The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is a magical place where impeccable natural beauty meets rich authentic ethnic culture. From its thick green forests to colorful festivals and vibrant culture every aspect of Bhutan is special and charming. For a tourist getting the local taste of any place is the key to experiencing the real Bhutan.
It’s safe to say that Bhutanese food is unlike any of the other foods you may have tried while traveling. No, it doesn’t taste like a typical Pahadi cuisine like the ones on Nagaland, Nepal, or any other such place. From dried yak coated in fermented cheese to a range of spicy chili sauces, they use whatever is locally and seasonally available. Their food is organic and rich with natural nutrients because agriculture is one of the main sources of livelihood here.
Here are some of the must-have foods of Bhutan to get the right taste of this wonderful country:
01. Ema Datshi
This is one of the most popular dishes of Bhutan made with chili and cheese which are locally grown. Its popularity has made it the national food of Bhutan. This is a stew dish that most people may find extremely spicy especially if you are not used to it. Other ingredients used are the basic ones like onions and tomatoes along with the occasional use of yak milk. People also add some vegetables in it to make it more healthful. The cheese is dense and packed with flavor while the chilies cut through this dense nature.
02. Red Rice
Red rice is one of the least known rice forms in the rest of the world while being a staple among the eastern Himalayan region like Bhutan. It grows locally in the valley of Paro that receives mineral-rich pure glacial water. It cooks faster than traditional white rice and being gluten-free and wheat-free it is packed with the goodness of natural minerals and nutrients. This rice goes well with bold-flavored dishes because of its earthy nutty tinge. The locals normally pair up red rice with some mushroom dishes. A divine eating experience is guaranteed.
03. Jasha Maroo
In simple words, Jasha maru is a Bhutanese chicken curry or chicken stew. This non-vegetarian dish is made using boneless chicken cubes, chilies, garlic, online, and tomatoes. The staple ingredients that go into the making of a regular chicken curry. So, what sets it apart? Rather than cooking in a thick gravy, Jasha Maru only uses simple water like chicken broth that is almost like a soup and is packed with rich flavors. Sometimes people like to replace chicken with beef and is usually served with a generous helping of steamed white rice.
04. Phaksha Paa
Bhutan is one place where you can let out your inner foodie and have the time of your life. Paa is a delicious curry stew that is served with another one of Bhutan’s most loved protein which is pork. Pork slices make for the main ingredient of the dish which is stir-fried with whole herbs and spices like dried red Chillies, Bok choy, and ginger. It has a strong peppery taste that imitates the taste of celery. Normally it is not used in stews and gravy but is often eaten as a salad or a refreshing side dish.
This popular street snack is famous all over in India, Nepal and other northeastern regions. It is a popular Pahadi food that comes in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian form. Momos are similar to popular Chinese food, dumplings. Bhutanese Momos tastes very different from the other ones. These are filled with minced meat, veggies, cheese, and seasoning. It is then covered in a layer of flour dough then steamed until it’s cooked. You will easily be able to find Momos in street vendors and restaurants. Paired with the spicy red sauce you will never get enough of Momos in Bhutan.
Originating from the scenic Haa Valley of Bhutan, Hoentay is something similar to the traditional Momos. But instead of flour wrapper, they are enclosed in buckwheat or dough wrapper. You can say they are the healthier version of momos because the filling in it includes healthy greens like spinach, turnip leaves, and cheese. They are hearty, healthy, and filling dishes that are topped off with the traditionally made Bhutanese Chilli sauce called Ezay. Steam it or fry it up, having Heontay every day is a great choice of the meal during your visit to Bhutan. Your trip to Bhutan remains incomplete if you don’t try out this authentic Bhutanese dish.
Khatem is a dish which is made from bitter gourd or karela. The bitter sour taste of this dish adds a lot of flavor to the meal as a whole. The dish is prepared by thinly slicing up the bitter gourd and deep-frying it before seasoning it with simple salt. Mostly sliced in butter rather than oil, Khatem is mainly enjoyed as a delicious snack in Bhutan. They are as thin as potato chips and fried until deeply crispy. Eating it like a side dish in breakfast or lunch meals elevates and completes the dish as a whole.
Roughly speaking, Jaju is a vegetable soup that is rich in flavor. Mostly cooked during the winter months, the core ingredient in this dish is turnip leaves. Bhutan locals collect freshly grown turnips, sun dry it through the autumn months, and store it for usage in the cold, harsh winter months. Other than turnips people also use spinach leaves that add a lot of nutritional value to the whole dish. The soup broth is prepared from milk and butter. Although the overall taste is mild and mellow, it is still packed with flavors, healthy, and has an array of health benefits.
09. Khur – Le
In simple terms, Khur le is a pancake made out of buckwheat, buckwheat flour, and barley flour. It is a popular breakfast meal for the local Bhutanese folks. Normally served with eggs and different sauces, Khur le is a delicious, pocket-friendly, and healthy breakfast option. They are fluffier and healthier than flour pancakes. Considered to be one of the most authentic Bhutanese Dishes, Khur le is also packed as a delicious option for picnics and gatherings. You can even top it up with the pancake topping of your choice like maple syrup and fresh fruits. It is one of the healthiest options for kickstarting your day on a healthier note.
10. Chogo or Chhurpi
Chogo is a type of rock hard cheese snack which is edible. You will only have to keep a small bite of it in your mouth and feel it melt away. Made out of yak milk this cheese is something that you can keep in your mouth as a snack that would slowly melt away. People in higher Himalayan reaches also eat chhurpi along with the homemade soup. It is commonly available in Tibet and Nepal. People normally keep a piece of chhurpi in their mouth while traveling.