I do love Indian food, and I have eaten a lot of Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Italian, and more. But for the very first time I had got the opportunity to sample the Bhutanese cuisine in my very own city, at the Hilton International in Mumbai.
The Hilton International in Mumbai curated the Bhutanese food festival, and I rejoiced at the sheer prospect of being one of the lucky bloggers to be able to try this out. The festival is only going to last till the 7th of April 2018. The welcome at the Hilton was warm. Mr. Anubhav had accompanied me to the restaurant and showed me around the place. The very well known chef Balaji Shrinivasan, guided me through the nuances of the Bhutanese culture and cuisine. Chef explained that the Bhutanese people survived in very extreme weather of minus six degrees celsius in certain months of the year. Their summers too are relatively chilly. All this is owing to the fantatic geography of the country that braves the cold icy winds from the Himalayas.
On being welcomed I was served a fantastic drink, called the Butter tea. The tea is locally called ‘Suja’. This is made of yak milk butter, water, salt, and tealeaves. It is consumed warm, and has a thick soup-like texture. It does have a slight bitter edge to it, but once you develop the taste for it you are sure to like it. The drink is served in bowls alongwith puffed rice or millets and is particularly high in calories. However it is ideal for people residing in the cold weather.
The one thing I also noticed about Bhutanese food was that they use little or negligible portions of oils, but definitely incorporate liberal amounts of butter or cheese in their diet. The food is served in semi liquid state. I asked chef why was the food in a semi-liquid state? He responded by stating that the Bhutanese people won’t drink much water, however they incorporate water in their foods in an effort to provide for adequate hydration to the body along with fat content to keep them from the freezing cold. The people from Bhutan take to both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian diet. In fact I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Bhutanese have a plethora of vegetarian items on their menu.
At the Hilton, I was served a wonderful riverweed soup. The riverweed soup is called ‘Jaju’. This tastes similar to the butter tea.
The chilli cheese vegetable was the next dish that I tried. I thought it was used as a seasoning to the vegetable, but that was not the case. People in Bhutan have the Chilli cheese as is! I was in for a rude shock, as I could only imagine the acidity levels in their body, but what I really forgot is the chilly will provide for the necessary heat. The dish is locally known as Ema Datshi.
I dug into some turnip too. It is not something the Indian cuisine commonly incorporates. The turnip vegetable is commonly found in this region and savoured too. the vegetable is cooked in oodles of cheese.
There was a famous aubergine dish that I couldn’t stop ogling at! To begin with the vegetable acquired a unique appearance and flavour. I couldn’t really tell if the vegetable was aurbegine. But once I took a bite, I could clearly tell from the flavours.
I also tried some vegetables served with brown rice. The Bhutanese take to brown rice (or semi-milled Red rice) as they consider it healthier, as compared to white rice. Brown rice is also lighter to digest, and takes less time to cook. The brown rice has a slightly nutty flavour, as compared to its whiter counterparts, giving the rice a little more character as compared to white rice.
There was a selection of Momo’s. Each one was better than the other. The most unique aspect of Bhutanese cuisine is that they don’t have any dessert to offer. I was a little saddened by that but that is what makes the cuisine unique in its own right.
The food is bereft of spices like in Indian food, but can certainly be cherished by those who enjoy the continental flavours. I enjoyed the flavours of fresh organically grown vegetables cooked to perfection. The food was well prepared, however, since the food type is relatively hot in nature, the Hilton could have tried hosting this festival in the winter months.
I got back home with a number of bakery items that the hotel staff lovingly packed for me to take back home for my family. All in all I had a wonderful time, and I strongly recommend the readers to try this out.