Land of the Thunder Dragon, Bhutan, is known for its mountains, monasteries, and mouth-watering unique cuisines. The intense Himalayan topography, climate, and local cooking techniques give Bhutanese food a unique spin. Neighboring countries like Tibet, Nepal, and India also influence the dishes of Bhutan.
Bhutanese dishes are famous for their simplicity, authenticity, locally grown ingredients, and unique blend of spices. Ingredients like chilies, cheese, potatoes, rice, and buckwheat are readily available in the country. Different regions of the country blend these ingredients and have created something extraordinary. This is why tourists so revere these dishes because they are a must-try.
The country's national dish, Ema datshi is unarguably the most popular dish of Bhutan. 'Datshi' in Bhutanese means 'cheese,' and 'ema' means 'chilies'; therefore, Ema datshi is a stew made of cheese and chilies, sometimes including yak cheese, onions, garlic, and oil. It has a spicy taste with the essence of a particular type of farmer's cheese that gives it a semi-solid consistency. This dish is worth trying for all the food connoisseurs out there.
Another version of the Ema datshi is the Shakam datshi, a popular cuisine of the Bhutanese culture. Made from pure Bhutanese dried beef, also called Shakam, it is partially dried and cooked in cheese and butter to perfection. The beef tastes similar to jerky but thicker and is simmered in cheese and butter giving it a savory taste. This is a must-taste dish for all the non-vegetarian food enthusiasts out there.
One of the staple foods in Bhutan is potatoes. The Kewa datshi, meaning potatoes and cheese, fully embraces the essence of potatoes. Firstly, they are sauteed in oil or butter, adding the cheese to give it a unique cheesy taste. This gravy-like Bhutanese cuisine is best with some rice. Being non-spicy and easy to chew, it is one of the best options for Bhutanese foods for all age groups.
Dumplings or Momo are unarguably the most famous dish of the Indian subcontinent.
These small balls of heavenly pleasure are everywhere, including street stalls, small eateries, and high-end restaurants. This dish is found in various forms. Some may be fried, some steamed, packed with meat or vegetables. In Bhutan especially, they are eaten with the Bhutanese chili sauce 'Ezay.' It is highly recommended to try this dish when visiting Bhutan.
In Bhutanese, 'Shamu' means mushroom; therefore, this dish is a spicy stew made with mushrooms and cheese. It has a flavorful blend of mushrooms and cheese accompanying the spicy chilies. With mushrooms, creamy cheese, and spicy chilies, this dish provides a unique culinary experience showcasing Bhutan's cultural heritage and diverse flavors.
Red rice is one of the staple foods of Bhutan. This type of rice is grown in the fertile soils of the Paro Valley, richly supplied with glacier water. It takes little time to cook due to being partially milled. It has a reddish-brown tinge and is gluten- and wheat-free and highly nutritious. This steaming hot rice can be accommodated with dishes like Ema datshi, Shamu datshi, Kewa datshi, and other cheese-based stews.
This broth of milk and vegetables is a mellow soup that goes well with any dish. It is generally served as a side dish in many restaurants and eateries. Made from turnip or spinach leaves added to milk, butter, and a hint of cheese. This dish is a delight you must try in Bhutan if you are searching for something unique. It is perfect for a cold winter day to warm up and energize the body.
Dried yak meat is one of the most common ingredients for many dishes in Bhutan. Shakam paa, therefore, is also one of those dishes. Having dried beef cooked with red chilies or radishes, it is a delight for spicy food lovers. You truly don't want to miss out on this amazing dish.
Laphing is one of the most famous Tibetan street foods out there. It has a unique savory taste and is made from flour or potato starch rolls marinated in soy sauce, chilies, and other spices overnight. It is served either wet with a special type of sauce or dry which both have their own perks. It has a slippery and distinct texture to it that makes it more appetizing to bite into. It is a must-have street food in Bhutan.
While not entirely a dish on its own, it is one peculiar sauce that is served with almost every other dish in Bhutan. Ezay, the ultimate chili sauce, is an integral part of most Bhutanese dishes. As a tradition in Bhutan goes, it is made with spicy hot chilies and Schezwan peppercorn. It heightens the flavor of every bite and makes the dish more delectable. Be sure to order Ezay with any dishes you try in Bhutan.
Yet another spicy dish, the Paksha Paa, is one of the highlights of Bhutanese cuisine. Made up of pork and chilies, the Paksha paa can be consumed as a main dish and a complimentary side dish. It can also include Bok Choy, a leafy stalk usually used in salads. Additionally, Mountain grown vegetables can also be added to make the dish even more delectable.
Resembling a pancake, the Khur-le is a Bhutanese snack popular among the native people. It is made up of buckwheat or barley flour and has a spongy texture. Any locally available flour is used to make the pancake. It can be used as a complimentary food with many dishes like Ema datshi and Shakam datshi. It is best eaten in the winter as it is quite fulfilling.
The Gondo Datshi is a product of scrambled eggs, cheese, and a lot of butter. Loved by the natives for its pleasing fragrance, it can be made with farmer's cheese as well as goat cheese which adds a unique taste to this dish. It is meant to be eaten with bread during breakfast and snack time. Consuming in the morning energizes your day and leaves you fulfilled and wanting more.
You rarely see a delicious dish made of Bitter gourd/melon anywhere except Bhutan. Khatem is a common food in Bhutan made up of bitter gourd deep fried in lots of butter. It has a unique taste of bitterness not meant for the weak-hearted. It can give you a new sensation of taste that you may not have been previously aware of. It is highly encouraged to try this dish when in Bhutan.
Lom is also a very unique dish exclusive to Bhutan. Basically, being seasoned and dried turnip leaves, it has a surprising and unique flavor to it. It can be used as a side dish as well as a cooking ingredient in native cuisines. Lom is eaten widely throughout Bhutan throughout the year, so it is suggested to try it.
One of the identifying cultures of Bhutan is that people don't waste food. Keeping this culture in mind, leftover vegetables are mixed with Eue Chum (rice in the Bhutanese language) to give a starchy and healthy dish called Zow Shungo. This is not inferior to the other dishes and is consumed throughout Bhutan. You should give this dish a try.
Juma is a tasty sausage stuffed with minced meat seasoned with spices. It is one of the spicy dishes Bhutan is known for. Juma is different from other sausages as it is meat wrapped in intestine and rice, then deep fried and served. It is a different form of beef jerky with a dry texture and chewy taste. It offers a unique gritty taste of intestine and Sichuan pepper.
Goep is a stir-fried tripe, the inner lining of the stomach of animals. Mostly made up of the tripe of a cow's stomach, slices of this tripe are mixed with some vegetables and spices and deep or stir-fried to give a scrumptious meal. This meal is well-known in other parts of Asia but is considered one of the most popular dishes in Bhutan. It is an excellent dish worth trying for all non-vegetarian enthusiasts while visiting Bhutan.
It is a crime not to mention noodles in a country that Tibet influences. Puta is simply buckwheat noodles that are famous in the Bumthang region. In Bhutan, it is usually accompanied by spring onions, chilies, and eggs cooked in oil. It may also be cooked with meat, vegetables, and sauces to further heighten the flavor. Sometimes, it can also serve priests and gods as offerings, which makes it so special.
This is not your ordinary chicken curry, but a special one that contains spices of Bhutan with a noticeable ginger taste. This rustic stew contains a mixture of ingredients like onions, leeks, tomatoes, chicken, and a dash of ginger. This is particularly famous in the Himalayas and for cold weather.
Many Bhutanese delicacies like Khur-le, Laphing, Red rice, Puta, Jaju, Kewa datshi, and more are best for vegetarians. As Bhutan emphasizes utilizing locally sourced ingredients, finding fresh vegetables to incorporate into these dishes is easy. Hence, the dishes are suited for all people, whether vegetarians or non-vegetarians.
What are the eating habits of Bhutanese people?
One of the Bhutanese's most noticeable eating habits is eating with their hands. Don't be grossed out because this is very common in Southeast Asian countries, and people wash their hands thoroughly before eating.
The other interesting thing is that locals usually offer food to god before eating, usually by throwing some food and drinks in the air. This act is done differently in various regions of Bhutan, depending upon the tradition.
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