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Ema Dhatsi – Bhutan National Dish – Day 35 Dish 19

February 10, 2010

I am fascinated to visit our next location.  It is a very unique country in many respects.  To reach Bhutan from Benin we can go South around the Cape of Good Hope near South Africa or north through the Mediterranean Sea and Suez Canal.  Since we have not yet rounded Africa, I am inclined to go south. 

After sailing down to Cape Town, we round the bend and push through the treacherous currents of what is sometimes called the Cape of No Hope.  These waters are the resting place of many an unfortunate soul.  However, we are on an adventure so there is no point in avoiding danger! 

Our next obstacle is Madagascar which we navigate to the east of the island.  Then we travel northeast across the entire Indian Ocean and into the Bay of Bengal landing at Chittagong, Bangladesh.  Bhutan is landlocked north of Bangladesh and India and South of China so we must navigate the Bhramaputra and Jamuna Rivers and then travel overland to the Bhutanese Border.  The Bhramaputra Delta is the 3rd largest river delta in the world behind The Nile and The Amazon. 

Bhutan means the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” and the unusual and beautiful flag depicts the namesake creature as if it were preparing to sound its voice in a thunderous cascade over the King and his subjects.  In fact it seems more reminiscent of Medieval Briton than peace loving Buddhists in Asia.

Bhutan was one of the most isolated nations on the planet until recently.  With the legalization of television in 1999, Bhutan became the last nation on the planet to allow TV.  At that time, it was advised to limit viewing as it could detract from the Gross National Happiness.  At the same time, Happiness Measurement Technicians (tongue in cheek) said that not allowing TV would detract from the GNH as well.  This presented a technological-spiritual conundrum.  Based on Buddhist principals, GNH measures the satisfaction of life as the indicator for well being, in contrast to the global standard of Gross National Product where economic indicators are the measure of success.  Upon reflection, maybe measuring happiness should be more universal in scale.

Still, Bhutan has very carefully guarded its traditions and culture and has approached change cautiously throughout history.  In doing so they have preserved a culture that began 2000 years before Jesus walked the planet. 

Bhutan is a kingdom ruled by a Monarch.  However, the Royal family has been responsible for methodically moving towards a democratic government for decades.  The first free elections, called for by the King himself, occurred in 2008.  This relinquishing of control has been in the works since the 1960’s with a series of moves designed by the King to limit the role of the King.  This hardly seems like the work of a monarch.  If only Henry the Eighth had acted in this manner, where would we be today?

The national dish of Bhutan is Ema Dhatsi.  It is very similar to a Queso Dip from Latin America, essentially cheese and chilies with Tomato, Cilantro (Coriander) and Onion, but more soup like.   However in Bhutan it is eaten with Red Rice and includes very high levels of chilies.  In the recipe, I have included a link about the Red Rice of Bhutan.   Please click it and read more about this unique and medicinal food that we cannot easily buy in America. 

Ema Dhatsi is another example of simple food produced by using locally available ingredients that has become a favorite dish of an entire culture.  This is the type of dish that brought us on this journey to begin with and by all accounts, it is delicious if you are in the mood for SPICY!

I give this dish a 1 for difficulty.  It is the first dish that even entirely inexperienced people can cook with ease.  Tailor the chili levels to your personal taste, or go for the traditional recipe like I will do and make sure you have rice and cold beer to wash down the burn.

Postscript:  Chili Fail!  I used Jalapenos x 7 and barely detected the burn.  This dish is supposed to be near 10 on the heat index.  I discarded the seeds and this was the fatal mistake.  LEAVE IN THE SEEDS, unless you like tame foods only.  Overall I like the idea of this recipe and will probably revisit it later with a better vision for the final product.  It tasted very good but the texture and heat level were off.



Appearance: 3 out of 5

Aroma: 4 out of 5

Flavor: 3 out of 5

Texture:(I added this category specifically for this dish)  2 out of 5 grainy from the mostly melted Feta.

Total: 12 out of 20 


250g of chilies (green and of medium hotness) I would recommend an Asian chili for maximum heat and authentic flavor.  I used 7 Jalapenos and it was barely spicy.  Also leave the seeds in.

1 Onion chopped longitudinally = from top to bottom instead of across the grain

2 Tomatoes diced

250g Danish Feta Cheese

5 cloves of Garlic, finely crushed

3 leaves of Coriander (Cilantro)

2 tsp Vegetable Oil


Cut Chilies longitudinally (1 chili = 4 pcs).  Longitudinally = make strips not coins

Put the Chilies and chopped Onions in a pot of water (approx. 400 ml) or 1.75 cups (Damn us Americans for needing conversions for metric and our aforementioned GDP!!)

Add 2 teaspoons Vegetable Oil. Then boil on medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Add Tomato and Garlic and boil for another 2 mins.

Add Cheese and let it remain for 2-3 mins.

Finally add Coriander (all three leaves!) and turn off the heat.  Stir.  Keep it covered for 2 mins.

Serves 3   (I found this odd!  Why not 4, or 2? Why 3? That seems like the logic of the Standard System, not the beautiful efficiency of the Metric System.) 

Serve with a generous portion of Red Rice (click here for more VERY INTERESTING info on Red Rice) or Polished White Rice (I chose Thai Jasmine which is as close as I have to a regional rice variety.  If you clicked the link, you will see why I did not get the Red Rice.  Thank you Food & Drug Administration(VERY tongue in cheek)!).

This dish is more of an appetizer and should be served with additional food items.

Recipe Source:

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2010 10:52 am

    I love reading your blog – it is so informative and interesting and chock full of info (and great recipes!)

  2. May 4, 2011 10:56 am

    If you make it with a lot of serranos, like I did, you will definitely be able to feel the burn! If you can eat it, that is…

    • May 4, 2011 6:10 pm

      I cut back for my kids sake and….well who am I kidding!? I don’t have the iron stomach of my wife, so it was also partly for me! BTW you officially make the blogroll as “cooking the world” and welcome to our little club. If you check the front page, you will see several more bloggers embarked on similar projects…:) Nice to “meet you”…


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