The geography, culture and history of Bhutan have played a major role in shaping up the country’s incredible cuisine full of unforgettable flavours. The most distinctive aspect of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Not for the faint-hearted and certainly not for amateurs, the spice quotient of Bhutan’s food will fill you up with a warmth that can only be matched by the hospitality of the people here.
Bhutan and its Love for Chillies (Ema)
In Bhutan, chilies occupy a special place in the hearts of the people as well as their plates so much so that they are considered a vegetable. The national dish of Bhutan, the Ema Datsi/Datshi, is a source of great pride for the people here and it is known for the generous doses of dried or fresh red and green chilies in it. Consisting of Ema (Chilli) and Datshi (Cheese), this famous Bhutanese dish has spun out many other variants like the Kewa Datshi (Potato and Cheese) and Shamu Datshi (Mushroom and Cheese) among others.
Staple Food of Bhutan
Rice is the staple grain of Bhutan along with Buckwheat and Maize. Rice, especially Red Rice (similar to Brown Rice in texture but with a nutty taste; grown in high altitudes) forms the main body of most of the Bhutanese meals.
Meat Variety Consumed in Bhutan
Meat is an integral part of Bhutanese cuisine with the most widely eaten meats being chicken, beef, pork, yak meat and lamb.
Vegetable Dishes in Bhutan
The wide variety of soups and stews here high on vegetables with the most popular ones being spinach, pumpkins, onions and turnips. In the colder High-Himalayan regions of Bhutan, soups of vegetables, meat, rice and lentils are relished for their comforting features in the harsh winters. A hot bowl of Thukpa or Phaksha Paa (dried pork and vegetables) served with a warm cup of butter tea provides the perfect respite during winters. With its many exotic vegetarian dishes made from asparagus, taro and several varieties of mushrooms, Bhutan also boasts a plethora of options for vegetarians.
Dairy Products Consumption in Bhutan
Bhutanese cuisine is dairy intensive. In Bhutan, most of the milk is converted to cheese and butter. The people here are extremely fond of cheese and butter produced from yak’s milk. These are commonly incorporated into the main dishes or served as accompaniments.
Tibetan Influence in the Food of Bhutan
Bhutanese cuisine also carries a huge influence of the Tibetan cuisine. One can taste the authentic dumplings, khabzey (dried fritters made with flour, water and sugar and then deep-fried), shabalay (Bhutanese sausages) and noodles of Bhutan in the country’s many restaurants.
Some of the Best Places to Eat in Bhutan
A gastronomic experience in Bhutan is inarguably the most memorable one. The utter precision with which the food is prepared and the warm hospitality that is served with make it an experience to remember. Bhutan’s main destinations like Thimphu, Paro and Punakha have many restaurants where you can enjoy the simple yet delicious Bhutanese cuisine. Some of the best places to eat in Bhutan are:
Babesa Village Restaurant: A mid-range restaurant in Thimphu, Babesa Village Restaurant is located in a 400 year old traditional building. In the restaurant, one can enjoy all the traditional dishes of Bhutan which are also served in wooden bowls. One can choose to either sit on the chairs or on the ground and enjoy the authentic dishes the restaurant has to offer.
The Bhutan Kitchen: Situated in the centre of Thimphu, The Bhutan Kitchen is known to host Crown Prince of Bhutan and the local celebrities. The restaurant in Thimphu is the best place to go for authentic Bhutanese cuisine. Ema Datschi, the national dish of Bhutan is one of the main highlights of The Bhutan Kitchen.
Lobesa Village Restaurant: An in-house restaurant in the only 3-star property in Punakha’s Lobesa, the restaurant is perfect for a fine dining experience in Bhutan. The restaurant organizes daily buffets comprising momos, red rice, seasonal organic vegetables, and Ema Datshi as well as ice-cream.
The Urban Kitchen: One of the best restaurants in Phuentsholing, The Urban Kitchen offers authentic Bhutenese cuisine. This mid-range restaurant also specializes in European and Chinese cuisines.
Food Festivals in Bhutan
Since food plays an important role in the culture of Bhutan, one can see it being the part of every festival in the country. However, Matsutake (Mushroom) Festival is celebrated as the festival of food in Thimphu. The Haa Valley Festival too gives a great opportunity to enjoy the wide variety of Bhutan’s cuisine.
Needless to say, the cuisine of Bhutan is diverse, lip-smacking and full of local ingredients. This one of a kind cuisine will take your taste-buds on an explosive journey of rich flavours compounded by an excellent quality of cheese and adrenaline inducing spices.