Bhutan not only boasts a deep cultural heritage but also has plenty of delectable Bhutanese foods to offer. It is considered one of the most sacred and extraordinary places to visit.
Bhutanese cultural values are the top priority of the government. You will not find many dominant foreign influences on Bhutanese traditions. That is why the originality of Bhutanese food, culture, and values is one of the key attractive points of the country.
What Is Special About Bhutanese Food?
Amidst adventurous exploration of its stunning landscape, don’t forget to check out the Bhutan food scene as well. If you dive deep into local culture, you can find things that you probably never experienced before. Bhutan offers some of the most delicious and healthy food for foodies.
Bhutanese cuisine also has some influence from Tibet, China, and India, but the traditional food still exists in all cities. It is unique on its own terms. You will see many red rice, buckwheat, and maize dishes.
Spices and chilies are a crucial part of almost all Bhutanese foods. The people here love spices so much that they consider it a badge of honor to eat extremely spicy food.
One thing about Bhutanese dishes that is not as common in every Asian country, is the use of cheese. While tasting food in Bhutan, you will see excessive use of cheese in nearly all items. The country is known for the production of flavorful cheese, similar to cottage cheese.
Here are some of the traditional Bhutanese foods in Bhutan to try.
Most Popular Bhutan Food
Ema Datshi (Spicy Stew)
The first must-try food in Bhutan is certainly one of the most popular dishes in the country. It is also the national food of Bhutan and comes with a super spicy character. This staple Bhutanese food is served with almost every meal.
Ema datshi is all about Bhutan cheese and chilies. The chilies can be fresh green ones or dry red ones. These are sliced and cooked with the local cheese datshi and a thick layer of butter.
Although this Bhutan national dish is made with common ingredients, you will always find a new taste whenever you eat it. Sometimes, you will get to taste a lighter version while other places offer relatively rich or sticky versions. Whatever you try, you will almost certainly enjoy delicious hints of flavor.
Breakfast In Bhutanese Foods
Khur-Le (Bhutanese Pancake)
Khur-Le is a traditional Bhutan food that resembles a pancake and is often served at breakfast. This light-hearted treat is also a quick-to-grab snack during traveling.
Khur-Le is made with buckwheat or barley flour. It has a spongy texture and can be served both savory and sweet. Many locals like to indulge in them during winter since they can be rather filling.
You can also enjoy Khur-Le with several Bhutanese foods. It goes especially well with Ema Datshi or Shakam Datshi. Some people also like to have it simply with eggs.
Gondo Datshi (Scrambled Cheese Eggs)
Gondo Datshi is the ultimate traditional Bhutanese food loved by everyone. It is made with scrambled eggs, cheese, and lots of butter. The result is a very condensed and rich scrambled egg cheese mixture.
The eggs are fried in butter that delivers a pleasing fragrance. Some places also add datshi chilies for flavoring. It can be served both spicy or salty according to your taste.
This classic meal is simple yet tasty. The food is usually served with toasted bread. It pairs best with Himalayan red rice with chili sauce on the side if you are looking for a fulfilling meal.
Traditional Bhutanese Foods – Dried Meat Dishes
Sikam Paa (Dried Pork)
This next Bhutanese dish is a treat for bacon lovers. Sikam Paa is like a delish Bhutanese bacon adored by every soul. It holds a special place in the Bhutan food culture.
The sellers hang the strands of half-transparent pork belly “Sikam” to dry in the sunlight. Then the dried Sikam is fried with chilies to make Sikam paa.
This dish is very delicious and meaty. The dry chili is what gives its unique and strong taste.
Shakam Paa (Dried Beef)
Most Bhutanese foods use beef, and Shakam paa is also a beef-based dish with high nutritious value. It is also a tasty source of protein.
This food of Bhutan is similar to Sikam Paa except that beef is used. The beef feels slightly chewy and tastes like beef jerky, but it has a slightly thicker consistency.
The dried beef is mixed with dried chilies and then cooked in different styles depending on preference. Sometimes radish is also added for flavoring.
Yaksha Shakam (Dried Yak Meat)
If you are looking for something unique in Bhutanese foods that is hard to come by anywhere else, this is it. Bhutan cuisine offers a wide range of food varieties to satisfy the craving of curious foodies.
Yaksha Shakam is another alternative to Shakam Paa, but the dish uses Yak meat. What is Yak you ask? This is a strongly built cattle that is commonly found in the Himalayan regions.
While this special Bhutanese food has a similar taste to Sikam Paa, it delivers a different aroma. In addition, it is nutritious and tasty at the same time.
Yaksha shakam is made by drying yak meat and then preparing it in different ways. One of the best recipes is where dried yak is cooked in lots of fermented yak cheese. This variation is considered the most delicious and recommended by many.
Vegetarian Dishes In Bhutanese Foods
Shamu Datshi (Mushroom Stew)
The word shamu means mushroom and datshi means cheese. This super spicy stew dish is one of the beloved staple foods of the country.
The dish delivers an incredible taste that no one should miss. As you can infer from the name, this famous food of Bhutan is a mushroom stew dish made with lots of cheese, veggies, and mushrooms. Garlic and chilies are also added for flavoring.
It is then cooked in butter to give it a heavenly touch. Finally, Bhutanese cheese is added that slowly melts on other ingredients and gives a mouth-watering visual. This Bhutanese dish pairs best with hot rice or bread.
Kewa Datshi (Potato Stew)
In Bhutan, Kewa refers to potatoes. As the name suggests, kewa datshi is a dish in Bhutan made primarily with potatoes. This vegetarian treat is a local favorite since it’s hearty and filling.
It includes potatoes, onion, chilies, and lots of cheese. Potatoes are sliced and then sauteed with butter and cheese. Some places also add chilies while cooking.
The dish has a mild or hot taste. It is usually served with flatbreads or rice.
Khatem (Bitter Gourd Side Dish)
If you want to try some unique tastes of Bhutanese foods, then this dish is perfect for you. Khatem is a common food of the land. It is a bitter melon or bitter gourd dish inspired by Indian cuisine.
The thin slices of the bitter gourd are seasoned and then deep-fried in butter. The butter gives it a smooth character till the last bite. A fair word of warning if you are not familiar with bitter gourd or used to bitter flavors.
However, the bitter taste is refreshing enough to rejuvenate your taste buds and gets more addictive as you indulge more in it.
This Bhutan food is widely eaten throughout the country because of its taste and healthy character. The dish is mostly served as a side dish in Bhutan but is also sometimes enjoyed for breakfast.
Lom (Dried Turnip Leaves)
Winters in Bhutan are very harsh when it comes to harvesting vegetables. So the natives created a vegetarian dish that they can enjoy throughout the year. Lom is eaten widely in Bhutan and there is hardly any other country where you can find this dish.
Lom is a vegetarian dish made with dried and preserved turnip leaves. This Bhutan food has a tempting flavor. Some people also cook it with potatoes.
So, when you are exploring the foods of Bhutan, keep an eye out for this healthy vegetarian dish. There is also a meat option that includes turnip leaves and pork.
Zow Shungo (Red Rice And Vegetable Scraps)
Zow Shungo is a vegetarian rice dish prepared from leftover veggies and red rice. It is another popular Bhutanese dish, famous among locals.
One great thing about the Bhutan food culture is that people don’t like wasting food, so the leftover vegetables are turned into another dish. As it includes many vegetables, it is considered one of the healthiest dishes in Bhutanese cuisine.
Bhutanese Street Food
Momos are mouth-watering street foods in Bhutan. It is a dumpling-based dish largely eaten in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. Dumplings are also known as Tibetan food because of their high demand and popularity across the Himalayas.
This Bhutaneous food is similar to Chinese dumplings. They are freshly steamed or deep-fried and filled with minced meat, cheese, or veggies. They taste tangy and are served hot with chili sauce on the side. You can easily find them in almost every restaurant in Bhutan.
Hoentay (Bhutanese Dumplings)
This Bhutanese food originates from the Haa Valley. It looks similar to momo or dumplings but is filled with different ingredients. This snack is a healthy option for diet-conscious people as it is healthy and tasty at the same time.
The dough of the dumpling is made with buckwheat. It is then filled with spinach, cheese, and turnip leaves. The dish is served steamed, fried, or both.
No one can keep their hands off this scrumptious Bhutanese food. It’s easy to devour several plates one after another. It tastes even better when dipped in chili sauce.
Juma (Bhutanese Sausage)
Juma is a simple yet tasty part of Bhutan’s food culture. It is a sausage stuffed with a spicy mixture of minced meat. You can enjoy it as a side dish with several stew dishes.
This food in Bhutan is usually made with beef or pork meat and flavored with spices. The meat is wrapped in the animal’s intestine with rice. It is then stir-fried or deep-fried and served cut into pieces.
In Bhutan, you will find a different taste in every kind of Juma you eat. It usually also offers the rich taste of Sichuan pepper. Sometimes it is made plain while others offer a more meaty character.
Jasha Maru (Chicken Stew)
Jasha maru is one of the most well-known traditional dishes in Bhutanese cuisine. This stew is a kind of soup, not very liquid but more like a thick sauce.
It consists of chicken, tomatoes, and other ingredients. The chicken is cut into small cubes and then simmered with other ingredients to create a nice, tasty broth.
Jasha maru can be eaten alone or with red rice. If you don’t want an extremely spicy curry, you can usually request a milder version.
Goep (Stir-Fried Tripe)
Goep is an interesting Bhutanese food as it is not very popular in other Asian countries, but is considered one of the most famous dishes in Bhutan.
It is basically a stir-fried tripe dish. Tripe is the inner lining of the stomach of different animals. Mostly goep is prepared with the tripe of a cow’s stomach.
To make goep, slices of tripe are mixed and stir-fried with some vegetables, spices, dried chilies, and onions. Tripe has a rubbery texture, which is not suitable for everyone’s palate.
If you have never eaten the innards of animals, this will be an adventurous food experience. For those who have tried and enjoyed it, we know how tasty it can be.
Shabhalep (Stuffed Bread)
Shabhalep is also known as sha phaley. It is originally a Tibetan delicacy but is very popular among Bhutanese people. It is said that once someone tries this Bhutanese food, there is no going back for them.
The bread is prepared with white flour and filled with a delicious mixture which usually includes seasoned meat and cabbage. It is then cut into circular or semi-circular shapes and pan-fried or deep-fried.
Shabhalep can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as a snack. They are best enjoyed with a light salad and dipping sauce.
Bhutanese Food – Soup And Noodles
Puta (Buckwheat Noodles)
As noodles are another staple of Bhutan cuisine, a popular ingredient or main dish is buckwheat noodles. It is a typical food in Bumthang City, located in the center of Bhutan.
These handmade Bhutanese noodles are prepared from buckwheat. They can be boiled or stir-fried in oil. The noodles are cooked with vegetables, meat, and sauces.
This delicious food in Bhutan is spiced with local chilies and served with fresh scallions and eggs. Sometimes, it is also cooked to serve the priest and gods.
Jaju (Spinach Soup)
Jaju soup is one of the healthy local soups offering the authentic taste of Bhutanese cuisine. It is usually served as a side dish to a main meal.
The broth is made with spinach, butter, and milk. It is traditionally cooked with spinach but can be made with any vegetable such as turnip leaves, cane shoots, and Dambroo.
The soup tastes rather light and plain so you can enjoy it with other food. Some restaurants make it more delicious by adding cheese to it.
Thukpa (Noodle Soup)
Thukpa is a comforting food in Bhutan. The noodle soup is not only flavorful but also soothes your soul. The dish has its origin from Tibet which shows the richness and diversity of Bhutan cuisine.
Thukpa is packed full of local flavors with green chilies, garlic, and chopped onions giving it a refreshing and tangy character.
You can find veg and no-veg versions of thukpa in Bhutan. The only difference between the two versions is the addition of red meat and poached eggs in place of vegetables. As the vegetarian version doesn’t have any dairy and non-veg ingredients, it also makes it a good vegan dish.
Traditional Sauce For Bhutanese Dishes
Ezay (Chilli Sauce)
Ezay is another famous Bhutanese food featuring a chili sauce paste with a flavorful character. Although it is not a main dish, you will find it served with almost every meal in Bhutan.
Like Ema Datshi, this popular condiment also comes in several varieties. Every restaurant has its recipe and unique taste. The best of all is the one made with dried chilies, Sichuan pepper, tomato, and a bit of cheese.
This chili sauce tastes super spicy and is sure to elevate the taste of your meal. Some places also add veggies to serve it in the form of a salad. Once you try this traditional food of Bhutan, it almost becomes a must-have part of your meals.
Light Dishes In Bhutanese Food
Goen Hogay (Cucumber Salad)
Most Bhutan foods are heavy and meat-based, but you will also be able to find some light-hearted salads. One of the most popular in the country is a traditional cucumber salad
As the name infers, this fresh salad is made with thin cucumber slices. The slices are seasoned with chili flakes, tomatoes, cilantro, onions, Sichuan pepper, traditional Bhutan cheese, datshi. Some places also add oil to make it a greasy sauce.
This vegetable salad is very refreshing. It is a common breakfast item, which you can enjoy as a snack or a side dish with other foods.
It may come as a surprise that the country doesn’t really have any traditional Bhutan desserts. That is because in Buddhist culture, people usually don’t eat desserts. They only have fresh fruits like mango and watermelon to cool things off.
Some restaurants and hotels might serve Western desserts to foreigners, but mostly they only serve local fruits. If you crave something after enjoying a hot Bhutanese dish, try traditional black tea. You can also opt for ginger tea or butter tea.
Iconic Beverages In Bhutan Cuisine
Suja (Butter Tea)
Suja is a flavorful beverage and an important part of the Bhutan food culture. It is a kind of butter tea that is enjoyed largely in the country. The drink is also consumed in some regions of Tibet and Nepal as well.
This butter tea is made with regular tea leaves or mountain herbs. It is mixed with butter and salt. The butter gives a creamy and salty taste to it.
Suja is also a popular Bhutan street food that will boost your energy to start your day. It is a perfect soul-satisfying drink to enjoy on a winter morning during your visit to Bhutan.
Ara (Alcoholic Beverage)
Ara is an alcoholic drink in Bhutanese cuisine. It is prepared from native barley, maize, rice, wheat, or millet. The beverage has a clear, white, or creamy color and is usually distilled or fermented.
Unlike most alcoholic beverages, ara is served hot. It can be consumed neat or with some additives like a poached egg, butter, rice, or scrambled egg.
Although its sale is prohibited in Bhutan, it is prepared and served privately in homes or farms. It is also produced for religious purposes in Eastern Bhutan and many other parts of the country.
FLAVORS AROUND THE WORLD
Discovering Traditional Bhutanese Food
Bhutan is a small nation, surrounded by many other countries. Although it has gotten some cultural influence from its neighbors, you will see authentic Bhutanese food, traditions, and values everywhere.
Bhutan cuisine is less oily than Indian or Chinese food and a lot spicier than Tibetan food items. Due to the increasing popularity of Korean culture, you might also find some traditional Korean restaurants.
Alcohol is also an important element in most religious festivities in Bhutan. People in rural areas also make local alcoholic drinks from maize, rice, millet, and wheat.
The country has been isolated from the world for a long time which means you won’t find fast-food chains and franchises. Instead, you will get to enjoy diverse, unique, and interesting Bhutan food experiences. This is actually one of the most exciting facts about Bhutan for real food and culture fans.
From popular Bhutanese street foods such as momos, shabalay, and juma to traditional beverages of suja (butter tea) and ara (rice wine), there is plenty to sample here.