Ema Datshi of Bhutan


I’ve never been great at lying to people. So here it is: I disliked this dish.

Before I explain myself, let me pose a question: Is there a flavor, spice, ingredient, that repels you? Maybe you cannot even smell it without wincing, maybe it even causes a physical reaction within you. You see where I’m going with this, yes?

I knew blue cheese wasn’t my absolute favorite cheese in the world. In fact, I tend to eat around it when it pops up in my salad. Then I say to myself, maybe this time. Maybe this time, I’ll begin to like blue cheese. Taste buds change. People change. I used to not like so many things that I now love: tomato soup, most vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, parmesan cheese, dark chocolate.

This is what went through my head while making this dish. I haven’t really enjoyed blue cheese yet… maybe tonight is the night. Maybe I need a dish totally outside of how I normally eat blue cheese to expand my tastes. There I was, sprinkling 1/4 lb. of blue cheese into a hot pan of jalapeños and tomatoes, assuming that having that much blue cheese in one dish would make me like it more. Ultimately, the flavor of the blue cheese was overpowering, so much so I couldn’t finish my plate.

I haven’t even mentioned the jalapeños until now. Oh, the jalapeños! My eyes began to sting and puff after cutting six. Spencer came to the rescue, and helped me put on his swimming goggles to wear. These goggles see action every time Spencer cuts onions, (and you know how much Spencer loves onions).


In Bhutan, this dish would be made with all of the seeds of the jalapeños. I opted to cut them out. Therefore, my dish had a little heat, but nothing compared to the real deal. Furthermore, a more authentic dish would not have blue cheese, but “cooked, churned yak whey.” It, like blue cheese, will sit in open containers, producing blue veins of mold. To get the real stuff, you’d need to go to Bhutan, where they produce dairy products like cheese and butter from the yak. Along with the unattainable dairy, there were spices that I could not get, including Szechuan flower peppercorns and homemade Habanero pepper powder.

So Bhutan, you were… intense. An experience. A lesson. A giant mountain of spicy peppers that left my eyes and hands tingling with heat. An affirmation that no, I still do not enjoy blue cheese. And that’s okay. Despite the apparent lack of pleasure in this dish, I was able to chip away at my global understanding of cuisine.

Truly, this dish has been the most thought provoking dish in a long time. Back when I made Bangladesh, I was in awe of the intense mustard flavor. Bangladesh and Bhutan are neighbors separated by a small piece of India. Why am I surprised that Bhutan also has such intense flavors? Why is this area filled with overpowering flavor? How did Bhutan’s culture, geography, access to ingredients, etc., help shape their cuisine? These are the questions that I like to ponder as I eat the dish and write the posts.

I cannot answer these questions about their cuisine heritage yet, but what I do know and understand is the pride the Bhutanese have for this dish, and understandably so. How many places do you know that are using dairy products from the yak? Wouldn’t you secretly find pride in foreigners expressing amazement at your spice tolerance, and laugh at their lack of? I think I would.

Quick Quotes

S: “You really have to rise to the challenge for this one. For me, the spice wasn’t too much, but there was a little too much cheese for my taste.”

T: “Intense. The blue cheese dominated the dish, spice would’ve too if I hadn’t taken out the seeds of the jalapeños. Underneath the blue cheese, there was probably some great flavors that I was missing.”

Ingredient List

  • ghee (instead of yak butter)
  • garlic
  • fresh ginger
  • lemon zest
  • jalapeños
  • onion
  • turmeric
  • Szechuan flower peppercorns
  • cinnamon
  • Habanero pepper powder
  • tomatoes
  • buttermilk
  • blue cheese

Trivial Trifles

  • The capital of Bhutan is Thimphu
  • The official language is Dzongkha
  • Bhutan is the first nation to ban smoking in public and selling tobacco (Tobacco Control Act of Bhutan 2010)
  • Many of Bhutan’s traditions/values come from its Buddhist heritage. This includes the government initiative to measure the happiness of its citizens, a concept termed Gross National Happiness (GNH). Coined in 1972 by the Dragon King,  Jigme Singye Wangchuck, it represents Bhutan’s belief in building an economy on values different than the Western world’s materialistic ones, which measures economic development through Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  • The ban on television and the Internet wasn’t lifted from Bhutan until 1999, due to the fear TV/Internet would corrupt their nation’s values
  • Gangkar Puensum, part of the Himalayas, is the highest mountain in the world that has never been climbed (24,840 ft)
  • Bhutan’s largest export is Hydroelectricity
  • Last, but not least, Bhutan is also known as the Thunder Dragon Kingdom. See flag:Flag_of_Bhutan-1.svg.png



One thought on “Ema Datshi of Bhutan

  1. I love the photo of you and your summary of this experience! A smell that repels me–liver sausage frying in the kitchen when I get up in the morning. 😣

    Sent from my iPad



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