Showing posts with label Food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Food. Show all posts

19 October 2021

Learning to Cook in School

There is a growing pressure on the education system to prepare children for future jobs that don't even exist today. It's a race between our preparation for the future and the changing landscape of future jobs. The bitter reality is that we can never win this race. Our milestones are often outdated by the time we have achieved them. Are we even in this race? Is it worth it? That's not a great education system. It's a pressure cooker.

The Little MasterChefs

A great education system is one that prepares children for a good life. They should be taught to learn on their own, use kindness as a tool to achieve happiness, and be able to convert stuff in the kitchen to food and feed themselves.

The Chef and Her Happy Father
Let's not even talk about the worst kind of education system where everything revolves around tests, exams and marks. This is where a child is only as heavy as the marks he fetches in the test and exams. Even the school is judged on the exam results of the children. So even the principals are sucking up to the marks-politics as much as the students are.
What My Daughter Served

The above thought played in my head since experiencing a beautiful culture in my daughter's school, Thimphu Pry School. I was invited on the final day of her cooking class to taste the food she prepared. I loved both the food and the fact that her school considered it important to teach her cooking. After a decade in school if our children can't even prepare a cup of tea, what a shame would it be?

Emptying the Plate
Annually, her school playground turns into an open restaurant where the class VI students prepare and serve their parents the foods they have learned to prepare over the last several Saturdays.
For us, it's an emotional moment to watch our little ones walk across the ground with a trayful of food for us. One could see their pride reflected in the eyes of their parents.
Honestly, I didn't expect the food to be good. I was just happy that my 11-year-old daughter managed to prepare a trayful without burning anything. But the MasterChef junior getup wasn't for nothing, it showed both in the beautiful presentation and the great taste.

Their principal shared how some of their past students had surprised their parents with bedtea and helping hands in the kitchen after their cooking classes. I'm looking forward to such surprises but even if it didn't happen I will be as grateful to her school for adding a beautiful dimension to their school experience and giving them the most basic skill to survive as humankind. 

24 June 2019

Let’s Not Make Hontey a Funeral Food

Hontey is a food that needs no introduction. People would know more about hontey than they know about Haa, the origin of the food. It’s possibly one of the very few things Haa is known for and proud of, and we leave no opportunity to brag about it.
Assisting my mother in making hontey 
Though it’s just a buckwheat dumpling with shredded turnip and turnip leaf in it to talk about, the long list of spices that go into it is mind boggling. It’s for this reason that honey has remained an exotic food until recently. Back in our childhood, we had to wait for a year to feast on hontey because not everyone could afford to get all the ingredients just like that. We collect and store ingredients throughout the year and make that one event big during the Lomba.

Now, with prosperity of the country we could afford the ingredients any day and they are available in the market, so whether good or bad, hontey is not an annual delicacy anymore. My mother prepares it every time her children come home.

But, no matter how easy it becomes to prepare hontey, one thing about it doesn’t change and should not change; it’s a food of celebration. We have always associated hontey with lomba, the grandest celebration in Haa. Lomba is our new year celebration, annual family gathering, it’s our Thrulbub, it’s our annual rimdro and funnily our collective birthday celebration, and the central piece of the event is the hontey.

However, in the last few years, I have seen hontey in the wrong place at the wrong, yes at the funerals. How did the celebration food suddenly appear at the funeral? To cut the long story short, it’s a fashion gone wrong. Apparently, some influential people served it at one funeral and the story spread among the Haaps. Then it became a social pressure for the next bereaved family to match up to last funeral- apparently we compete even in conducting funeral, from size of the buffet to the number of cars in the convoy.

It won’t be wrong to assume that some people in Thimphu tasted the first hontey at the cremation ground, and also that for some people cremation ground was the only place they have seen hontey thus far. For these people, hontey is increasingly becoming a funeral food, unless we make an effort to invite them over during lomba and reorient them otherwise.

It’s clearly an urban trend as long as it remain in Thimphu but the influence has swept across Haa now. Every time there is a death in Haa, a good number of people are gathered to make hontey on top of hundred other things to do. It’s become an uncomfortable obligation on the families and their good neighbours. It’s almost becoming a scary tradition that's weighing heavy on families that are not so well to do. And good neighbours are getting sick of making what they once loved doing during lomba.

Actually, if we cared to notice the obvious, it's so explicit in our practised of taking a bangchung of hontey to the mourning homes during lomba. When a death happens in a family, they don’t make hontey during the lomba as a sign of mourning. Making hontey means celebration, which the family won’t do as a mark of respect for the departed soul. They are rather offered hontey by neighbours, like condolences. How did we fail to understand this?

It’s not too late to turn around the trend. We are the first generation of Haap that added hontey on funeral menu. One more generation and it will become an irreversible culture. Let us undo our mistake. Let’s not celebrate death.

Let’s keep hontey for celebrations.

20 March 2018

Ordinary Bhutanese and Five Star Hotel Myths

I don't know if it's a normal thing to be scared of visiting five star hotels. My usual confidence fades away at the thought of walking into a high end hotel unless I am with friends. I assume many ordinary people get the same feeling even when they can actually financially afford to- at least a meal. There is a mindset that those hotels as places meant only for rich tourists.

Actually I have had the privilege of dinning in almost every big hotel in Paro and Thimphu, of course as official invitee, but all these experiences have made no difference on my mindset. When my former student Gopi, who is now the marketing and communications officer with Le Meridian Riverfront in Paro, invited my family for a dinner, I panicked.

I couldn’t tell him about my strange condition. I couldn’t tell him that the big hotels make me feel small and that the radiance of interiors dim my confidence, that the politeness of the waiters makes me nervous and that I find everything so intimidating.

I rather kept pushing it for another time, and he being a professional who is groomed at a Starwood hotel kept asking when it would be the right time for me to come. Finally after much debate with my inferiority complex I braved to reveal it to my wife and daughter, and that’s when I reduced my options to nothing. Now it was them who pushed me.

Gopi was waiting for my family of five at the gate and we were ushered in to the lobby. I was familiar with that beautiful space, because I have been here twice in the past. But Gopi was prepared to surprise us, he led us to a corner and made us choose cocktails, and mocktails for the kids. That was new to us. I never thought there would be some many different types of cocktails.

Gopi then indicated that we move to the main thing; we were invited to a meal in their Pan Asian specialty restaurant called “Bamboo Chic”. That was another corner that I didn’t have the privilege to explore during my past visits, so I was waiting to be surprised. But you could imagine how uncomfortable I was feeling and how gingerly I was moving, just to make sure that I don’t land up doing anything stupid.

Bamboo Chic was a world in itself, so much part of the hotel yet so independent in its operation. It was as if the restaurant was waiting for us for the evening, the chefs in the open kitchen welcomed us and the waiters ushered us to the table. I was melting yet acting worthy of the invitation. Fortunately, the waitress waiting on us was a friend and that made us feel so relaxed. I was dying to tell her how uncomfortable I was feeling but as the conversation began things settled gradually.

I wasn’t expecting bathub and momo on the Pan Asian menu at least, yet expecting something familiar. But why would anyone come thus far for anything usual. So the manager of the F&B helped us in choosing, and he really knew how to do it for the family; he made sure that everyone asked for different cuisines so that we could all have the most out of our visit.

In the life of mine I have never feasted on such great variety of food and for the first time I saw food as a form of art. The way each cuisine was presented made me hesitate to put my fork and destroy the beauty of it. Following the art of food, was the science of taste; my ordinary tastebuds have never been exposed to such range of sensations. I wish I could explain those feelings that were beyond my usual sweet, salty, sour and hot tastes. Every plate had a story to tell- the literature of food. Now I know why there are food bloggers!

With such heartwarming hospitality showered on my humble family I thought I owed them an honest feedback, or rather a confession. So I shamelessly told them how their big brand scared the heart out of me, how their hotel appeared so inaccessible to locals and how otherwise we so much wish to visit.
I felt so relived having gotten that of my chest but I didn’t expect my confession would go on to shatter the glass-wall I have build between my self-worth and big hotels.

The manager with so much sincerity in his voice confided to us that he and his team can claim it as their achievement if they could make their hotel popular among the local people, make it a favourite getaway place for Bhutanese families. He justified that their success with international guests was not theirs to claim, it was because of their brand and the network across the world. He was so convincing that I suddenly felt so differently about the big hotels- the myth was busted. He went on to bust more myths as he talked about affordability- explaining how any average Bhutanese could customise their menu and have a great experience with the same amount we spend at local café!

Today, I can confidently walk into any hotel and feel wanted there.

26 August 2014

Our Cup of Pesticide?

I love tea, I love it best without milk because milk spoils the true color and aroma of the tea. I prefer slipping it from a transparent cup because seeing the color makes it more tastier. I had all the reason to believe that I was drinking the healthiest drink until I read a Kuensel report on how imported tea could contain pesticides. 
My Cup of Pesticide (?)
Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) is soon going  to conduct tests on all tea brands coming to Bhutan, which is not very late yet. Despite worrying if we have the technology and capacity to undertake the test I am very hopeful that lives will be saved across generations. Going by the Green Peace India's report as given in that Kuensel article, pesticide residues were found in all 49 brands tested, of which 29 brands contained mix of more than 10 pesticides. Out of the 34 different types of pesticides found in different tea brands, 68 percents are not approved to be used in tea cultivation at all. 
Then are the tea brands coming to Bhutan among those 49 tested? Perhaps all of them are, which means we were consuming pesticides all our lives. If it were vegetables or fruits, which definitely contain high deposits of chemicals from pesticides, we could partly wash them before consuming but how can we wash tea? Therefore we could be sipping huge amount of toxic chemicals from tea than anything else.
That perhaps answers why cancer has become a common disease in Bhutan? It's increasingly becoming common for people who never smoked or drank to die of cancer and we silently take it as a disease of fate. If we do a serious research on the cancer patients, we might reach the conclusion that they were heavy consumers of tea. I have seen so many deaths in my Dzongkhag Haa caused by cancer, while there could be several other chances but more than anything we Haaps are tea addicts. Just in one sitting one Haap would drink more than a regular family could drink in whole day. Tea begins the day and tea ends it. Imagine the amount of pesticide they are consuming. 

I have always been a proud black tea drinker but now I feel like I was drinking the most refined cup of pesticide all this time. While it's early to conclude before BAFRA completes their test, I think there is no surprise left given the results in Green Peace India's compilation. Therefore, it's time to ask, is it safe to drink as much tea as beer? 
Tea Plantation in Assam
Southern Hills of Bhutan are most ideal for tea cultivation considering the popularity of Darjeeling tea but god knows why we never made an attempt to grow our own tea!

04 October 2010

Dear Students... I studied in Dawakha

Have you heard of Dawakha Pry School? It is in Paro by geography but it could be easily misunderstood for a place in Ha because it falls between Chunzom and Ha. It was a great location for a war movie or horror movie but people chose to construct a school there. Worse, my guardians sent me there. Much later in life I realized that I was sent there on punishment. What was my crime? It is sad to share with you that my crime was nothing more than occupying space in the room and emptying pots in the kitchen. I was rustic, ugly and born to poor mother but I have never demanded for new clothes, not for food my cousins had or for a brighter room than the store I was put in. yes, I confess I hated cleaning their pets shit every time I came home. I was eight yet washed my own clothes and bought my own shoes from money I saved in beer bottles. I washed dishes for them carried water from the well. I still remember how heavy that well bucket was. I didn't deserve to be sent to Dawakha.
As if I didn't have enough already Dawakha was full of hateful people. Captains didn't have to have reason to make us naked and peel our skin, the head master would tie us naked on the volleyball post where the girl could see, and teachers were very choosy about the sticks they use. I don't remember a day I didn't cry in Dawakha. Headmaster was so fond of using WFP supplied Oak hammer to knock us down- it only takes a few minutes to regain consciousness but it takes days to heal the swell, of course it never healed until I passed out from there because before the first one could subside we would be blessed with next. Of all the people there I remember Lopen Dawa fondly for being kind enough to use flat planks which gave louder sound than pain. In his eyes I saw mercy.
Today when I remember the hostel I can only relate it to Nazi Concentration Camp. Thirty students were squeezed into a room, where our beds are made on muddy floor. There were lice on every fiber of our cloth and smell of urine even in our plates. But my biggest pain was hunger. School had WFP supply but I don't know why they couldn't feed us enough, I would be dead if not for the peaches and apples we had in stock from our labor during the weekends. Headmaster's chickens had better amount than us. There were times we were fed only ata boiled in water and worse two small potatoes per meal.
That was the school I studied in and when I look at you today I find no reason why you can't study. You are lucky, the only person who can cause you pain is you. Be kind to yourself and gift yourself a good life.
Your lovingly

26 August 2010

Cactus in Wangdue

Prickly Pear- the type found in Wangdue
Cactus may be ornamental plant for people living in any place other than Wangdue. Here it is nuisance. It over-grows everywhere. It got me wondering if Wangdue was a desert once upon a time, or at times I fear if Wangdue is going to become a desert some day too soon. Of course, my understanding is cactus grows in deserts. The question remains; why would this plant which is supposed to grow in arid land, grow along side the Punatshangchhu.
Over these years I have come to understand the thorny plant and learnt to live with it in harmony- I have realized it is not as attractive as I have known it. I have learned to forgive it. Of all the wonderful species of cactus Wangdue has the ugly Prickly Pear of Opuntia family, which is commonly found in North America.

Good side of Cactus
Golden blossom

  • It flowers seasonally. The golden yellow blossom spellbinds many first timers.

  • The fleshy stem can be cooked and fed to cattle after removing the sharp thorns.

  • If used for fencing it can be more secure than bob wire.

  • Though not done here but records in Wikipedia shows that same cactus found in Wangdue can be used for medical purpose, can be consumed as food, and can be used as intoxication.
Bad side of it:-

If you are touching the plant, its fruit in particular, by the time you realize hundred and one almost-invisible thorns called glochids would have dislodged and pricked your skin. Forget about removing it you can’t even trace it with your naked eyes. But the pain is in contrast to its size. These fine spines are blown by wind and it can reach your room posing threat to your children’s comfort causing irritation and if not removed can cause infection (Sabra Dermatitis).
Glochids on close-up
The bigger thorn has a strange natural character, if it pricks you it can’t be removed backward without medical surgery. It has to be driven further in to be drawn from the other side of your body part.
It is the worst enemy of vehicle tires. Once it gets into your tire, unlike nails, it is impossible to trace therefore every time you fill in the air your new tube will be punctured by the hiding thorn.

Further this plant had bad history with countries like Australia where it was once introducted as natural fencing but later it invaded the farmland resulting in making huge amount of land unproductive. The government had to go as far as creating a Commonwealth Prickly Pear Board to get rid of the plant. 

Larvae of Cactus moth
One thing to learn from history; introduction of certain moth called cactus moth or nopal moth can gradually bring an end to the Pickly Pear population outburst. The Larvae of the moth feeds on the plant.

All Picture are from Wikipedia

19 August 2009

Singaproean Curry- I can like it!

It's been over six months now and Mr. Kong Ming is still having hard time finding "eatable" food in Bhutan. He has been to restaurants that serve Chinese food to find Bhutanese versions. I have taken him to best hotels in the town just to displease him at the end. Many friends invited him for dinner and no one could impress him enough, just because he is as honest as one could be. But how much ever honest he may be I am worried he will go back home a skeleton.

May be it's not the same with all Singaporeans, but Kong likes less sugar, less salt and less oil in everything he eats. Where would he find such food in here? Wherever he goes he is treated as special guest and thus served with best tea and best dishes- and you know what we call the best! Come on he even finds Pepsi and Coca Cola too sweet to consume. Mineral Water alone keeps him alive.

Kong likes food at my place, wait, wait I mean it. He would drop in every evening, as long as he is in our school, for dinner. My wife can cook the food he likes. Actually it is simple, just cook something really bad, something you would usually serve an ulcer or diabetic patient. He says "I am not crazy about food", but I find him crazy!

Well this time he brought a packet of soup sent to him right from Singapore. Of course it is like the "stone soup" story. You require pork ribs. The soup is boiled and the ribs are added in it to be cooked for 30 mins. Then ready! He lend his hand in preparing and so sweetly he did the serving that night. He ate like hell. I liked it too. I mean I can like it!