BHUTAN – Bhutanese traditional cuisine bears influences from neighboring countries, especially China, Tibet, and India.
However, much like the nation itself, local cuisine retains its unique character. It tends to be lighter on oil compared to Chinese or Indian dishes and has distinct differences from Tibetan cuisine.
Apart from the dishes, you’ll certainly want to explore further: Bhutan travel guide
When you travel to Bhutan, be sure to check out the list of the top 6 Bhutanese dishes that you must definitely try!
Ema Datshi (Chili and Cheese)
If Bhutan had a national dish (think of it as Pho in Vietnam), it would be Ema Datshi. Some say that you haven’t truly visited Bhutan until you’ve tasted Ema Datshi. Locals consume this dish daily, often alongside red rice.
Ema Datshi is made from green, yellow, or red chilies, yak cheese or cow’s milk, onions, and tomatoes. This spicy dish is perfect for the higher altitudes of Bhutan, where the weather is cooler.
Jasha Maroo or Maru (Spicy Chicken)
While this blend of chilies, onions, tomatoes, garlic, coriander leaves, and ginger is typically prepared with diced chicken, you might also find it made with beef. Although often considered a stew, it’s quite liquidy due to the chicken broth. Like most Bhutanese dishes, it’s served with red rice.
Phaksha Paa (Pork with Red Chili)
Phaksha Paa is a classic Bhutanese pork stew made with boneless pork shoulder, slow-cooked until tender with daikon radish, ginger, mustard greens, and… chili powder. Once ready, it’s layered over dried pork, fresh green chilies, and served with rice.
Momos are a dish that Western travelers may have already tried, as they’ve made their way to India and are somewhat similar to Chinese dumplings. Across the Himalayan region, from Nepal and Tibet to Bhutan, these steamed dumplings are a popular snack.
They can be filled with various ingredients, but the typical filling includes minced pork or beef, cabbage, or fresh cheese mixed with spices like garlic, ginger, and cilantro.
Wherever you dine, whether it’s at an elegant Aman or Uma resort or an outdoor village festival, you’ll encounter red rice. Red rice is as integral to Bhutanese meals as white rice is to our Vietnamese dining tables, but it’s perhaps a healthier choice for the Bhutanese.
This is because the red rice fields in Bhutan’s Paro Valley are irrigated with mineral-rich glacial water. A serving of Bhutanese red rice can provide you with 80% of your daily manganese needs and 20% of your phosphorus needs. The red color of the rice before cooking is due to the cancer-fighting antioxidant flavonoid anthocyanin. When cooked, the color gradually changes to a lighter red or pink, and the texture becomes soft and sticky.
Ara – Special Local Beverage
During your meal, you’ll be offered various beverages like black and green tea, beer, and spirits. However, if you’re lucky, you might be invited to enjoy a glass of Ara (or arag) brewed locally. Ara is a potent, fermented beverage made from rice, corn, barley, or wheat. It has a taste somewhat akin to very strong sake.