What we thought would be just a pleasant bike ride today turned out to be quite an adventure. We went to a place called Ura Valley, and the idea was that we would take the car as well as the luggage truck, with our bikes loaded, to the top of the valley, and bike down into the villages, which is known to be the first Bhutanese village. Then the car and truck were to take us back up to the top, and we were to cycle down back to the hotel going the other way.
Midway, though, Ugyen had a surprise for us. We were going to have lunch at a farmhouse that belonged to the family of his former assistant when he was driving a truck. Ugyen has taken them rice and chilis when he passes by, and they are very fond of him. So we took our picnic lunch into the house, where they showed us into the alter room, where Bhutanese families would typically invite guests. We sat on mats and had lunch.
The family â€“ the mother, two daughters and a grandchild – were poor even by Bhutanese standards, but they welcomed us. We got our first taste of butter tea, which people had warned us would taste rancid. I think the word â€œteaâ€ throws people off. It should be introduced as soup because thatâ€™s what it tasted like â€“ a blue cheese soup. I wasnâ€™t able to finish it, but I thought it could be a welcome drink especially on a cold winter night.
They also gave us â€œaraâ€ â€“ a wheat-based homemade liquor that tasted a bit like shotchu, but a little less alcoholic â€“ and â€œbanchangâ€, a buckwheat-based homemade wine. The banchang was a little sour, and tasted a little familiar, perhaps like rice vinegar, though I couldnâ€™t quite place it. At the end of the meal, Ugyen gave them our leftover cookies, fruit, drinks and other stuff. I felt bad that what we were giving were leftovers, but the language barrier made it difficult for us to properly express our thanks. I did take a whole bunch of pictures, however, and I promised Ugyen that I would send them to him, so he could give them to the family. The guidebooks had told us that people wonâ€™t mind getting their photos taken, but they may ask to receive copies. Our list of things we need to send back to Bhutan is adding up!
Today was a day of firsts in terms of food. After days of eyeing it on the menu, I finally ordered yak for dinner. I was motivated after finishing Michael Pollanâ€™s â€œIn Defense of Foodâ€ which advises the reader to eat as many varied foods as possible, and when you eat meat to try to stick with grass-fed animals. Iâ€™ve seen enough yak around to know that they live off the land. Because itâ€™s not in season, I think most of it must be dried or corned in the case of my dish. Chencho told me earlier that yak at this time of year is so expensive that few people can afford it. The yak meat was very lean, and as gamey as I had feared, though salting it eases that taste. As with any gamey meat, Iâ€™m guessing that the meat would taste much better if it was cooked medium rare. Though I feel humbled by the experience at the farmhouse today, and though I know that they would have died to have what I had for dinner tonight, I have to admit that I was unable to finish it.
Iâ€™ve tried lots of foods from different countries over the years, including kangaroo and ostrich, but Iâ€™m not sure that Bhutanese food is one of my favorites. On our second day here, we ordered a Bhutanese picnic, in which we got red rice, potatoes and chilis, and sautÃ©ed chilis with cheese sauce. The latter is a classic dish here, and one that I was unable to try at all.
Scrabble score for tonightâ€™s game was Patrick 317 and Yukari 250.