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Changkoe: An Alcohol Porridge

Changkoe (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.

Changkoe 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 kapchye (དཀར་ཕྱེ་) or roasted barley/wheat flour, which Bhutanese often eat with tea. The kapchye 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.

Changkoe 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 changkoe. 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 changkoe in different vessels and keep them for long periods. An aged changkoe is often considered strong and nutritious. Often an old changkoe is sour in taste although some fresh changkoe are also sour. A sweet and smooth changkoe is generally considered good quality.

Changkoe 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 changkoe in or after the bath as people believe it gives nourishment to the body. When a baby is born, it is customary to have changkoe given to the visitors, who come to congratulate the parents and see the baby. Some people, particularly in western parts of Bhutan serve changkoe as a thick paste. The fermented material can be fried in butter—often with eggs added—and then served in cups. Sometimes, people enjoy changkoe 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, changkoe 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.

Changkoe: An Alcohol Porridge
Collection Bhutan Cultural Library
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The making of and uses for changkoe, a grain-based alcoholic foodstuff served at special occasions in Bhutan.

Author Karma Phuntsho
Editor Ariana Maki
Year published 2017