Sunday, April 28, 2013

Reading Notes: A week's worth of groceries

I cannot stop looking at this amazing slide show on the Huffington Post shows families from around the world sitting next to a week's worth of groceries. A friend sent me a link pointing out that Bhutan had been included in the slide show. The staggering amount of packaged food in some of pictures is even more shocking in comparison with the fruits and vegetables that dominate in other pictures.

The photos  are all from Peter Menzel and Faith D' Alusio's book " Hungry Planet; What the World Eats" which documented global food trends. The books was published in 2007 so its hard not to imagine the changes since then.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Reading post: The fifth taste- Umami

I am huge fan of Marmite but its a hard taste to describe. Apparently however western scientists are starting to recognize a fifth taste, umami- to describe the strong savory flavor of food like Marmite, Parmesan cheese, anchovies and the taste enhancer MSG.  (The four other tastes are of course sweet, sour, salty and bitter). This article from The Guardian's great " Word of Mouth" food blog  is a great introduction to umami.

"So why is bolognese sauce with cheese on top, or a cheeseburger with ketchup so finger-licking good? Because, says Laura Santtini, creator of the umami condiment Taste No 5 Umami Paste, when it comes to savoury, "1+1=8". In the simplest terms, umami actually comes from glutamates and a group of chemicals called ribonucleotides, which also occur naturally in many foods. When you combine ingredients containing these different umami-giving compounds, they enhance one another so the dish packs more flavour points than the sum of its parts." 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Reading Notes: Michael Pollen on the Magic of Sharing Food

From Michael Pollen's recent interview with NPR about his new book " Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation" 

"Some of the foods that hold themselves out to you as supremely convenient, like those microwavable single-potion entrees in the supermarket? I did an experiment with those. We had what we call " Microwave Night,"  where we all got to buy one of those, you know, fast-food-in-a-freezer-bag things that they now have in the supermarket. And guess what? It took 40 minuets to get that meal on the table. Because the microwave is individualistic. You can only microwave one person's entree at a time. And you're not sharing. And there's something magical that happens when people eat from the same pot. The family meal is really the nursery of democracy. It's where you learn to share, it's where we learn to argue without offending. It's just too critical to let go, as we're been so blithely doing." 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Reading notes: why we think food = love

I have had a pretty long and trying week and there were a couple moments that only fried food could redeem but the truth is that for me real comfort after a long day is a meal shared with loved ones. Which is why this week I returned to read this great NPR article about how human brains evolved to equate food with love.  The articel's inclusion of cute example of  bonobos sharing salad makes it well worth the read but what strikes me is the emphasis on shared food as love, even the comfort of the memory of shared food.  I completely embrace the idea that comfort food might be a shared meal instead of hurriedly eaten, instantly regretted junk food binge. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Eating out: The Folk Heritage Museum Restaurant

The Folk Heritage Museum Restaurant is intended to offer an "authentic" Bhutanese dining experience.  So you can probably guess who their main clients are: yup, foreigners. However its not just tourists who dine here, Thimphu's expatriate community in general seems to eat here frequently too. Well maybe its not always by choice, it seems to have become a favorite place for "official" meals that include foreigners. So high level-y stuff,  and since I am not even remotely high level-y and I am not a tourist, I had never eaten a meal there before. Of course I have always been very curious. What exactly is an  "authentic" Bhutanese meal? So when I was invited to join my visiting Swiss aunt and uncle and their friends there for lunch earlier this week I was quick to accept.

This is a little photographic account of our meal there. The table was set on with traditional-y Bhutanese wooden bowls, of course Bhutanese didn't really eat at dining table but it was a very pretty setting all the same. 

Already set out on the table were three traditional woven baskets  filled with what I think of as " tea snacks" since they are most frequently enjoyed with a cup of tea. One made of corn ( the yellow one) and two made form rice. All of them a crunchy and savory and a perfect companion to tea but the corn snack is the real danger since its deep fried and delicious.

Once we were seated someone came round to serve us butter tea or suja. I have to say that starting the meal with a cup of tea is indeed very Bhutanese.  On almost any occasion that you visit someone you will be offered a cup of tea before anything else.

Then they started to set out the food-- white rice and mini-buckwheat pancakes ( from my region of Bhutan!) I was less then impressed with the pancakes-- at home we make them thick and large and eat them steaming hot. But I am sure these little sampler pancakes were ideal for unfamiliar tongues and taste buds.

Here is more of the meal: ferns ( which are back in season! Hurray!), a spinach dish , potato and cheese and a small bowl of typical Bhutanese condiment: fresh chili, cheese and tomatoes. The potato dish contains no chili at all so it was basically scalloped potato once again probably a concession to foreign tastes.

Here is a close up of the ferns which were delicious. They were more of less just fried with just a little seasoning so that you could really taste the flavor of the fern. Since the season started I have mostly eaten fern drenched  in cheese so this was a welcome change but perhaps not a completely typical Bhutanese recipe.

 But there was also some ema datshi ( chili and cheese) as well as some very fatty pork ( the more fat the tastier is the Bhutanese way of thinking about it) served up, both of which are stereotypically Bhutanese. The Swiss looked at the large strips of fat with something between horror and fascination but mostly struck to the chicken instead which was coated with in a tasty dry curry rub closer to something you might find in an Indian restaurant. 

Here is my plate- don't worry I went back for seconds!

After the meal they served some cut fruit-- desert and sweet things are not very traditionally Bhutanese but if you look at the number of bakeries and pastry shops I think we have made up for lost time!

So final thoughts? It was a decent enough meal, but  no more or less authentic or tasty than a meal that you could purchase in town or cook at home. I think what the Folk Heritage Museum Restaurant  does best is provide a unique and pleasurable dining experience. The interesting and thematic decor ( for example they have traditional kitchen utensils hanging artfully from the ceiling), the attention to the presentation of the food and the pacing of how its served, as well as the prompt efficient service are all rather unusual in Thimphu.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Reading note: bicuits and tea

Are you like me convinced that biscuits ( or cookies for my American readers) taste best when they are soaked in tea or coffee?   Well apparently now there is scientific evidence that " dunking makes the biscuit taste more biscuit-y." No really! NPR ( who else) has a great article about British Chef Heston Blumenthal' s  on screen taste test ( using an uncomfortable looking gadget up his nose to measure the release of flavor). 

What biscuits/ cookies do you like to dunk? Personally my favorite ( from my days as a student in Australia) remains the chocolate Timtam, thought here in Bhutan I frequently go for Bourbon biscuits and the occasional cream crackers.