Rice is a staple with every meal; traditionally red rice, but white rice is now common too. Vegetable or meat dishes cooked with chili and/or cheese comprise the accompanying cuisine.
Bhutanese food has one predominant flavour – chili. This small red condiment is not only added to every dish but is also often eaten raw. So, if you don’t like spicy-hot food, make this abundantly clear before ordering a meal. Otherwise, you’ll be spending the next hour dousing your mouth with cold yoghurt or milk.
Bhutanese delicacies are rich with spicy chili and cheese. All the hotels, resorts and restaurants will offer delicious Bhutanese food, Chinese, Continental,and Indian cuisines.
Rice forms the main body of most Bhutanese meals. It is accompanied by one or two side dishes consisting of meat or vegetables. Pork, beef and chicken are the meats that are eaten most often. Vegetables commonly eaten include Spinach, pumpkins, turnips, radishes, tomatoes, river weed, onions and green beans. Grains such as rice, buckwheat and barley are also cultivated in various regions of the country depending on the local climate.
The following is a list of some of the most popular Bhutanese dishes:
- Ema Datshi: This is the National Dish of Bhutan. A spicy mix of chillis and the delicious local cheese known as Datshi. This dish is a staple of nearly every meal and can be found throughout the country. Variations on Ema Datshi include adding green beans, ferns, potatoes, mushrooms or swapping the regular cheese for yak cheese.
- Momos: These Tibetan-style dumplings are stuffed with pork, beef or cabbages and cheese. Traditionally eaten during special occasions, these tasty treats are a Bhutanese favourite.
- Phaksha Paa: Pork cooked with spicy red chillis. This dish can also include Radishes or Spinach. A popular variation uses sun-dried (known as Sicaam).
- Hoentoe: Aromatic buckwheat dumplings stuffed with turnip greens, datshi (cheese), spinach and other ingredients.
- Jasha Maru: Spicy minced chicken, tomatoes and other ingredients that is usually served with rice.
- Red Rice: This rice is similar to brown rice and is extremely nutritious and filling. When cooked it is pale pink, soft and slightly sticky.
- Goep (Tripe): Though the popularity of tripe has diminished in many countries it is still enjoyed in Bhutan. Like most other meat dishes, it is cooked with plenty of spicy chillis and chilli powder.
- Ema-datsi. Ema means chili and datsi is a kind of cottage cheese, so ema-datsi is similar to jalapeños with cream cheese.
- Kewa-datsi. A potato, cheese and chili dish.
- Shamu-datsi. A mushroom, cheese and chili dish.
Kewa-datsi and shamu-datsi tend to be less hot than ema-datsi; all three dishes are generally served with rice.
- Mutter paneer. Though not a Bhutanese dish, this Indian staple of curried peas and cheese is readily available throughout Bhutan and is therefore an additional choice for vegetarians.
- Cheese momo. A small steamed bun that traditionally contained cheese, cabbage and sometimes onion. However, these days other vegetables, including green papaya, may be substituted for cabbage.
- Khuli. Buckwheat pancakes – a specialty of Bumthang. They are often served with ema-datsi as an alternative to rice.
- Puta. A dish of buckwheat noodles usually served with curd – a specialty of Bumthang
Imtrat run canteens that sell excellent Indian dishes along with tea from 9:30AM–4:30PM. The quality of the food is very good, while the price is low. The canteens are located throughout the country, especially along main highways.
- Ara. A local spirit brewed from rice or corn. It is popular in rural areas, and often served in restaurants, particularly at the start of meals, poured from a special vessel.
- Tea. Located next to the tea growing regions of Assam and Darjeeling, a steaming cuppa remains the popular drink in Bhutan, with both the butter variety (suja) and sweet milk kind (cha) readily available throughout the country. The butter tea is very traditional but has quite a strong flavor and is similar to Tibetan tea, while the sweet milk kind is very drinkable and is like Indian chai.
- Coffee. The coffee culture that has swept most of the planet is just beginning to creep into the country, and there are a few good cafes in Thimphu. However, for the most part, coffee in Bhutan means the instant variety and it is served simply white or black.
- Beer. The main local beers are from Bhutan Brewery (founded 2006), part of the Tashi Group conglomerate, and are sold in 650 ml bottles: Druk 11000 (8%) is cheapest and a lot of alcohol; slightly higher quality and lower alcohol are Druk Lager Premium (5%) and Druk Supreme (6%); none of these is particularly good. There is also sometimes Red Panda Weissbeer (wheat beer), which is rather good. Imported beers may not be available, as importing these is sometimes banned (to preserve foreign reserves).
- Whisky. There is some “Bhutanese whisky”, though it is neither Bhutanese nor straight whisky. Rather, it is blended whisky, made of imported Scotch malt whisky blended with grain neutral spirits: it is blended and bottled in Bhutan, but not distilled locally. These are produced by the Army Welfare Project in Gelephu, and the main brand is Special Courier, which is surprisingly drinkable.