Bhutan may get a rather bad press when it comes to Bhutan food – but this is mostly due to the inability of visitors to handle the sheer spiciness of the famous Bhutanese ‘Ema Datshe’.
The most famous Bhutanese dish, often unfortunately eclipses the large and delicious variety of traditional Bhutan Food. ‘Datshe’ are vegetable dishes traditionally cooked with farmer’s cheese, although now many people use processed cheese instead. Any vegetable can be cooked into a Datshe dish- it just needs to boil in water with some butter or oil, chilies, onion, garlic, and cheese. But the king of all Datshe Dishes is the Ema Datshe, where the vegetable is replaced by Giant Bhutanese Chilies, either dried red, or fresh green.
But beyond the all pervading chilies, Bhutan food is hearty and wholesome.
Travel Bhutan review of Bhutan food
Dried and preserved vegetables and meat are common on the tables of the Bhutanese, who have lived in rugged mountains and through harsh winters. Bhutanese dishes are rather simple, and mostly consist of boiled food- but with fresh, natural ingredients, and prepared the right way- they are delicious.
Rice is the stable carb for most people- white polished rice is common, but the traditional red rice- rich and nutty in flavor, is favored. Maize is eaten in some rural areas in place of rice, and buckwheat flour is used to make flavorful traditional dumplings, pancakes and noodles in some areas.
Meat is the most common protein, and the Bhutanese enjoy their pork and beef dried and cooked into ‘Datshe’ or as spiced steaks known as “paa’. A soupy minced chicken dish called ‘maroo’ is a delicacy. Fish is not so common in traditional dishes of the landlocked country, but the fresh water trout served occasionally are scrumptious, For those with most exotic tastes, Yak meat is a slightly more expensive delicacy. Sausages are popular, as are choice parts- pork trotters and bellies cooked into a hearty stew and eaten with rice is a favourite.
A good number of Bhutanese people are vegetarian, and vegetarian dishes are not lacking. Pumpkin, gourds, spinach, fern, asparagus and radish grown on the hillsides are distinct in flavor- but the most famous Bhutanese export are the rich variety of flavorful mushrooms- meaty white masutake and golden chanterelles are popular, and the dishes require minimal seasoning or additional flavoring.
Cellophane noodles (fing) is popular with meat dishes, and while ‘Datshe’ is a popular way to cook most dishes, vegetables are also cooked in a simple style without the cheese, allowing the natural flavors to shine through.
‘Ezays’ are spicy dips that accompany most meals- they can be chopped onion and chilli with a smattering of farmer’s cheese, or red chilli paste flavoured with Szechuan pepper.
Most meals are also accompanied by ‘Dal’ (Indian split orange lentil soup) in urban areas, especially in restaurants serving local food. Traditionally, river weed soup, sometimes with dried minced meat, is offered.
“Thueb’ or porridge, made from rice or flat noodles and topped with fried meat, is a traditional breakfast, especially during cold winter mornings.
‘Suja’ is the traditional non alcoholic beverage- traditional salt tea with butter. Milk tea is also commonly drunk. The Bhutanese enjoy their alcohol, and good quality homemade alcohol is worth trying. Ara is rice wine similar to the Japanese ‘Sake’. ‘Chang’ may refer to any type of alcohol, but traditional ‘chang’ would be brewed from cereals and cloudy, unlike Ara which can also be clear. The traditional alcoholic beverages are consumed hot, and fried eggs or rice may be added to it. Bhutan also produces Whiskey, Rum, Gin, and Brandy of good quality.
Contemporary Bhutanese meals have Tibetan and Indian influences – Indian food is easily available, and momos (steamed dumplings stuffed with cheese or meat) is a popular snack.