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 - Stew made of 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 chillies and cheese ('Ema' means chillies) 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 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
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 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 - Staple Food of BhutanExcept 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.
3. Jasha Maroo or Maru - Spicy Chicken Stew or CurryAnother 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.
4. Phaksha Paa - Pork with Red Chilies
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
6. Ara - Traditional Alcoholic BeverageAra (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.
7. Zow Shungo - Veggie DishAs 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.
8. Jaju Soup - Traditional Bhutanese SoupJaju 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.
9. Jasha Tshoem - Spicy StewJasha Tshoem is a spicy Bhutanese stew prepared with beef and flavoured up with ginger-garlic, onions, chilli pepper and sometimes mushrooms.
10. Khur-le - Buckwheat PancakeKhur-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.
11. Puta - Buckwheat NoodlesPuta 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.
12. Momos - All the way from TibetHaving 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.
13. Hoentay - Fried MomosAn 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.
14. Khatem - Fried Bitter GourdKhatem 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.
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.