Here is your guide to all the spicy and piping hot food in Bhutan that you will need during your cold and frigid stay there. The food here warms you from within. Although they don’t really have a culture of serving desserts, the meals feel more than complete the way they are had traditionally. So here we go…
Ema datshi is the most popular dish, and it is basically chilies and cheese. The chilies can be fresh green ones or dry red chilies. The chilies are sliced lengthwise and then cooked with local Bhutanese cheese (datshi). This dish doesn’t shy away from adding loads of butter either.
This Bhutanese dish is cheese with mushrooms. The mushrooms are cooked in a cheesy sauce/stew along with butter. And just like any other Bhutanese datshi, this is had along with rice as well. If ema datshi is too spicy for you to handle, this one is just as good but without the spice.
Shakam ema datshi
Shakam is Bhutanese dried beef. Beef is among the most famous meats. For shakam datshi, the dried beef is cut into bite-sized pieces and simmered with cheese and butter. This is one of the best combinations for a foodie!
Shakam shukam datshi
Shakam shukam datshi is a rare dish that can’t be found in many restaurants. Shukam are Bhutanese dried white chilies. So this dish includes dried beef cooked with cheese and white chilies. The white chilies have a very unique taste of sourness and spice together.
Gondo datshi or butter egg fry is like the Bhutanese scrambled eggs. Eggs are scrambled up with datshi and butter, and some bits of dried chili at times. It is a very condensed scrambled egg cheese mixture that has a beautiful aroma because of the butter. It tastes best along with Himalayan red rice.
Shakam paa is a delicious Bhutanese dish. It has dried beef with dried chilies in it and at times radish is added to it too. The beef is slightly chewy along with lots of dry chilies. There is no slicing required, whole chilies are simply tossed in, which adds to its flavour.
In phaksha paa, slices of pork are stir-fried with dry red chilies and a few mountain vegetables sometimes as well. It tastes amazing with rice and datshi dishes as well.
Strands of translucent pork belly that are hung in the sun to dry is sikam. The pork with a high ratio of fat is dried in the sun. For sikam paa, the sikam is fried with dried chilies. This dish has high oil content.
Yak is very similar in taste to beef, except that it has a slightly different fragrance and it is quite nutritional. In this dish, the yak meat is dried and can be cooked in various ways.
Goep is slices of tripe which is stir-fried with dried chilies, green onions, and small vegetables. The tripe can be slightly on the chewier side, but that’s the authentic texture of tripe.
Juma is a type of Bhutanese sausage made from minced meat, rice, and light spices. It is all filled into an intestine wrapper. It has a blast of a citrusy taste of Sichuan pepper. Otherwise, it has a pretty plain taste but is very meaty.
Red rice is served with almost everything in Bhutan. It is a staple for every meal throughout the day. A large amount of Bhutan’s red rice is grown in the rice paddies of Paro valley. There it is irrigated with glacier water, which makes it healthier and of higher quality than regular rice.
Ara is the traditional alcoholic beverage in Bhutan. It is made by fermenting or distilling rice, wheat, barley or buckwheat and is creamy, whitish or clear. It has a potent smell and taste. Ara can also be heated with butter and eggs to make it a more fulfilling beverage.
Jasha Maroo is like a spicy stew or curry which is made with chicken, garlic, onion, chilies, tomato, ginger and coriander. Ginger gives this dish its main essence. It can be served with a portion of chicken broth. Beef is used in place of chicken at times. It is usually served with red rice like with most dishes in Bhutan.
Momos are dumplings that are popularly eaten in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. Momos are known as Tibetan food. They are similar to Chinese dumplings or dumplings served around the world. Momos are the most common of all restaurant and street food snacks to find in Bhutan. They are served hot, filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables.
Hoentay is similar to momos, but they are made with buckwheat dough wrapper. These dumplings are usually filled with local spinach or turnip leaves and cheese. They can be served steamed or fried. Momos and hoentay taste best with the Bhutanese chili sauce (ezay).
Lom is turnip leaves. These are one of the few vegetables that can be dried and preserved to be consumed throughout the year, even during harsh winter conditions. The turnips themselves are fed to the livestock. Lom can be sautéed on its own or cooked with some sikam.
Khatem is bitter gourd. It has a very interesting flavour. Indian bitter gourd is way more prevalent in Bhutan as compared to the longer Chinese bitter gourds. In Bhutanese cuisine, the vegetable is usually sliced into thin chips and fried with butter and some seasoning. It makes a good breakfast snack.
Jaju is Bhutanese milk and vegetable soup. It is usually made with a type of local spinach or turnip leaves or a number of leafy vegetables. The broth contains milk and butter. The taste is quite mellow and bland, but it pairs well to supplement a complete Bhutanese feast.
Goen hogay is a typical Bhutanese cucumber salad. Cucumber is sliced and mixed with chili flakes, tomato, coriander, onions, Sichuan pepper, and a little bit of datshi cheese for an enhanced flavour.
This is made from leftover vegetables and red rice and can be prepared fast and very easily. It is a healthy dish and ensures that you do not have to waste or throw away any leftover veggies.
Khur-le is a Bhutanese pancake made from buckwheat, wheat, or barley flour. Khur-le is usually had along with Bhutanese main dishes or even just eggs and ezay. It is popular breakfast food. They have a spongy texture but are heartier and way more filling than regular maida pancakes. Perfect for the cold weather.
Puta is noodles made from nutritious buckwheat that can be grown in high altitudes. The noodles are prepared and boiled, and before being served the noodles can be stir-fried in mustard oil along with slight seasoning of salt and pepper.
Tsampa is made from whole wheat flour. It is quite starchy and really heavy. The dough has a dense consistency. To eat tsampa, one can roll it into a ball in their fingers, and eat it together with any number of main Bhutanese dishes.
Jasha Tshoem is a typical spicy Bhutanese stew. It is made with beef and flavoured with ginger-garlic, onions, chili pepper, and mushrooms.
Zaow is a type of puffed rice but it is not too puffy. It is more on the crunchier side. It is common to have this Bhutanese snack with a cup of tea. Zaow can be eaten with butter mixed in it.
Chogoo is a rock hard cheese snack. This dried yak cheese is the peak of the preservation of cheese. It is so hard that you have to gnaw on it for hours before it even starts dissolving on your tongue. It’s the perfect snack to eat when you’re trekking through the mountains and need to be chewing on something constantly. They are sold like chains of necklaces in markets in Bhutan.
Suja is the Bhutanese butter tea. It is culturally a very important drink in Bhutan. Butter tea is regular tea or tea with mountain herbs that is churned with butter and salt. The saltiness of butter tea comes as a surprise to most but then it grows on you.