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Food Of Bhutan - 14 Dishes You Must Try While In Bhutan

Bhutan is unique in more ways than one. Apart from being home to majestic valleys and the most picturesque of mountains, it also has a very interesting cuisine to offer. Certain regions also have certain foods they are known for. What the Bhutanese are essentially in love with is spice which comes across so boldly in a variety of their dishes. Those with little tolerance for hot flavours might find themselves a little uneasy however some chefs in various hotels and restaurants take their customer's tolerance level into account and prepare dishes accordingly. Their affinity for cheese is also no less known. Vegetarian tourists could breathe a sigh of relief about their food options. What is interesting to note is that despite the existence of many popular meat-based dishes, a significant number of Bhutanese people are vegetarians. A lot of Indian and Chinese food is also available throughout the country.

The following is a list of the Bhutan foods that one must not miss out on their trip to this Himalayan Kingdom:

1. Ema Datshi (Chillies and Cheese)

'Datshi' in the Bhutanese language of Dzongkha means 'cheese', which is what they use in a number of dishes, the most popular being Ema Datshi which is like a stew made from chilies and cheese ('Ema' means chilies) and might prove to be too spicy for some. Being the national dish of Bhutan, it is unarguably the most popular dish in the country, and any discussion about Bhutanese food cannot go without the mention of Ema Datshi. The Bhutanese have a love affair with chillies and cheese is also a very popular item, which comes through in a variety of dishes, including this one. The chillies are split lengthwise with their seeds and ribs removed and are mixed with cheese, garlic, water and some oil. Is this cheese a special kind of farmer's cheese which doesn't dissolve in water and is hardly found outside this nation. Onions and tomatoes are also added sometimes. Yak cheese might also be used. There might be small variations in the preparation of Ema Datshi throughout the nation (such as the consistency of liquid), but the ultimate essence remains

Ema Datshi, Food of Bhutan, Bhutanese Dishes
Ema Datshi With Rice (Source)

There are also other variations of this dish that is worth trying:
  • Shakam Datshi is another form of this dish which is made from dried Bhutanese beef which is a very popular meat. The beef is dried and preserved but not completely dehydrated. This is then simmered in cheese and butter. 
  • Khewa Datshi (potatoes and cheese) involves chillies with potatoes that are usually cut into thin slices and then cooked with cheese and butter. Tomatoes and chillies may also be added for some flavour. Shamu Datshi consists primarily of mushrooms and cheese and is prepared similarly. All of these dishes are eaten with a generous helping of red or brown or white rice.

2. Red Rice

Except for the Bumthang region where buckwheat food items are more popular, red rice is one of the staple foods of the Bhutanese people. It is a medium-grain variety of rice that is grown in the Kingdom in the Eastern Himalayas. It has been grown for a number of years in the fertile soil of the Paro Valley which receives the benefit of mineral-rich glacier water. It cooks faster than other rice varieties because it is only partially milled, i.e. some of the bran is left on the rice and after being cooked acquires a reddish brown tinge. Being gluten and wheat-free and rich in minerals, it is highly nutritious as well. This rice is very earthy and nutty to taste and goes very well with dishes that have a bold flavour. The Bhutanese often accompany this with dishes containing mushrooms and chillies such as Ema Datshi, Shamu Datshi, Khewa Datshi and some other cheese-based and meat-based dishes as well.

Red Rice, Food of Bhutan, bhutanese dishes
Bhutanese Red Rice With Chicken and Spinach (Source)

3. Jasha Maroo or Maru (Spicy chicken)

Another dish worth tasting would be the Jasha Maroo which is like a spicy stew or curry which is made with diced chicken, onion, garlic, chillies, tomato, ginger and coriander leaves. Ginger gives this dish its essence. It may be served with a generous portion of chicken broth. Beef may also be used in place of chicken. This is usually served with red rice as it is in case of most Bhutanese dishes.

Food of Bhutan, Bhutanese Dishes
Jasha Maru (Source)

4. Phaksha Paa (Pork with Red Chilies)

Paa is a curry with gravy or a meaty stew. Phaksha Paa highlights another favourite item of the Bhutanese people - pork. This dish is made of pork slices stir-fried with whole red dry chillies (yet another spicy dish), ginger and Bok Choy. Bok Choy is also known as White Mustard Cabbage or Pak Choy and is peppery to taste and has a celery-like stalk with dark leaves. It is used not only in stews like this but also in fresh salads. Mountain vegetables such as radishes and spinach may also be added in Phaksha Paa. This is often eaten along with rice and Datshi dishes.

Phaksha Paa, Food of Bhutan, Bhutanese Dishes
Phaksha Paa (Source)

Variations of Phaksha Paa include:
  • Shakam Paa which is rich in protein, consisting of dry beef slices cooked with dry chillies, potatoes, onions and radishes. It is mostly cooked in a pot and served alongside a portion of rice.
  • Sicaam Paa is another version of this dish which employs sun-dried pork belly which is then fried along with dry chillies.
  • Yaksha Shakam is a version of this dish that substitutes pork with dried yak meat.

5. Suja (Bhutanese Butter Tea)

Tea is frequently consumed in Bhutan but is a little different. What the locals mostly indulge in is butter tea, also known as Suja or Po Cha or Goor Goor which is usually served after meals and is found to be quite comforting in the cold weather. Fermented yak butter is made from fresh yak milk. This butter is then boiled along with tea leaves and water. It is a frothy drink that tastes more like butter than tea, and its salty taste might surprise some. Butter tea is also relished in Tibet and parts of Nepal as well. Suja can also be made with cow's butter.

Bhutanese Butter Tea, Food of Bhutan, Bhutanese Dishes
Suja (Source)

6. Ara (Traditional Alcoholic Beverage)

Ara (or Arag) is the traditional alcoholic beverage in Bhutan. It is made by fermenting or distilling rice, wheat, maize, millet, barley or buckwheat and is usually creamy, whitish or clear in appearance. It has a very strong smell and taste. Sometimes Ara is also heated with butter and eggs to make it a more wholesome beverage. There are also other drinks like Banchang and Sinchang which are made by fermenting grains with homemade yeast. Sinchang is a cool drink whereas Banchang is a hot drink.

Ara Drink, Food of Bhutan, Bhutanese Dishes
Home-made Ara, Traditional Drink of Bhutan (Source)

7. Zow Shungo

As the term, Zow - which means splendid suggests, this dish is a popular favourite among the Bhutanese cuisine. It is made from leftover vegetables and red rice and can be prepared quickly and easily. It is a healthy option and one which ensures that you do not have to throw away any leftover veggies.

Zow Shungo, Bhutan Food, Bhutanese Cuisine
Zow Shungo (Source)

8. Jaju Soup

Jaju is a traditional Bhutanese soup, generally served along with other dishes as a side. It is made up of green leafy vegetables like local spinach, or even turnips. The broth is prepared with milk and butter. Sometimes, cheese is also added to the preparation to make it heartier, and tastier.

Jaju Soup, Food of Bhutan, Bhutanese Cuisine
Home-made Jaju Soup (Source)

9. Jasha Tshoem

Jasha Tshoem is a spicy Bhutanese stew prepared with beef and flavoured up with ginger garlic, onions, chilli pepper and sometimes mushrooms.

Jasha Thsoem, Bhutan Food, Bhutanese Dishes
Source

10. Khur-le

Khur-le is a traditional hearty Bhutanese breakfast, ideal for cold climates. It is a pancake made out of buckwheat, barley or wheat flour. It serves as a good combination of other Bhutanese dishes like ema or shakam datshi, or with eggs and sauces.

Khur-Le, Food of Bhutan, Traditional Bhutanese Cuisine
Khur-Le, A Traditional Bhutanese Breakfast (Source)

11. Puta

Puta is a type of traditional Bhutanese noodles. They are a healthy alternative to the regular noodles, as they are made from buckwheat. They are generally served boiled, but can also be stir-fried in oil. They can be spiced up by adding different sauces and sauteed vegetables. Serving as an alternative to rice, buckwheat noodles serve as one of the staple foods in Bhutan.

Puta, Bhutan Food, Bhutanese Dishes
Buckwheat Noodles in Bhutan (Source)

12. Momos

Having migrated from Tibet and Bhutan to many regions of India, especially north India - momos have firmly established themselves as one of the most popular street foods, and give serious competition to the likes of chaats and vada-paavs, the traditional Indian street favourites. Bhutan serves some extremely tasty options for this snack. These steaming hot dumplings have a variety of stuffings - including minced beef, pork and other meats, as well as vegetables like cabbage. Cheese momos, mixed with spices, are also a popular option. Apart from the steamed varieties, there are deeply fried momos as well. They are eaten with hot chilli sauces called ezay.

Momos, Food of Bhutan, Bhutanese Cuisine, Bhutan Street Food
Momos, a popular South Asian delicacy (Source)

13. Hoentay

An alternative to the famous dish of momos, Hoentay originates from the Haa Valley of Bhutan. They are made from the Bhutanese buckwheat and are steamed or fried with different stuffings of green leafy vegetables, cheese and meat. They are also served with the Bhutanese chilli sauce ezay. 

Hoentay, Bhutan Food, Bhutanese Dishes
Hoentay, A Variation To Momos From Haa Valley (Source)

14. Khatem

Khatem is a preparation of bitter melon or bitter gourd, generally the Indian variety. It is sliced up thinly and fried in butter, and seasoned. It is a tasty snack for all times. 

Khatem, Food of Bhutan, Bhutanese Cuisine
Khatem, a delicious Bhutanese preparation of Bitter Gourd (Source)

Some other food items to sample when in Bhutan would include momos, dumplings which are made with buckwheat and are filled with spinach, cheese, turnips and other ingredients, eaten with a spicy sauce called Ezay and which are a speciality of the Haa Valley along with other buckwheat dishes. Goep is another popular dish which is made with tripe which is stir-fried with green onions, chillies and vegetables. The list doesn't stop at that. As one explores more, one will come across more exotic dishes (probably not any less spicy) and leave with an overall wonderful experience of tingling taste buds.

This post was published by Sanjana Gopal