Bhutanese cuisine features the rich stories and history of this landlocked kingdom. Travelers should embrace the novelty of their flavor combinations, especially the spicier traditional dishes, at least once. Stroll around the many side streets and and markets, and you’ll find a wide variety of dishes to try. If you’re unsure of what to try while eating in Bhutan, here are five dishes to look out for.
A significant portion of Bhutanese cuisine is borrowed from its neighbors, China and Tibet. Momos is perhaps the best dish to try first, allowing you to ease your way into Bhutanese cuisine. Momos are dumplings that are also quite popular in India and Tibetan regions of China. The flavor is familiar, although the Bhutanese have their own unique take on this delicious dish. Momos are stuffed with all types of filling including pork, chicken, yak (a little harder to come by), vegetables, and cheese. What makes them different from those found in China is the abundant addition of spices such as coriander, garlic, and ginger. The pockets of crescent-shaped doughs are steamed over a soup base made from vegetables or animal bones called mucktoo, and the intense flavors of the fat, usually from the meat, comes out in a juicy, flavorful mix inside the pocket. Momos can also be fried, although most agree the original steamed version is still the best.
Address: Thimphu, Bhutan
Contact: +975 77 49 24 77
2. Jasha Maroo
A lot of Bhutanese dishes are in stew form. Perhaps this is influenced by the need to put fire in their belly, making them less susceptible to the biting cold in the Himalayas. Jasha Maroo or just plain maru is one of the many stews available in Bhutan. Jasha Maroo is a friendly, flavorful mix of diced chicken, onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, coriander leaves, and chilies. Red or green chilies will do, depending on what’s available in the market. Sometimes red rice is enjoyed with the dish, or a load of fried potatoes. Jasha Maroo can also be served with heavier beef or beef brisket. Vegetarians will also opt to replace the meat with leafy greens. A good jasha maroo will have a little juice covering it. It shouldn’t be dry. The secret to the dish, they say, is in the richness of the chicken or beef stock. If you’re a little apprehensive of the level of spiciness, tell the cook that you need the level to be a bit more moderate.
Hotel Tandin Restaurant
Address: Norzin Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan
Contact: +975 2 323380
Website: Hotel Tandin Restaurant
Accompanying a good number of meals, especially breakfast, is a butter tea called sura or suuchaa. If you want to win brownie points with the locals, try this instead of your typical coffee in the morning. It’s available in most breakfast places. Sura originated from Tibet but became popular in nearby countries such as Nepal and Bhutan. It is made out of a combination of yak butter, water, salt, and tea leaves. Note that sugar isn’t added, rather it is a saltly drink. For more commercial varieties though, yak butter is substituted for cow butter. It is then churned together, although most now use an electric blender. Drinking sura is popular among countries with high altitudes as it provides drinkers the high calories needed to fight the cold. Other than this, it also prevents chapped lips. But what does it taste like, you ask? Sura is a savory, salty, thick drink that is loved by some and disliked by others. The beige, yellowish color might put you off a bit at first, but you’ll find that the taste is generally light. Bhutanese also enjoy sura it with yellow rice called dhesi.
Address: Gatoen Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan
Contact: +975 17 61 35 15
4. Phaksha Paa
There are many varieties of Phaksha Paa, which is a red chili and meat dish. Phaksha Paa or Phak Sha Laphu is typically cooked with cured meat. Dried meat whether pork or yak is a staple in Bhutanese cuisine. This dish is cooked with daikon or a mild winter radish, bok choy, ginger, and of course, fresh chilies. It is typically served over red or white rice, which are also staples in Bhutan. Nepal and Tibet have their own versions of Phaksha Paa, but neither of their varieties are spicier than what Bhutan has to offer. Whether cooks prepare it with fresh chili or chili powder, the accepted intensity is the same. Bhutanese, after all, love their dishes to be on the fiery side.
Address: 41 Lower Motithang, Thimphu, Bhutan Thimphu 792
Opening Hours: 9 am - 6 pm. Monday to Saturday.
Access: For reservation at least two (2) hours before
Near by Food: any good food.
5. Ema Datshi
Out of all the dishes that compose Bhutanese cuisine, nothing is more prevalent perhaps than the simple dish made out of chilis and cheese called ema datshi or zhassapa. It is, in fact, Bhutan’s national dish. Chilis are one of the most common ingredients in Bhutanese cuisine. The chili used in ema datshi can really pack a punch. You’ll see these chilis in the market, but also on the roadside or in home gardens. Cooks make no attempt to balance the spiciness of this dish. It is meant to register as hot, hot, hot. However, visitors can enjoy a slightly less spicy version of ema datshi in restaurants. The cheese, usually produced from yak or cow milk, while meant to balance is often overpowered by the chilis. If you don’t like too much spice, you might want to try a similar dish called kewa datshi. The chilis in this dish are substituted with potatoes.
Address: Chang Lam, GPO 415, Thimphu, Bhutan
Opening Hours: 10:30am - 10:30pm. Closed on public holidays.
Contact: +975 2 331 441
Be adventurous enough to try
The novelty of Bhutanese dishes seem to be endless especially because typical street food will cost you only between 2.00 USD (127 BTN) to 5.00 USD (320 BTN). You can also try fried yak skin, khur-le or buckwheat pancakes, no sha huentsu or stewed beef with noodles. Bhutan’s typical breakfast consists of puffed rice soaked in butter tea, which is certainly worth a try. Bhutan doesn’t run out of meals that will open up your gastronomical senses—a traveler just has to be adventurous enough to try. The last thing you want to do is to be holed up in your hotel just trying out international offerings that don’t really showcase Bhutan’s rich flavor and culture.