Raksha Bungba and Bunga Achara: Traditional Delicacy of Kheng Ngangla

Description

 Zhemgang district lies in the south-central part of Bhutan, and it is covered with lush green sub-tropical vegetation. And bamboo species are found growing profusely in the luxuriant forest.  So, people have used bamboo in many different ways, from making crafts out of bamboos (tsharzo) to eating tender bamboo shoots as a delicacy. In the Ngangla Trong community, it is incomplete to have a meal without bamboo shoot condiments called bunga achara (pickled bamboo shoot), or a curry called raksha bungba (dried bamboo shoot). Recently, with support from SAARC Development Fund, nine days training on bamboo shoot processing and packaging were also conducted for the people of Nganla and Goshing gewog.

History

 Since Zhemgang has sub-tropical climatic conditions, the weather is suitable for bamboo and it grows in abundance. For the people of Kheng, the luxuriant growth of bamboo is a blessing because people’s source of income is from its bamboo arts and craft. Besides, bamboo is used as housing material, or for making arts and crafts, people also use bamboo shoots to make pickles and other food items. However, the growth of tender bamboo shoots is seasonal, therefore, people in Ngangla Trong make dried bamboo shoots called raksha bungba to store for a longer duration.

According to oral history, bamboo shoot pickles and dried bamboo shoots were made since their ancestors’ time, and these two items are very much part of their daily food habits. Bamboo shoots grow around late summer and are processed into different products such as shoots, pickled shoots, and dried shoots, and so on, to preserve the shoot. The freshly harvested shoot is yellowish in color, has a strong smell and sweet taste if eaten on the day of harvest.

People of Kheng say that it is best to harvest the bamboo shoots when they are only a foot high. It is said that if the shoots become a bit mature, it will be bitter. Bamboo shoot is harvested from late spring to summer. Although bamboos grow in abundance in their region and do not need plantation, yet the local people have preserved a certain part of the forest as a community forest. The community forest was created by a farmers group called Zhingmen Tshogpa to maintain and harvest bamboos in a sustainable way. The group was formed in 2014, and there are around 40 households as members who look after their renewable natural resources.

 Process Involved in Making Raksha Bungba and Bungba Achara

 People often say that bamboo has unmatched qualities for it is not only used in a musical instrument, household articles, and as housing material but also used for culinary purposes. Therefore, bamboo items are not only popular in the Kheng region, but people all over Bhutan use bamboo in one form or the other; however, the consumption pattern of bamboo shoots differs from region to region. The culinary experts say that bamboo shoot is a highly prized vegetable in Asian cuisine and ranked among the five most popular healthcare foods in the world.

To prepare bungba achara (pickled bamboo shoot), the bamboo shoots are collected from the forest and the outer skin is peeled to expose the tender yellowish inside. Then, the shoot is boiled until tender and the process of boiling also helps in removing the toxin. Once it is boiled, the tender shoot is sliced as per one’s desire to be either pickled or cooked. Then, the sour sliced shoots are dried in the sun for a day or two to dehydrate for pickling. The dehydrated shoots are mixed with oil, salt, chili, and other spices. After a week, or two it is ready to be served with meals.

To prepare raksha bungba, the peeled and boiled bamboo shoots are sliced and they are sun-dried. Every piece has to be completely dried to be stored for use when the bamboo is not in season. These sun-dried bamboo shoots are cooked with pork, chicken, beef, or just chilies. The texture of the bamboo shoot is similar to asparagus.

Conclusion

 In the Kheng region, bamboo products and bamboo pickles are popular because of the abundant supply of bamboos from the forest.  Farmers collect bamboo shoots for personal consumption. However, in the last few years, government and non-government organizations like the Tarayana Foundation are encouraging farmers to form a cooperative group to produce home-based products to supplement their income.  Now, the Kheng region produces cane and bamboo crafts and food items like bamboo pickles, and these home-based entrepreneurial initiatives have brought much social and economic upliftment in the region.

Informants

 Karma Chogyel, Tshogpa

Chozom, 44, Ngangla Gewog

 Researcher

 Dechen Tshering, Associate Lecturer, CLCS Takste, Royal University of Bhutan 2019

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