This time of the year is most ideal to visit Bhutan, to experience the variations in climate and weather that this beautiful kingdom offers. The flora and fauna is much to be desired, nature at it’s pure: untouched and whole. Apart from being home to majestic valleys and the most picturesque of mountains, it also has a very interesting cuisine to offer.
The Bhutanese are in love with spice which comes across so boldly in a variety of their dishes. What’s is interesting is that despite having many popular meat-based dishes, a significant number of Bhutanese people are vegetarian.
Traditionally dishes were cooked in earthenware, but with the easy availability of modern goods, pots and pans have largely replaced their use. A typical Bhutanese meal consists of rice, a dish of Ema Datshi, the country’s favourite dish of chili and cheese; certain regions also have certain foods they are known for.
So bearing that mind, I’ve taken the time to pick out some of the delicacies that must be tried by all who visit Bhutan.
‘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; 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.
With the Bumthang region as an exception, 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. 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.
Jasha Maroo or Maru
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. 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.
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. Mountain vegetables such as radishes and spinach may also be added in Phaksha Paa. This is often eaten along with rice and Datshi dishes.
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.
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.
Jasha Tshoem is a spicy Bhutanese stew prepared with beef and flavoured up with ginger garlic, onions, chilli pepper and sometimes mushrooms.
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.
Lom is a vegetable dish made from turnip leaves, they are sauted in mustard oil adding much loved spice, chilli. An interesting thing about Lom is that, it can be preserved and eaten in Bhutan throughout the year. What makes Lom even more beneficial in both taste and look is when it is mixed in some main dishes, for instance sikam paa (dried pork).
If you love tripe, goep in Bhutan, slices of tripe stir fried with dried chilies, green onions, and sometimes small vegetables, is an excellent dish.
Juma is a type of common Bhutanese sausage made with minced meat, rice, and some light spices all filled into an intestines wrapper.
There’s no way I would compile a list of Bhutanese food without paying full respect to ezay, which refers to any kind of Bhutanese chili sauce.
You might be thinking, chili sauce is not really a food… but in Bhutan, ezay is so mandatory to eat with every meal that it can be considered a dish of its own. And sometimes it’s almost more like a salad than a chili sauce. Ezay literally goes with and complements every Bhutanese food you can imagine.
What the locals mostly indulge in is butter tea, also known as Suja or Po Cha which is usually served after meals and is most apt 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.
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.
The Kingdom of Bhutan is one of the most enchanting and culturally preserved nations in the whole world. And although Bhutanese food is little known outside of Bhutan, it’s a cuisine that if you have the chance, and if you love to eat, you’re going to want to explore.
Hope you enjoyed this list of Bhutanese food!