A chance encounter sent Lisa Napoli halfway around the world to the happiest place on earth, where she met someone unexpected:
About Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth by Lisa Napoli
“Radio Shangri-La grabs you by the heart and takes you on a winding dual journey — into the self and into a fairy tale kingdom known for measuring happiness as its gross national product. Charming, illuminating, and often ironic, this memoir is a continuous discovery of myths and realities in finding deeper personal meaning.”–Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club and Saving Fish from Drowning
“Radio Shangri-La has shades of Pico Iyer and Bruce Chatwin and a similar genius for parachuting the reader into a strange land and culture. Bhutan has long fascinated me and Radio Shangri-La is the perfect vehicle to get there.”– Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone.
When Napoli met the handsome Sebastian at a cookbook party in New York City, she was intrigued by this man who traveled to Bhutan regularly. And when the accomplished L.A.-based journalist (MSNBC, CNN, public radio’s Marketplace) researched the country about which he spoke so enthusiastically, she became entranced with Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan kingdom that sits between India and China.
This country–dubbed “the happiest on earth” because of its focus on environmental and social progress–is hard to get to, with its remote location and governmental deterrents to tourism, like a per-person, per-day tourist tax. But a friend of Sebastian’s needs help with startup radio station Kuzoo FM, so Napoli leaves L.A. and goes to Bhutan for six weeks. She writes, “After more than two decades of reducing even the most complex issues to 1,000 words or less, I was tired of observing life from a distance.” While the author turns an eye on her own motivations (nothing further developed with Sebastian), she refrains from tortured navel-gazing and instead shares and reflects on Bhutan’s people, history, and customs (from painting phalluses on houses to repel evil spirits to Buddhism’s role in daily life). Napoli’s adventures at home and abroad, in nature and career and spirit, will delight readers.
Because many book clubs like to pair food with the books they’re discussing, we asked Lisa Napoli if there was a recipe she could share, and this is what she came up with:
In Bhutan, making Emadatse is a bit like making red sauce around my Italian side of the family. Everyone has their own slightly different ‘secret,’ and everyone thinks theirs is the best! Bhutanese consider red hot chili peppers to be a vegetable, not a spice; they’re nutrient rich, and warm the insides–essential ingredients for food in the Himalayas. All over Bhutan you can see them drying in the sun, on ledges, roofs, any surface that will hold a family’s necessary capacity for their weekly intake: Emadatse’s eaten three times a day in Bhutan, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and some people feel a meal isn’t complete without it!
This recipe comes from my friend, Karma Dem, of Good Karma Catering, who grew up in the Haa District of Bhutan. Try it only if you dare!
Good Karma’s Emadatse (as Americanized by Lisa)
(feeds one Bhutanese; five non-spice fans)
Chillies – about 10 pieces (serano, jalapeno, bell peppers – these all can be used depending on the level of hotness one wants to have)
Cheese – Monterey Jack shredded – 1 cup (some like it cheesier so you can add half cup or more depending on how cheesey you want it)
Olive oil or butter – (2 T. olive oil or 1/2 stick of butter- butter helps to tone down some of the spiciness of the chillies)
Salt to taste
Optional additions to absorb the heat and Americanize this:
Potatoes (5 small, very thinly sliced – makes this recipe kewa-datse)
Mushrooms (10 of any kind; chanterelles are common in the summer around Bhutan but are pricey here)
1 medium onion – julienned
2 medium tomatoes – chopped in bite size pieces
3 garlic pieces – not the whole clove – it would make it too garlicky
Warm the oil or butter. Turn heat down to low. Chop the chillies, add the grated cheese, salt, and any optional items you desire. Stir for 10-15 minutes, depending on how “al dente” you like veggies. Serve over heaping plates of white or pink Bhutanese rice.
Saki or Soju is as close as you’ll get to Bhutanese rice wine, ara, or have a beer to cut the heat!
NOTE: DO NOT put chillies in boiling water – it enhances the spiciness of the chillies – also it will blanch green chillies. Always put chillies in cold water to cook if you do not want them to be spicy.
Traditional Emadatse is just the chillies and cheese.
Learn more about Radio Shangri-La on the author’s website, www.lisanapoli.com, and on www.radioshangrilathebook.com.
Please fill out our super-short registration form and register by February 28th to win a set of up to ten copies of Radio Shangri-La and a chat with author Lisa Napoli via Skype or speaker phone for your book club! We will randomly choose a winner at the end of the month. This contest is open to clubs in the US and Canada only (our apologies to friends in other countries).