As one of the most exclusive countries in the world, Bhutan, has managed to keep its culture untarnished and its food authentic, free from foreign influences. Being one of the healthiest countries in the world, Bhutan has a farm-to-table approach when it comes to food. The first things that you will notice about Bhutanese food are its freshness and flavour. From vegetables to spices everything in Bhutan is locally sourced which adds great flavour to all the local dishes. If planning on visiting Bhutan, rest assured that you will have a range of options to explore.
Introduction To Bhutanese Cuisine
Much like in other Asian countries, brown rice, white rice, and noodles are a staple of Bhutanese cuisine. These staples are grown and made at home to then be sold at the farmer’s market. Most of the people in Bhutan are vegetarians and therefore they have a lot of vegetarian options for you to choose from. They tend to use spinach, onion, tomatoes, turnips, radishes, and hot peppers in most of their dishes. If you have a low spice tolerance you should mention that to your chef because if there’s one thing Bhutanese people love when it comes to food, it’s their spices.
Many popular dishes in Bhutan are vegetarian, however, you will also find delicious meat options anywhere you go.
Local Dishes We Recommend
Known as the national dish of Bhutan, Ema Datshi is made of yak or cow cheese and chilies. It is eaten with rice and there’s a good chance you’ll see it regularly as this is a fundamental part of most meals. Everything is locally sourced and picked from the produce market. It is rich, flavourful, and hearty, different from anything you have ever tried before. This dish is also a great option for vegetarians.
Shakam Ema Datshi
One thing you will notice in Bhutan is that most of their dishes have the word “Datshi” at the end of their names. Datshi means cheese, and that is why you will experience a cheesy taste in almost all of their food. If you’re a meat lover then this is right up your alley. Shakam ema datshi is dried beef cooked in butter and cheese with a lot of spices. The texture of the beef is similar to that of beef jerky, but it was slightly less dry.
While momos are also famous in India, Nepal, and Tibet each country has its own version of it. This is one of the local staples and is commonly served in Bhutan. Momos are traditionally made with yak, but some places also use beef or pork fillings in case yak meat is not available. They are served piping hot after being steamed or fried and make for a great snack. Momos in Bhutan are sometimes accompanied by a sauce known as Ezay which is made of red chilies, oil, and garlic.
If you want something instead of rice then puta should be on your list of new things to try. Puta is noodles made of buckwheat that is grown locally. They are usually tossed in a stir-fry pan with meat, vegetables, and sauces that are rich and appetizing. Combining nutrient-rich buckwheat noodles, protein, and local vegetables, this simple dish is a complete meal in itself.
Made of ground beef, radish, and of course chilies, Shakam paa is usually served over a bed of rice. The beef used in this dish is first dried, which is a natural preservation technique that gives the meat a slightly chewy texture. Packed with protein and carbs, this is one of the staple dishes of the Bhutanese people.
If you like treating your taste buds with unique flavours, Suja needs to be on top of your list when visiting Bhutan. This savoury and creamy tea is just what you need at the end of a long day. You might be a bit apprehensive to try Suja when you hear that it is a special tea made of yak milk and butter, but this is not the flavour you come across and we would encourage you to give it a try. It is made like any other tea except it has yak milk and two cubes of unsalted butter in it which gives it a creamy and buttery texture. Not only is it exceptionally delicious it also helps keep you warm in the cold Bhutanese winter.
Bhutanese dishes tend to involve spice and meat. The Goen Hogey is one exception which is recommended for those who prefer lighter-tasting dishes. It is a salad made of cucumbers, cilantro, onion, and datshi as well. This refreshing dish is easy on the stomach, flavourful, and healthy. While some people have it as a meal others combine it as a complimentary dish to their mains.
While trying Bhutanese cuisine is part of the experience while you are traveling there, we also understand that it may not be suitable for all taste buds. If you prefer to stick with more familiar cuisines, there are restaurants serving up western, Indian, Italian, and Chinese food as well as other Asian cuisines.
Food in Bhutan is as rich as its culture and one of the reasons why people from around the world have a go at the local cuisine while spending time in the country. Also, great dining experiences enhance your time there. For us, finding good food is equally important as sniffing out the best local experiences for your tailor-made travel experience. If you need, we are happy to recommend food stops for your holiday in Bhutan. Let us know what your taste preferences are and we can incorporate that into your trip accordingly.