This is a take on what might be called the national
dish of Bhutan by a western cook. See notes below for
more details on original ingredients and the slightly
contrived "authentic taste" using the ingredients
readily available in the west. This is HOT; it is
supposed to be.
2-3 TBS usli ghee (My substitute for yak butter)
[You can use ordinary butter, and while browning the butter
and then turning the heat down before adding anything
is actually a good idea, burning it is not. Ghee, in the
generic Indian sense will also work.]
[If you have to, these can be omitted, but please do not.]
4-6 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 walnut sized piece of ginger, finely minced
@ lemon zest of 1/2 lemon, grated
2+ cups jalapeños, seeded, then longitudinally, and thinly sliced
[I assume here that in the US you cannot import the
appropriate Bhutanese "bird shit" peppers.]
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and cut in thin crescents
Spice mixture in a small bowl:
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 - 1 tsp ground Szechuan flower peppercorns [See Note #5]
1 healthy pinch of ground Cinnamon (Ceylonese)
1/4 - 1 tsp ground Habanero pepper powder (homemade)
[My medium choice is 1/2 tsp habanero powder approximately
= 2 tsp cayenne powder]
2 tomatoes, diced
1 cup canned tomato purée
juice of 1/2 lemon
2-4 TBS water or buttermilk
1/4 lb crumbled blue cheese
(Some have also suggested feta,
but, I think the blue cheese is a better idea, giving
the dish a characteristic flavor that is then distinctly
not Greek, as the combination of tomatoes, peppers,
onions & feta would instantly imply a sauce that often
comes with the culinary designation, Santorini.
I also have the the impression that blue cheese is
closer in flavor to datschi. See below on its Tibetan
Try a mix of the two cheeses, perhaps even combined further
with another white melting cheese, e.g., Cream Cheese.
skillet with tight cover
1. Melt and heat the ghee in the pan over a medium heat.
All along, here, I am assuming cooking at near sea level,
not at the dizzying heights and rarefied atmosphere of
Bhutan. The fires of wood stoves will simply not burn
with the same heat and temperature as will a wood stove
at sea level: it is the difference in oxygen concentration.
Keep this in mind regarding cooking in the Himalayas,
generally. The cooking is with lower temperatures, and
most often covered, to conserve heat.
2. Add and Fry the garlic, ginger, then lemon zest, and spice
collection about a minute (or add the zest and spices
later at step 4).
3. Add, mix and fry the onions until the inevitable slices are
all separated into cresents, and coated with the now turmeric
colored oil. Remember this is not a stir fry, so keep the
temperature moderate; too high and you risk burning the
turmeric. This is Bhutanese style, not Indian and not Chinese;
we are not browning anything Much of Bhutanese cooking
involves gentle steaming, though it may not be put that way
to a western cook.
Now, add the jalapeños and mix and fry for about one or two
4. Add and mix in the spice mixture, if you didn't in step 1.
5. Cover, lower heat to barely simmering and cook for about
30-60 minutes, until the peppers and onions are nicely softened
and no longer crunchy. You are steaming the vegetables,
and the hot peppers are really the star vegetable. You want
the vegetables just cooked and softened, not reduced to mush.
Before covering, you may want to add a TBS or two of water
to promote steaming and the releasing of their liquids by
6. Add and mix in the tomatoes, lemon juice and water or
buttermilk. simmer for about 15-30 minutes. Experience
will tell whether and when to cover so that the end result
is neither too soupy or too dry. You will probably want
some reduction of liquids along the way.
7. Add the crumbled cheese. Stir until the cheese melts into
sauce to make a thick creamy sauce. That is sauce, not paste.
If you need to adjust to thinner, simply add hot water TBS by
TBS mixing each in at every addition until you have what you
8. If you feel especially festive, sprinkle a little chopped
cilantro and or chives over the top before serving.
9. Serve with rice. If you haven't, try Basmati rice with it.
The Bhutanese frequently serve a white rice and red rice
simultaneously. This can be a snack, and goes with almost
anything, and so is also often part of every Bhutanese meal.
It will keep in a cold refrigerator for weeks, and reheats
easily without losing its flavors or potency; piquance may
even increase in this. On reheating, be gentle and don't
0. This recipe scales very well, and can be at least doubled
easily, but expect the cooking times to be longer.
The proprtions are rather approximate, and the
nature of the ingredients make this recipe much like a
musical score by Bach: there is not very much you can do
to it to make something ruinous, though you can bring it
to pinnacles of excellance. Experiment to find the
set of proportions that suit you personally, using the exact
ingredients that you do use.
I consider this to be merely an explicit understanding of
the dish, not a definition; take it or leave it.
1. Also variously spelled, Ema Datshi, Emadatze, or Ema Datse.
At least a half dozen languages are spoken in this small
Himalayan country; the official Sino-Tibetan language (with
several dialects), Djongka like the others is not written
using the Roman alphabet; different people have different
ideas of how to approximate the sounds using the Roman alphabet.
2. Though not a soup, it is much like some of the cheese "sopas"
of Mexico, and also rather like one called Chiles con Queso.
Like that, thinning with some sort of broth, or
even water can transform it into a soup.
Also see the Tibetan cheese soup, Churu. That is also the
name of the cheese used, and it is, I am told, well approximated
in flavor by our blue cheese.
3. I had to do some approximations - and turned to several
Bhutanese people's ideas on the matter for guidance.
Let's face it, yak butter is not something you find next to
the Roadkill Helper in the US. The "cheese" in question,
datschi, is even more impossible: cooked, churned yak whey,
further fired and cured for a long - very long time over
a fire. You'll just have to go to Bhutan to get it.
The Bhutanese live on hot peppers, and natively, I'm told,
this dish is screamingly pepper hot - but then I don't know the
palates of those telling the tale. To me, few things are
It seems that the Bhutanese standard (Capiscum Annum) hot
peppers are the same (or very close in appearance, anyhow -
resembling a thick serrano pepper) as the Thai hot peppers,
hotter than jalapeños, but not near so hot as Habaneros
(apparently the very hottest there are). Simply using
jalapeños, with no extra piquance would probably be already
more than most westerners could stand; but who cares about
them; we do things the way things should be done.
This is a hot dish, the way the Bhutanese like it. Many
Bhutanese there figure that if the piquance of the food
doesn't make you sweat, it is really not worth eating.
4. Regarding the Szechuan flower peppercorns: The Chinese spice
is Xanthoxylum piperitum, and this is what one usually gets
in the US by that name. There are, however, different, related
spices in different countries that are called by the same name.
The Tibetan/Nepalese/Bhutanese spice called "Emma" is actually
Xanthoxylum alatum, and it has in addition to the common
terpene flavoring, components of limalool, limonene, methyl
cinnamate and cineol. Hence, the compensatory addition of the
grated lemon zest and the healthy pinch of "cinnamon", which is
now rather universally called that, though what you are buying
in the US is really cassia bark. Real cinnamon, from Ceylon
(Sri Lanka), if you can ever find it in US would be almost
prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, the cassia bark is a
fairly reasonable substitute, and is even more potent (and
more biting) than true Ceylonese cinnamon.
5. While I've tried to be a bit anally clever in reproducing
an authentic taste, leaving out some of these clever twists
will still give a perfectly good dish with most of the
same properties. What I have definitely not tried to do is
assemble some variative simulation that conforms to the
Western palate. To do that would be simplicity itself:
just fry up a mess tomatoes, peppers and onions in some
soy oil, and add a cup of sugar.
Interestingly, I have seen a few recipes for Emma Datschi
on the web, and not even one of these bother with the "Emma"
part of the dish. Westerners who have visited Bhutan seem
taken solely with the dish's fiery nature, and somehow seem
to think that the Emma part is naming the hot peppers, thus
missing one of the two essential aspects of Emma Datschi
implied by the name. The hot peppers are implicitly understood
and not even suggested in the name. Even the Bhutanese who
have written recipes neglect this essential ingredient,
supposing perhaps the it would be unpalatable to westerners,
or figuring that there would be no point in calling for it
when it is generally unavailable outside of their Himalayan
This same spice is also used in Tibetan cuisine, where for
some reason in Roman transliteration it is almost always
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Created: January 9, 2006
Last Updated: May 20, 2008
Last Updated: June 28, 2008