We ticked off a couple of the more obscure B countries in NYC this past weekend, ever faithful to dwindling down the list of the PIG Project. We schlepped out to Queens to the Himalayan Yak, a Nepalese restaurant that also serves a few Bhutanese dishes. They serve the national dish of Bhutan, Ema Datsi. Going in to the experience I wasn’t expecting much because I had read things like this where food experts proclaim that Bhutanese is “well known to be the world’s worst cuisine.” But, we were willing, nevertheless, to give it a shot. We even dragged our dear friend Elena all the way to Queens from Brooklyn to join us.
I ordered the Ema Datsi, which, as it turns out, tastes like burning hot fiery nacho cheese from a baseball stadium.
As luck would have it, one of the trashy foods I happen to really like is nacho cheese from a baseball stadium, so I wasn’t too disappointed.
I don’t know what possessed me, but I also ordered a Himalayan soup.
We also had a cabbage salad and Neil had Momos.
The rice pudding dessert was by far the most redeemable dish of them all. Quite tasty actually… but, it wasn’t specifically Bhutanese. All in all, the food was pretty lackluster, but I don’t think it was the restaurant’s fault. The general lackluster-ness of Bhutanese cuisine is especially strange considering Bhutan is nestled in between two culinary powerhouses.
Partly because of its mountainous terrain, and partly due to a concerted effort by those in power, Bhutan is a place that has remained pretty isolated to the outside world. The Bhutanese are very serious about maintaining their culture. It is the only country on earth that measures the happiness of it’s people and uses that to gauge progress. The term “gross national happiness” was coined in 1972 by Bhutan‘s fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The beauty and intrigue of Bhutan captures the attention of adventurous (hippie) Westerners, such as the ones making this film.
However, in strange contrast to the rosy image many paint of Bhutan as a great shangri-la utopia, Bhutan has generated one of the highest numbers of refugees in the world in proportion to its population. “The vast majority of the refugees are Lhotshampas, one of Bhutan’s three main ethnic groups, who were forced to leave Bhutan in the early 1990s. There is ample evidence, as documented by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations, that the expulsion of large numbers of Lhotshampas was planned and executed with meticulous attention to detail.”
Many of the Lhotshampas forced to leave were formally stripped of their citizenship. Most fled to Nepal, but not having either Nepali or Bhutanese citizenship they are stateless. While most were driven out in the 90s, their children born in refugee camps are also stateless. They are stuck in a strange limbo, not having anywhere to claim legal residency. Many Bhutanese refugees have been resettled to 3rd countries, including the United States.
I’m sure refugees fleeing Bhutan miss many things about their homeland… but food is not likely one of them.