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The Hoentoe
map The people of Haa - Haapsto their compatriots - are known as a rugged race who live a tough life, especially in the relatively cold winter. They have also developed some of their own unique traditions, including their new year: the lomba, which is celebrated on the 29th day of the 10th Bhutanese month.

This is one time of the year when all other Bhutanese like to be remembered by their Haap friends who make the hoentoe, a popular buckwheat dumpling unique to this northern valley.

The carefully prepared delicacy is an important part of the celebrations. The steamed momo-like dumpling is a mixture of dried spinach, turnip, and chilli prepared in fermented cheese and wrapped in a dough made of buckwheat flour. Its preparation, characterised by a distinct aroma, begins the day before the lomba and is an important part of the celebrations.

Haa Valley

"Hoentoe is made only by the Haaps," says Ap Bjasa, whose eyes light up at a memory which takes him back into his childhood. "I can remember enjoying hoentoe as a child. We would eat as much as we could and hide the rest in our ghos to eat at a later stage."

Ap Bjasa explains that the hoentoe is associated with celebration and good fortune and, therefore, is not made when there is a death or illness in the home. "It has been a special dish since the time of ourforefathers." Ap Bjasa's son, Namgay, standing six feet four inches, follows his father's footsteps and hovers near the kitchen when hoentoe is prepared. "When I was a child I remember eating them as they become ready, burning my mouth with the hot juices." In the past the hoentoe was not just a feast, but a festivity for children. "We would walk around the village houses with a long stick with a basket hanging on the end and we would hold it over the house, shouting until the occupants came out and place a hoentoe in the basket for each one of Hoenta was offered to the nobility as a gesture of respect and goodwill.

This tradition is maintained today by some Haaps who offer hoentoe to their office colleagues. It is also cooked during special occasions or feasts to enrichen the variety in the Bhutanese cuisine. "It is still prepared with the same enthusiam as before, but on a more regular basis," says Ap Bjasa. "Apart form the lomba we try to make it for special events."

The hoentoe remains a home-cooked delicacy still native to the people of Haa.

This article was contributed by KUENSEL, Bhutan's national newspaper
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