It’s beautiful and serene here in the highlands. The light combs through the trees and leaves friendly rays on the blooms, every acre of Bhutan filled with a warm promise. Springtime in March is traditional festival time in Bhutan, the community gathering in twos, threes, even tens and more to watch colourful dances with bold and bright masks and costumes. The music rings loud, the mood stays light. Four years ago, I landed in her warm but dry summer, just in time to work the potato and buckwheat farms with the local farmers, hike through her numerous valleys and pastoral lands. And during my first trip in the frigid winter of 2014, I experienced the infinite warmth of locals who introduced me to suja (Bhutanese butter tea) and opened up their kitchens and backyards to cook me fresh hot meals. Thanks to our partner Druk Asia, I’m blessed to be able to visit this fabled destination thrice! Still, the gentle, unembellished ways and stories of Bhutan and her people remain fascinating and inspiring.

This is a country that has kept fast food chains out of sight, persisted on organic agriculture free from pesticides. She has banned the sale of tobacco and boasts of having one of the only two national capitals in the world with no traffic lights. The epitome of sustainability, we have much to learn from the ambition and determination of this landlocked Himalayan kingdom in keeping the country unspoiled from rapidly growing modernity. If you haven’t yet downloaded our photo journal, you really should! This is a stunning curation of the photos we took in our three trips, showcasing Bhutan’s community, culture, cuisine and how easy it is to choose good in this happy country! Savour our SouperChef Specials, inspired by the humble local ingredients and their no-frills culinary methods and stand to win a trip to Bhutan! As always, taste good and choose good. Let’s embrace the ways of the Bhutanese and do our little bit for the planet, a bowl of soup at a time. Enjoy Bhutan, Unfiltered!

Zachum Tshoem (Picnic Curry)

Spring days in Bhutan are pretty magical—blue-amber skies with puffs of translucent clouds, lush green trees and flowers everywhere in their bloomy colourful glory. Too good a day to be indoors, our dear guide Mrs TP prepared a picnic for us after we attended a festival. I don’t know how she did it but in no time at all, she whipped up a magnificent spread of dishes! Laid cosily on a rug were countless cute little bowls and plates of homecooked delights—the familiar Bhutanese must-haves of chilli cheese, ezay, red rice and dumplings amongst other steaming hot dishes. We ate a lot. How could we not? Such labour of love and a beautiful memory of spring in the warmth of fellowship and good food! This SouperChef Special pays tribute to our glorious picnic, inspired by the chicken dish and chilli cheese Mrs TP prepared! I love this soup, amped up with our very own marinated chicken thigh with the appetising fiery heat of chilli. It’s suitably named Picnic Curry and now you know why!

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Rainbow Mushroom Red Rice Stew

During my second trip to Bhutan in 2015, we stayed in a guesthouse owned by a culinary enthusiast. There, we spent languid hours in the humble but well-equipped kitchen exchanging cooking tips and recipes. The highly prized matsutake mushrooms were in season then so we bought a kilogram of them to cook a meal for our hosts. I made a mushroom and asparagus puree with Bhutanese red rice and blistered tomatoes, and till this day, I can still remember the clean earthly aroma of this comforting dish! I guess it’s befitting to add this to our seasonal menu this time! Inspired by the very pricey cordyceps harvested in Bhutan, I have added cordyceps militaris (the cultivated version of the cordyceps sinesis) to the dish for more nourishment and depth of flavour from the herbs. The overall texture is also softened further to make it a smoother stew, uplifted by red and black beans, green lentils, carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Think colour, clean, and comfort—that’s our Rainbow Mushroom Red Rice Stew for you!

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Bhutanese Lentil Soup

Our guide Mrs TP was a vegetarian for a decade. Like many Bhutanese, she ate little meat and became fully devoted to a meatless diet for those ten years. “If it hurts when we get pricked, what more the animals we consume?” she shared, a little saddened. That decade, she subsisted on a diet of mainly red rice and chilli cheese, even during the most hectic of work days. This incredibly capable mother of two is one of the rare 11-12 active female guides in Bhutan and does some 40-45 trips a year! She was advised to go back to taking some occasional meat due to hair loss from protein deficiency but even then, she remained a firm advocate of a meat-free diet. After a very healthy meal at a farmhouse, I learned from her how to make a Bhutanese lentil soup! I was souper impressed by how the humblest of ingredients can produce such a hearty soup! In this rendition, I’ve added chickpeas and my favourite Quorn mycoprotein for a boost of nutrients. This SouperChef Special will satisfy, that I’m mighty sure!

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