaks goats and buffalo. Buckwheat and red rice are the main grains along with barley and millet, all cool climate crops, and used to make breads, noodles, dumplings and biriyani style dishes.
Remembering many Bhutanese are vegetarian, beef and pork are commonly eaten and trout from their pristine rivers. Much is made of wild gathered food such as ferns, canes orchids, wild greens like radish and turnip tops, wild berries and especially adored are mushrooms such as Chanterelles. Many fresh herbs like coriander, dill and fennel are used along with ginger,garlic and shallots. Of course lots of ‘Indian’ spices are used with Szechwan pepper, Perilla and poppy seeds particularly popular.
The food of Bhutan is often blisteringly hot, but as richly varied as this jewel of a country is itself.
Buckwheat Dumplings with Bok Choy & Poppy Seed Filling Serves 4-6
This recipe was taken from http://www.asian-recipe.com/bhutan/bh-vegetarian-recipes.html with some slight changes on my part – namely I made a mistake with reading the recipe, and I love Szechwan pepper! I think the combination of buckwheat with poppy seeds and boy choy is so interesting.
- 1 bunch bok choy, washed, chopped
- 3 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon Chinese Szechuan peppercorns
- 2 medium garlic cloves
- 3 cm cube fresh ginger
- 1 small red onion
- 1/2 cup crumbled farmer cheese or Danish Feta
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 60 gm butter, melted to golden brown
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup buckwheat flour
- 1 cup water
- All-purpose flour, for dusting
- To make the filling, cook the bok choy in a saucepan of boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and squeeze dry.
- Grind the poppy seeds and peppercorns with a spice grinder, or in a mortar.
- Process the onion, garlic and ginger until finely chopped. Add half the melted butter and the rest of ingredients and pulse briefly until just combined. Leave to cool.
- To make the dough, combine the flours in a food processor. With the motor running pour the water and the rest of the melted butter through the feed tube and process until the dough forms a ball. Dust the ball with flour.
- Cut the dough into 8 pieces, dust with flour, and cover with plastic wrap to prevent drying out. Roll out the remaining piece with a pasta machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions, down to the second lowest setting, dusting with flour occasionally to prevent sticking. Or rollout thinly with a rolling pin. Place the dough sheet between sheets of plastic wrap. Roll out the remaining dough in the same manner.
- Cut the sheets, 1 at a time, into 4 by 2 inch [10 by 5cm] rectangles. Place 1 teaspoon of the filling in the center of each rectangle. Brush the edges lightly with water and fold the rectangles over to make squares, pressing the edges to seal them well.
- Cook the dumplings in batches in a saucepan of simmering salted water until they float to the top and are tender. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
- Serve with Ema Datsi or if you’re pressed for time as I was – Chiu Chow Chilli Oil and garnish with fresh chilli and chopped coriander.
Chilli Chicken with Buckwheat Noodles Serves 4-5
I made this dish with chicken mince not the more traditional pieces, as that was all I had on the night. The flavourings are very Chinese but with a twist, for the buckwheat noodles I used Japanese Soba noodles which are probably more refined than the more homey Bhutanese version.
I kind of combined two recipes, one for noodles from http://www.peisch.com/photos/bhutan/Recipes and the other for the chilli chicken came from http://www.chicken.ca/recipes/bhutanese-chili-chicken-with-red-rice
- 500gm chicken thigh fillets /breast or mince
- 1/4 cup cornflour
- 2 tbsp sesame oil + 1 tsp extra
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 green chillies, sliced
- 1/2 red capsicum, sliced
- 1/2 bunch spring onions, cut into 5cm lengths
- 1 tbsp ginger, grated
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 2 tomatoes, cut into wedge
- salt and fresh black pepper
- 270gm packet of soba noodles
- coriander, chopped to garnish
- Rinse 2/3 packet of noodles under cold running water, bring large pan of water to the boil.
- Add noodles and boil for 2 minutes, drain.
- Cut the chicken into cubes, season with 1/2 tsp salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper and toss with cornflour making sure all pieces are totally coated. If using mince, sprinkle flour over.
- Heat oils over medium heat in a non-stick wok or skillet. Cook chicken until pieces are browned on both sides and slightly crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Heat other 1 tsp of sesame oil, add sliced onion, minced garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add capsicum, chillies and shallots, cook another 2 minutes. Return chicken to pan, add sliced tomato wedges, season with soy sauce and heat through another minute.
- Add the noodles to the pan and toss everything together. Serve garnished with chopped coriander.
My family enjoyed this meal, although making the dumplings was a lot of work, especially on a hot night – better suited for a cold winter night. Hubby isn’t fussed on buckwheat noodles and was fairly unimpressed, but Bunny and I loved these unusually spiced dumplings – I could have eaten a lot more of them for sure! Our Bhutan meal got a combined score of 27/40, the dumplings getting thumbs up from all but hubby.