Changköl: An Alcohol Porridge

Changkö (ཆང་བཀོལ་) is an alcoholic porridge popular throughout Bhutan. It is served during ceremonial occasions and is considered a special food; it is never consumed as a proper meal. Known as nagpa in central parts of Bhutan, it is made from a variety of cereals, and prepared and served in a number of different ways.

Changkö can made from wheat, barley, millet, or rice. In the case of wheat and barley, the grains are first roasted in a pan and then ground into a flour to make kapché (དཀར་ཕྱེ་) or roasted barley/wheat flour, which Bhutanese often eat with tea. The kapché is then cooked in water and mashed to the consistency of soft dough. The dough is then spread out on a mat and yeast is added to it. Yeast is often made with maize, millet, a bark of a creeper, and a small amount of a good yeast sample. Today, people also used ready-made imported yeast.

Changkö from millet is made by cooking the millet flour in water and then following the same process mentioned above. Similarly, rice is also cooked and spread out on a mat and made to cool down before yeast is added. Leftover rice from big meals and parties is often saved to be used to make changkö. After mixing the dough or rice with yeast, it is put into a bamboo container or some other vessel, which is then wrapped with a thick blanket in order to help it ferment. The time it takes to ferment depends on the yeast and temperature of the place. Once fermented, it is ready to be served. People store changkö in different vessels and keep them for long periods. An aged changkoe is often considered strong and nutritious. Often an old changkö is sour in taste although some fresh changkö are also sour. A sweet and smooth Changkö is generally considered good quality.

Changkö is served during Bhutanese festivals as a delicacy. It is also served during family rituals and parties. When people go on long bathing session, they have changkö in or after the bath as people believe it gives nourishment to the body. When a baby is born, it is customary to have changkö given to the visitors, who come to congratulate the parents and see the baby. Some people, particularly in western parts of Bhutan serve changkö as a thick paste. The fermented material can be fried in butter—often with eggs added—and then served in cups. Sometimes, people enjoy changkö without frying or heating it. Many in eastern Bhutan have changkoe first fried in butter (with or without eggs) and then add water to make it a thin porridge. If it is too strong, more water and/or sugar can be added to make it mild.

As a nourishing Bhutanese alcoholic food, changkö serves the dual purpose of being solid food and an alcohol. It is believed to help warm one in cold weather and also give strength. Today, one can commonly find changkoe for sale in the market.

Karma Phuntsho is a social thinker and worker, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of many books and articles including The History of Bhutan.