Savour local Delicacies
Turns out Hoentey isn’t just the only famous dish coming from Haa. There’s chhugo magi – fresh cheese broiled in sweetened butter. There’s phillu – a special local cheese similar to string cheese (but so different too). Haa valley is full of culinary surprises. Although the main town area has some restaurants, Haa’s cuisine is best experienced at a homestay. This is what I tasted during my culinary adventure in Haa.
Hoentey – Buckwheat Dumplings
This traditional buckwheat dumpling is served during lomba. Lomba is the new year festival celebrated in the Haa and Paro. It falls on the 29th day of the 10th Bhutanese month. It lasts for a week. Hoentey is a buckwheat dumpling stuffed with a mixture of turnip leaves, Zimtse (perilla seeds), cottage cheese, and butter. The mixture is seasoned with chili powder, onion and ginger. You can choose to have your Hoentey steamed or fried depending on the kind of texture you prefer. “Each household has their own recipe for cooking Hoentey. Some even use up to 17 ingredients in their Hoenteys,” says Aum Kinley,our host. Her hoenteys have an extra creamy mixture. It comes from adding three different types of cheese-fresh cottage cheese, processed cheese slices and phillu cheese.
Phillu – Cheese You’ve Probably Never Had
One of the most exciting moments during our Haa trip was discovering the unique Phillu cheese.
How do I describe Phillu? How is it made? Picture this. Boiled milk is poured into a wooden bucket. But it isn’t just an empty bucket.
Long birch tree twigs that have been stripped of their gritty bark are placed in it. The milk is swished around the container for the cream to cover the twig branches. For two weeks, freshly boiled milk is poured over the birch twigs. It is done 3 times a day until they have collected enough creamy residue on its branches. The stringy fermented cheese scraped from the twigs is the resulting Phillu.
The cheese is collected in a container (size of a water bottle) which is sold for almost Nu.1000/-. The texture of the cheese is very stringy and bitter. It can be an acquired taste for many. But there are also those, especially homegrown Haaps who just can’t get enough of this unique delicacy. We had our Phillu cooked with local red chillies. Yum!
Chhugo Magi – Care For Some Sweet Cheese?
Chhugo Magi directly translates as cheese mixed in butter. I think it may be the only dessert item on the traditional Bhutanese food menu. We don’t have anything sweet in our cuisine. Our host Aum Kinley cut mildly-dried fresh cheese in flat cubes. She then poured them over the hot melting butter and sugar that was broiling on the bukhari (traditional wood-burning stove). After a few minutes of moistening the cheese cubes with sugary butter, the chhugo Magi is ready. The cooked sweet cheese softly disintegrates as you take a bite. Be sure you don’t eat too much of it – the heavy butter can be a bit overwhelming after a while.
Fresh River Trout
Although fishing for trout directly from Haa Chhu may not be allowed on your travel itinerary, you can still get a taste. Ask your local homestay. Whether you like it steamed or fried in fresh butter – your culinary adventure in Haa is incomplete without a taste of himalayan river trouts. Don’t try fishing for it yourself though. Fishing without licenses are strictly prohibited in Bhutanese waters.
NOTE: If you’re not sure about restaurants in Haa, try booking your meal at a homestay. From the host family welcoming you to their home, to tasting some of the best home-cooked Bhutanese food-eating at a homestay will change your idea of eating out. Price for tourists: Nu: 300 per head (more than 2). For locals: Nu 200 per head. You can book your homestay meal by RSPN’s Community-Based Sustainable Tourism Visitor’s center at 17654981/ 17907070/ 77202749.