My Souperinspiration: Bhutanese Spicy Chicken Stew
The inspiration behind my Bhutanese spicy chicken stew. Bhutanese cuisine is simple beyond our conception. In 2014, this was the one of the first stew we learnt to make in the home of Ugyen’s brother, Kinzang. Our guide told us that most Bhutanese only eat meat once a week. The maroo is a perfect combination of fresh ingredients and seasoned judiciously with lots of leeks, garlic, red onions and ginger, laden with green chilies that never decimate other flavors. We were told that this dish is typically prepared during special occasions and can either contain pork or beef. Children love this dish because of the noodles or rice added to the stew. The bjasha maroo we have made, besides boasting a soul-nourishing broth, is a good introduction to a little known and misunderstood culinary world. Loving the Bhutanese red rice, I have added this staple into the stew making it light in taste yet comforting. It was a definite favorite of mine and we had it twice during our short trip in 2014.
Centenary Farmers’ Market
The Centenary Farmers’ Market is one of the biggest domestic markets for Bhutanese farmers. Located near the main town in Thimphu, the double-storied building houses about 400 stalls selling organic and seasonal produce of vegetables, fruits, rice, spices, mushrooms etc, as well as incense and a cozy little cafeteria. Delicious vegetables were everywhere. From broccoli, cauliflower, corn, cucumbers and cabbage to potatoes, radishes, tomatoes, carrots, to eggplant, string beans, onions and garlic, and of course peppers both hot and sweet. Commonly enjoyed fruits are apples, delicious pears, and also mandarin oranges, peaches and plums, persimmons and jackfruit.We saw thingay, a type of Szechuan pepper and coriander seeds, and a wide variety of greens like mustard and turnip greens to kale, chard and beet greens. Commonly seen herbs include mint, fennel, Indian bay leaves, wild onion leaves as well as lemongrass.
You would have thought that I had never seen a fruit or a vegetable in my life. Or at least, I bet that is probably what Ugyen, our guide thought as we wandered through the fruit and vegetable section of the market. For what was probably the good part of an hour, we took picture after picture after picture of just about every potato, tomato, onion, green pepper, lettuce, cauliflower, asparagus, of course red and green chilies, and bitter gourd there was. Not to mention taking photographs of each apple, peach and watermelon. Needless to say, our guide Ugyen was very patient.
There is something about visiting local outdoor markets when I travel that I just love. Obviously it is the food, both seeing and tasting. On the visual level, I like the colors of the various fruits and vegetables, nicely stacked, one pile of brown against another pile of red, against another pile of green. Even though many fruits and vegetables are the same as what I can buy back home, the taste isn’t necessarily the same in another country. It is almost therapeutic to me and I get really excited thinking of what vegetable I can use for next soup, cannot wait to taste the exotic fruit or vegetable that we come across. During winter, most of the vegetables and fruits are imported from neighbouring countries like India. On a deeper level, visiting markets shows me the culture of a country. It is a way of experiencing the people. Watching the locals buy and sell, wandering around, visiting with each other, and socializing. It is a way to see the locals doing their shopping, living their lives.
Rice fields in Punakha
One of the most breathtaking sights in Bhutan is that of rice growing in terraces that literally cascade down the mountain sides. There is little flat land, except in a few valleys, so these terraces are an age-old answer to the problem of farming on hillsides so steep that it’s impossible to walk up without bending down. Although several varieties are grown in Bhutan, the Kingdom is especially famed for its heirloom red rice. The rice are mainly of the medium-grain, japonica-type rice that has been semi-milled. The red of the outer layers is still on the rice in patches, but because it is somewhat polished, it cooks more quickly than brown rice. The cooked rice is pale pink, soft and tender, and slightly clingy and definitely so yummy.
The cooking process
Cooked this from memory and how I remembered the taste to be. One of warmth, hospitality and family ties. Bhutanese only eat meat once a week as it is was really expensive but when we visited homes, there would always be a meat dish to welcome us into their homes. Ginger, bay leaves, coriander and chopped green chillies are the main ingredients to create the unforgettable taste of friendship and kinship.