Don’t take an offence when I say that you are not a true traveller if you don’t try local food. By ‘trying,’ I often mean eating what locals eat – daily. Instead of looking for good ‘ol McDonald’s and KFC shops, wandering around local market will lead you to some wonderful dishes you might have never heard of.
I would say the same thing for Bhutan, too. If you visit Bhutan and return without eating those delicious Bhutanese dishes, it isn’t worth spending $250 a day to visit the country.
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has so much to offer when it comes to its cuisine. Bhutanese cuisine is spicy, very very spicy. Locals are so used to the spiciness in their food that a local told me they used to ‘smuggle’ chillies from India when there was a shortage.
Most vegetables used in Bhutanese food are straight-from-the-farm fresh and organic. Red and green chillies make their way to almost everything Bhutanese eat. In addition, you will find a small bowl of chilly paste served with your food. If someone finds the dish less spicy, they will add the paste to their taste.
Usually served in wooden bowls, Bhutanese cuisine is something every traveller must experience at least once. I believe that Bhutan blends its beauty, traditions, culture, hospitality, and cuisine very well. And in this article, I would like to list simply 10 dishes every traveller must try in Bhutan.
1. Ema Datshi
Let me kick-start the list with the most popular, most widely consumed Bhutanese dish – Ema Datshi. Ema Datshi – where ’ema’ stands for chillies and ‘datshi’ means cheese – is the perfect example of what Bhutanese cuisine can offer.
Cooked with green, red or yellow chillies, cheese – which is made of yak or cow’s milk, onions, and tomatoes, Ema Datshi is served with red rice. You will find at least two different versions of Ema Datshi throughout Bhutan – One that’s thick, sticky and another one that’s more ‘watery.’ Do I need to say that both versions taste absolutely delicious?
2. Shamu Datshi
People of Bhutan love cheese as much as they love their chillies and rice. Datshi – as cheese is called in the local language – is a part of many Bhutanese dishes and Shamu Datshi is one of them.
Shamu Datshi is a mushroom and cheese dish popular in Bhutan. I love mushrooms and being presented with Shamu Datshi was a delicious surprise for me.
Just like other dishes of the ‘datshi’ family, Shamu Datshi is also served with rice.
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3. Jasha Maru (Spicy Chicken)
Finely dried chicken is mixed with chillies, onion, tomato, garlic, coriander leaves, and ginger to cook the Bhutanese version of chicken stew called Jasha Maru.
Jasha Maru is usually made ‘soupy’ and is served with red rice. Taste it and you will notice the flavour of ginger make its presence felt in your mouth. You might also be able to find a ‘dry’ version of Jasha Maru.
4. Shakam Paa
Here comes my personal favourite Bhutanese dish – Shakam Paa. This was the first dish I was served in Paro and it changed the way I usually ate beef.
Shakam Paa is a Bhutanese dish made of dried beef which is cooked with dried chillies. You might also find some radish in your Shakam Paa. The dried chunks of beef are chewy, of course, but the more you chew them, the tastier they become. I don’t like it when they get stuck between my teeth, though.
Phaksha Paa is a variant of Shakam Paa for pork lovers. If you prefer pork over beef, go for Phaksha Paa which is made of dried pork meat.
5. Yaksha Shakam (Yak Meat)
There’s meat and then there’s yak meat. I have been eating lamb meat and beef but had never tried yak meat. When I visited Nepal, I saw some small shops listing yak meat on their menu but I couldn’t really find anyone selling it.
The desire to taste yak meat wasn’t fulfilled until I visited Bhutan. Yak meat tastes similar to beef but is a little sweet and juicier. I read somewhere that yak meat is rich in natural oils and is a good source of protein. It is also low in fat and cholesterol.
Yaksha Shakam is made of dried yak meat and is cooked in different ways. It can include yak cheese, too and is served with – you guessed it – rice.
6. Goen Nogay
Almost every main dish in Bhutanese cuisine is typically served with rice. That’s not all, though. There are at least two side dishes that accompany a main dish. These side dishes can include both meat and vegetables.
Goen Nogay is one such side dish – a cucumber salad – that is served with your main course. Sliced cucumber is mixed with chilli flakes, onions, tomatoes, Sichuan pepper, and some cheese. The result is a delicious cucumber salad you can enjoy with rest of the food.
“When in doubt, go for momos,” a fellow traveller I met in Nepal once told me. Momo is a go-to item for many travellers as well as locals when it comes to affordable yet tasty food. A dish of momos can keep your belly fed for quite a few hours, I think.
Anyways, my first encounter with a dish of momos in Bhutan was on my way to Phuntsholing from Thimphu in a bus. A young co-passenger – who kept me company through the journey presented me with a dish of meat momos when the bus stopped somewhere during the lunchtime.
Besides meat, chicken, and pork momos, there are cheese momos and vegetable momos you can find in Bhutan. These Tibetan-style dumplings are served with ultra-spicy red sauce and can be ordered steamed or deep fried.
Remember. When in doubt, always go for momos!
8. Chogo aka Chhurpi
People of Bhutan love cheese. You know this by now. And besides adding cheese in their regular dishes, they also consume it raw to keep their mouth busy. Just like you’d chew some gum.
I came to know this while waiting for my bus to Phunsholing at Thimphu bus station where an old lady was selling Chogo. Chogo is basically a hard, very hard chunk of cheese. You put one or two in your mouth and, well that’s it. You put it in your mouth and play with it using your teeth and tongue.
The hard chunk of cheese will slowly dissolve in your mouth, leaving behind its taste. And by slowly, I mean it can take even hours. This is what I meant when I said “to keep their mouth busy.”
Also Try: Suja (Butter Tea)
Butter tea or Suja as it’s known locally, is made with fermented yak or cow butter. Depending on the amount of butter, your tea could taste more or less salty. Suja is served traditionally with a basket of puffed rice known as ‘zaow.’
You might have tried different types of tea around India as well as Nepal and other Asian countries. But if you haven’t got a chance to drink butter tea until now, do so when in Bhutan.
Delicious Dishes You Must Try in Bhutan: Summary
Bhutan is known for its difficult yet beautiful landscape blended with unique traditions and culture. In addition, Bhutanese food is what makes this beautiful country stand apart from most Asian countries.
Popular Bhutanese dishes include Ema Datshi, Shamu Datshi, and Shakam Paa among others. The ultra-spicy Bhutanese food is made with red, green or yellow chillies and cheese is also a dominant ingredient. These dishes are usually served with red rice.
When I was in Paro, I had the pleasure of having lunch with some Buddhist monks where I tried some of the aforementioned items. If you are visiting Bhutan, you must try all these delicious Bhutanese dishes. I must say that your visit to Bhutan is incomplete unless you eat what (and as) locals eat. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Have you already visited Bhutan? Which were your favourite Bhutanese dishes? Share with me. Did you enjoy reading this article? Please share it with others.
That’s all ladies, gentlemen, and everyone else. This was Parvez and you were reading 8 Simply Delicious Dishes Everyone Must Try in Bhutan. I hope you found this article worth your time and I’d like to thank you for reading.