Bhutan is a country which will leave tourists spellbound by its enthralling natural wonders and scenic beauty, but what makes them want to come back for more is the enticing Bhutanese food culture. The small kingdom of Bhutan is landlocked between two countries (India and China) that has a rich culinary heritage. As food has the power to bridge gaps and unite people across boundaries, it’s no surprise that Bhutanese food is heavily influenced by Indian-Chinese cuisines. Whether it’s the sweet or savory dishes, Bhutanese food will take you on a mouthwatering adventure. So without wasting much time let’s embark on an extraordinary culinary journey to unlock all the flavors that this place holds.
Authentic Bhutanese Food That Are A Must Try
No trip to Bhutan is complete until you try some of its popular dishes. Bhutanese love spicy food and most of their dishes are loaded with chilies. In fact Bhutanese treat chilies as vegetables and not as a spicing agent. So if you are a person who loves hot and savory flavors, then you’re going to love this adventure. Here are 10 authentic Bhutanese foods that you must try.
Ema Datshi – Traditional Stew
Let’s start our culinary journey with a traditional Bhutanese stew which also happens to be the national food of Bhutan. The name literally translates to chilies and cheese where these two ingredients create a fusion of flavors. This rather simple meal made of chilies, local Bhutanese cheese, garlic, onion, tomatoes and plenty of butter is often eaten with Bhutanese red rice. Ema Datshi is so good that you will find yourself eating it at almost every meal while in Bhutan. The perfect balance of creamy richness and spicy heat makes it a culinary masterpiece and a must-try on your next trip.
Shakam Paa – Packed With Protein
Next up is this magical Bhutanese dish that showcases the depth and complexity of the traditional food of Bhutan. This popular dish is so packed with flavors that it will make you forget the food that you used to eat back home. It is made of dried beef (tender beef marinated and sun-dried), dried chilies, potatoes, onions, and radish which are cooked in an earthen pot. The dry beef in Shakampaa is an excellent source of protein. The cooking style and its unique flavors is what makes this dish stand out from the rest. A must try dish while vacationing in Bhutan.
Jasha Maru – Hot And Spicy Delight
Immerse yourself in the flavors of this hot and spicy chicken stew made of garlic, onion, diced chicken, chilies and ginger. Though dry spices are added to this dish, what really stands out is the earthy flavor of ginger. This soul-soothing traditional chicken stew is a perfect dish to keep you warm during the winter season. Just like the other Bhutanese dishes, Jasha Maru is also served with red rice. A generous portion of chicken broth from this dish is perhaps the healthiest Bhutan food that one can have. It’s no surprise that this beloved culinary treasure is a favorite among all.
Zow Shungo – Best Out Of Waste
Zow, which means splendid, is a vegetarian delight made of leftover vegetables and red rice. This dish is a perfect example of the Bhutanese people who do not like wasting food. All seasonal vegetables from spinach to cabbage, turnips to radishes make the dish burst with colors and textures. Most households love making this meal as it is simple to make and reduces food waste. Zow Shungo made of leftovers is one of the healthiest dishes in Bhutan.
Puta – Traditional Noodles
Puta is a traditional Bhutanese noodle which is a healthy alternative to regular noodles. They are made from highly nutritious buckwheat which are grown in high altitudes. Generally these noodles are served boiled, however they are served stir-fried in mustard oil too. These noodles are also great substitutes to rice and served as one of the staple foods in Bhutan. Once the noodles are made it is mixed with desired veggies, meats, sauce, some salt and Sichuan peppercorns. This hand-made nutritious noodle is a complete meal in itself.
Dumplings – Popular Street Food
One of the most widely eaten Asian foods is the dumplings that have migrated to Bhutan as well. These dumplings have a variety of stuffing of veg as well as non-veg. The non-veg dumpling is stuffed with minced beef, pork and chicken. While the veg dumplings are made of cheese and mixed vegetables of which cabbage is the most prominent of them all. Don’t be surprised to see chilies added into your dumplings as Bhutanese people love hot and spicy food. Dumplings are so popular that they are easily available at any Bhutanese restaurant or eateries. Both the freshly steamed and the deep fried dumplings are a hit among all.
Phaksha Paa – Tantalizing Pork Dish
The robust flavors of the slow-cooked pork and the earthy sweetness of radishes showcases the artistry of Bhutanese culinary techniques. Sliced pork is stir fried with a variety of red hot chilies, ginger, mushroom, spinach and other vegetables to make a tantalizing pork dish. For a food lover this dish served with rice or hoentay should be a must try. People who don’t like pork can ask for the vegetarian version of Phaksha Paa. Perhaps this is one dish that is enjoyed throughout Bhutan.
Kewa Datshi – A Vegetarian Treat
Kewa Datshi is another special dish that is very much close to the famous Ema Datshi. Unlike Ema Datshi, here the focus is on potatoes and cheese. ‘Kewa’ means potatoes and ‘Datshi’ indicates the use of cheese. Hence this dish is a combination of boiled potatoes and rich creamy cheese sauce. Thin slices of potatoes are sauteed in butter and then added to the locally produced cheese. This dish can be served either as a main dish or even as a side dish. Additional ingredients like onions, tomatoes, garlic, and spices are added to enhance its taste. It is the most comforting and hearty dish that can make your soul happy for days.
Goep – Also Known As Tripe
Goep is a unique and adventurous dish made of the stomach lining of animals. It may not sound very appetizing but this local treasure is quite flavorful and a must try. After the slices of tripe are thoroughly cleaned it is cooked with radish, red chilies, cheese, onions, garlic and small vegetables. Just like the other Bhutanese dishes this dish is also served with red rice or bread. Goep is on the chewy side but that’s how it ideally needs to be. So walk into any of the street food joints in Bhutan to experience the ultimate flavors of Bhutan.
Suja – Bhutanese Butter Tea
Let’s wash down all the delicious food with a traditional hot beverage called Suja. Though it does not fall under the food category, just couldn’t miss adding this beverage under this list as it has a special place in Bhutanese culture. Suja is a Bhutanese butter tea made of fermented yak butter, tea leaves, and water. This unique frothy beverage tastes more like butter than tea. The locals consume it not just for its taste but also because it has numerous health benefits. It is said to aid in digestion, alleviate flu symptoms and provide more energy, warmth and comfort after consuming it. Every Bhutanese household makes it a point to have Suja after every meal.
Suggested Reads: Interesting Facts About Bhutan That Make It A Must-Visit Destination
With so many exotic dishes to try, the list doesn’t stop here. These are just a few of the many traditional Bhutanese foods that are both exciting and packed with flavors. No matter which part of the country you try these delicacies, every bite is sure to leave a lasting impression on your taste buds. If you ever visit Bhutan and come across something unique and captivating as the country itself, do share with us in the comment box below.
Some FAQ’s On Bhutanese Cuisine
To experience the authentic flavors of Bhutan, places like Thimphu, Paro and Punakha are obvious choices. No traveler will be disappointed as all local eateries and restaurants in Bhutan offer the best Bhutanese dishes.
The cuisine of Bhutan has a wide range of options for vegetarians. Most of their popular non-vegetarian dishes have a vegetarian version too. Veg dishes like Zow Shungo, Kewa Datshi and dumplings are popular choices for vegetarians.
Butter tea is a traditional beverage not just for refreshment but also serves as a source of warmth during cold weather in the mountainous regions of Bhutan. The high caloric content in the tea gives the necessary energy to go for the day, especially for places that are at high altitude.
In the Dzongkha language of Bhutan, “Ema” means “chili”, “Kewa” means “potato” and “datshi” means “cheese.” While Ema Datshi is made of chili and cheese, in Kewa Datshi the chilies are substituted with potatoes.
Without a doubt Ema datshi is the most famous food in Bhutan that’s loved by all. Apart from this different soups, stews of meat, fiddleheads, lentils, red rice, dried vegetables and all dishes spiced with chili, pepper and cheese are all time favorite foods.