Traditional local cuisine of Bhutan has its own appeal, especially for travelers who love food and are willing to venture beyond their comfort zones, cautiously of course! The cuisine of Bhutan, though influenced by culinary styles of the neighboring countries, has managed to retain its unique identity.
Food definitely is spicy for the Western palate, but Asians will enjoy a delicious fare of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes at the plush restaurants and budget eateries alike. Upscale hotels and multi-cuisine restaurants are likely to offer mildly spiced meals and snacks.
Typically Bhutan tour packages cater to the diverse travel and food preferences of travelers, so make sure you choose a suitable tour or request a custom package that meets your needs.
Tourists who are eager to taste the local cuisine must be fully prepared for a tryst with Chilli and cheese, as these are an integral part of the routine diet!
Here’s a list of Bhutanese delicacies that you cannot afford to miss when touring this Himalayan retreat.
- Ema Datshi (Chilli-Cheese)
This must-taste preparation is the national dish of Bhutan. This spicy mix of cheese with ribs and seeds of chilies split along their length, garlic, onion, tomatoes, a tad of water and oil is not only mouth-watering but also bring tears to your eye!
Yak cheese may also be used to prepare this delectable eat, served either as a thick stew or a diluted gravy.
There are a few equally tasty variations of the dish with dried beef, Potatoes or Mushrooms cooked with cheese to churn out the Shakam Datshi, Khewa Datshi and Shamu Datshi respectively!
- Paa (Traditional Gravy/Stew)
This gravy /stew is prepared with fresh pork slices (Phaksha Paa), dry beef slices ( Shakam Paa), dry pork belly (Sicam Paa) or dry Yak meat.
While the pork dishes are prepared by frying the meat along with dry red chillies, ginger and Bok Choy, the beef variant is cooked up with other vegetables such as radishes, onions, and potatoes as well. This healthy dish may also have a dash of cheese or butter to tone down the spiciness.
- Jasha (Traditional Stew)
Yet another local delicacy the Jasha Maroo is a spicy chicken soup/stew prepared using tomatoes, chilli, garlic, ginger, onions and dry chicken, garnished with coriander leaves. Heavy dose of spices go well with cool high-altitude settings.
Another variant, the Jasha Tshoem too is popular. This preparation has dry beef instead of chicken, flavored with ginger, garlic and onions.
- Indigenous Red Rice of Paro Valley
The hot stews and gravies are usually served with Bhutanese red rice or even white rice at times.
The red rice is rich in minerals, unpolished and retains the taste of the raw grain, going well with all the side dishes dosed generously with chillies. Rice is a staple food of Bhutan except for few places like Bumthang where buckwheat is more popular.
- Puta (Buckwheat Noodles)
When in Bhutan, you have a great opportunity to taste dishes made from Buckwheat, which is a staple as well. Healthy and filling, the noodles are either boiled or deep fried and tossed up with a great appetizing combo of vegetables and sauces. They do make a hearty meal along with side dishes or the delicious cucumber salad.
- Khur-le (Pancake)
Pancakes made from Buckwheat, Barley or even Wheat, are regular on the breakfast menu.
Along with the cheese laden spicy stews, they make a wholesome meal at the start of day, especially in high-altitude climatic conditions. You could however settle for a sauce or soupy side dish, or even spread little chilli paste on the pancake’s surface for delightful lighter meal.
- Goen Hogay (Cucumber Salad)
Salad enthusiasts must try this local dish. Even if you aren’t a fan of salads, Goen Hogay makes a great accompaniment to the other spicy dish usually served with rice.
Relatively mild, the salad is a mix of cucumber slices, cheese, onions, tomatoes, with a dash of chilli flakes and coriander. Garnishes usually tend to vary, but this popular salad is a welcome change!
This typical winter fare is a simple dish of sautéed turnip leaves, dried and prepared for use during the long winters.
In fact winter staples mainly comprise dried and preserved ingredients, be it vegetables or meat due to the inhospitable weather conditions.
This sliced and fried bitter gourd preparation is worth a try, if you find it palatable. The spiciness does make it quite appealing though!
There is nothing more refreshing than a bowl of tasty hot soup, especially higher up in the mountainous terrain. Dinner courses typically start with the Jaju, a mild preparation of leafy turnips / spinach in a broth of milk and butter, dosed with a dash of cheese as well. Other vegetables too may be used.
- Chogo (Dry Yak’s Cheese)
Bhutan is an ideal destination for foodies to taste dairy products derived from Yak’s milk, be it butter or cheese.
Chogo is a hard and dry chunk of Yak’s cheese that you can simply pop in your mouth and enjoy the flavor of the very slowing dissolving cheese for hours together. It makes a great snack for a long-distance drive or outing and is often filling as well.
- Suja (Butter Tea)
A cup of hot tea proves really comforting, more so in hill stations. However, this traditional Bhutanese tea may not be relished by everyone, but you must still try one sip.
Made by boiling tea leaves with fermented Yak butter and fresh Yak milk, this tea is a buttery concoction that also tastes a tad salty!
- Momos and Hoentays
If you are happy with comfort food, there’s no dearth of Momos in Bhutan. The delicious dumplings filled with meat (beef, pork, yak, chicken) or vegetables or even cheese and chillies are a treat for your taste buds.
Served with the ezay chilli sauce /chilli paste, a plate of hot Momos can easily keep hunger pangs away for a few hours!
The local variant Hoentay, is a steamed dumpling made using a variety of vegetarian or meat fillings that are wrapped in Buckwheat dough!
Deep fried Momos and Hoentays are equally delicious as well.
- Drinks (Indigenous Alcohol)
If you wish to indulge in drinks, options are the native Ara, Sinchang or Banchang made from fermented/distilled grains (Buckwheat, Barley, and Millets etc.).
Interestingly there are no desserts served in Bhutan, except for fresh fruits!
Opt for your favorite tour from an interesting array of Bhutan tour packages offered by your tour operator, look up food choices available, make it a list of dishes you wish to try and have a great time sampling the tasty yet spicy cuisine in the Land of the Thunder Dragon!