18 Bhutanese Food Delights: Discovering the Rich Traditional Cuisine

 In Bhutan, Food, Travel

Bhutanese Food, or Bhutanese cuisine, is a delightful exploration of flavours, traditions, and cultural heritage. Bhutanese food reflects the country’s unique identity. Bhutanese cuisine and dishes showcase a harmonious blend of aromatic spices, locally sourced ingredients, and traditional cooking techniques. 

With its emphasis on simplicity, balance, and wholesome ingredients, Bhutanese food has gained recognition worldwide for its distinct flavours and health benefits. From fiery chilli peppers to hearty stews, Bhutanese cuisine captures the essence of the country’s rich cultural heritage. Sounds interesting enough! So, what are you waiting for? Book the Bhutan Tour Packages now to treat your taste buds right. 

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Some famous Bhutanese dishes have become symbols of the nation’s culinary pride, enticing locals and visitors to indulge in the diverse and mouthwatering flavours of Bhutan food.

Bhutanese Dishes are made with care and attention to detail, reflecting the passion and pride of the Bhutanese people. Each dish is prepared with abundant flavours, carefully selected ingredients, and a touch of cultural heritage. Bhutanese food is not just nourishment for the body; it expresses love and gratitude towards nature, the community, and the divine. From the vibrant colours of the vegetables to the aromatic spices that dance in every dish, Bhutanese cuisine is a testament to the joy of cooking and sharing food with loved ones. Every bite of famous Bhutanese dishes brings a sense of delight and satisfaction, leaving a lasting impression on your taste buds and heart.

1. Ema Datshi

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Ema Datshi is the national dish of Bhutan and is beloved by locals and visitors alike. This spicy and flavorful dish has two key ingredients: ema, chilli in Dzongkha (the Bhutanese language), and datshi, which refers to cheese. 

The chillies used in Ema Datshi are typically large green or red, providing a fiery kick to the dish. The cheese is usually locally made, which melts into a creamy consistency and balances the spiciness of the chillies. Ema Datshi is often enjoyed with red rice, a staple in Bhutanese cuisine. It showcases the unique flavors and culinary traditions of Bhutan Food.

Ingredients: Chili peppers, cheese, onions, garlic, butter/oil, and salt.

Where to Eat: Bhutan Kitchen – Thimphu, Folk Heritage Museum Restaurant – Thimphu, Ambient Cafe – Thimphu

Cost: 100-300 BTN

2. Kewa Datshi

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Kewa Datshi is another popular dish in Bhutanese cuisine. “Kewa” refers to potatoes, while “Datshi” indicates the use of cheese. This delectable dish combines boiled potatoes with a rich and creamy cheese sauce made from locally produced cheese. The cheese melts into a velvety consistency, coating the potatoes and infusing them with its distinct flavour. 

The dish often incorporates additional ingredients like onions, garlic, and spices to enhance the taste. Kewa Datshi is a comforting and hearty dish showcasing Bhutanese food’s versatility. It can be enjoyed as a main course or a side dish, accompanying other traditional Bhutanese delicacies.

Ingredients: potatoes, cheese, chili peppers

Where to Eat: Zombala Restaurant, Sonam Trophel Restaurant, Chh’a Bistro

Cost: 100-300 BTN

3. Phaksha Paa

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Phaksha Paa is a traditional Bhutanese dish with pork as its main ingredient. “Phaksha” means pork, while “Paa” is a stir-fry. This flavorful dish is made by marinating chunks of pork with a blend of spices, including ginger, garlic, chilli, and Bhutanese red pepper. 

The marinated pork is then stir-fried with onions, green chillies, and other vegetables, creating a tantalising mix of flavours. The dish is known for its robust and spicy taste, characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine. 

Phaksha Paa is often served with red rice or as a side dish alongside traditional Bhutanese dishes, adding a delicious meaty element.

Ingredients: pork, oil, chilli peppers, radishes

Where to Eat: Zombala Restaurant, Ambient Cafe, Bukhari Restaurant 

Cost: 400- 500 BTN

4. Jasha Maroo

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Jasha Maroo is a popular Bhutanese dish that consists of spicy chicken stew. “Jasha” means chicken, while “Maroo” refers to chili. This flavorful dish is made by simmering chicken pieces with an assortment of ingredients, including onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, green chilies, and Bhutanese red pepper. 

The combination of aromatic spices and fiery chilies gives Jasha Maroo its distinctive taste and heat. The dish is typically served with red rice or as an accompaniment to Bhutanese staple foods. Jasha Maroo showcases the bold flavors and spice profiles that are characteristic of Bhutan food, offering a delightful culinary experience.

Ingredients: chicken, chilli peppers, onions 

Where to Eat: Folk Heritage Museum Restaurant, Gangtey Palace Restaurant

Cost: 300-450 BTN 

5. Hoentoe

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Hoentoe is a traditional Bhutanese dish that locals and visitors enjoy. It is a dumpling with a mixture of turnip greens, spinach, cheese, and spices. The dumplings are then steamed or boiled until cooked through. Hoentoe is known for its unique shape, resembling a half-moon or crescent. 

It is often served with a tomato-based sauce or a spicy chilli dip, adding flavour to the delicate dumplings. Hoentoe is a delicious and satisfying dish showcasing Bhutanese food’s creativity and flavours, making it a must-try when exploring the local food scene.

Ingredients: turnip, greens, cheese, and species

Where to Eat: Sonam Trophel Restaurant, Zombala 2 Restaurant, Gangtey Palace Restaurant 

Cost: 300-500 BTN 

6. Goep (Tripe)

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Goep, or tripe, is a popular dish in Bhutanese food. It is made from the stomach lining of cattle or other animals, which is thoroughly cleaned and cooked to create a tender and flavorful meat dish. Goep is typically prepared by boiling the tripe with various spices and herbs until it becomes soft and succulent. 

The dish is known for its rich and complex flavors, with a slight hint of gaminess. It is often enjoyed with rice or traditional Bhutanese bread. Goep is a unique and adventurous dish that allows visitors to experience the authentic flavours of Bhutanese cuisine.

Ingredients: stew, rice, oils, species 

Where to Eat: Khuru Village Resort, Local Festivals and Events, Chh’a Bistro & Bar

Cost: 100-300 BTN

7. Shakam Paa

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Shakam Paa is a popular Bhutanese dish that combines dried beef strips with spicy chilli peppers and vegetables. It is a flavorful and savoury dish showcasing Bhutanese cuisine’s traditional flavours. The beef is first marinated and sun-dried, resulting in a chewy and slightly smoky texture. 

It is then stir-fried with various vegetables, such as onions, garlic, and green chilli peppers. Combining tender beef, spicy flavours, and aromatic vegetables creates a delicious and satisfying dish. Shakam Paa is often served with red rice, which complements the flavours and adds a nutty taste. It is a must-try dish for those seeking a taste of Bhutan’s culinary delights.

Ingredients: oil, chilli pepper, beef

Where to Eat: Bhutan Kitchen, Tashi Namgay Grand, Local Homestays

Cost: 300-350 BTN

8. Puta

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Puta is a traditional Bhutanese dish commonly enjoyed as a snack or side dish. It is made from buckwheat flour mixed with water and kneaded into a dough. The dough is then rolled out and cut into small pieces, steamed or boiled until cooked. The result is a soft and slightly chewy dumpling-like food. 

Puta can be eaten independently or served with various accompanying dishes, such as vegetable curries or meat stews. It has a unique nutty flavour and is often enjoyed for its simplicity and wholesome taste. Try Puta to experience a traditional Bhutanese delight.

Ingredients: Vegetables, species, noodles 

Where to Eat: Khuru Village Resort, Local Festivals and Events, Chh’a Bistro & Bar

Cost: 100-200 BTN

9. Khur-le

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Khur-le is a popular Bhutanese dish of homemade buckwheat noodles in a flavorful broth. The noodles are made by kneading buckwheat flour with water and rolling the dough into thin strips. The broth is typically prepared with vegetables, meat or dried yak cheese, and spices. 

Khur-le is known for its hearty and comforting nature, making it a perfect dish for chilly weather. The noodles have a slightly nutty taste and a satisfying texture. This traditional Bhutanese delicacy is often enjoyed as a main course and represents the country’s culinary heritage.

Ingredients: Bread, wheat, Flour

Where to Eat: Local Markets, Street Food Stalls, Tea Houses

Cost: 100-200 BTN

10. Kharang

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Kharang is a traditional Bhutanese dish loved for its unique blend of flavours and textures. It is a delightful combination of crispy rice, butter, and sugar, cooked together to create a crunchy and sweet treat. The rice is first soaked in water, then dried and fried until golden brown and crispy. 

Butter and sugar are added to the fried rice, giving it a caramelised sweetness and a rich, buttery taste. Kharang is often enjoyed as a snack or dessert, commonly served during festivals and special occasions in Bhutan. Its addictive crunch and sweet notes make it a favourite among locals and visitors alike.

Ingredients: porridge, butter, milk

Where to Eat: Khuru Village Resort, Local Festivals, and Events, Chh’a Bistro & Bar

Cost: 150-250 BTN

11. Red Rice

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Red rice is a staple food in Bhutan and holds great cultural significance. It is a variety of rice unique to the region, known for its distinctive reddish-brown colour and nutty flavour. The reddish hue comes from the bran layer, which contains antioxidants and nutrients. 

Red rice is grown organically in the mountainous terrains of Bhutan, using traditional farming methods.

In Bhutanese food, red rice is commonly used in various dishes, including soups, stews, and main courses. It has a slightly chewy texture and a subtle earthy taste that pairs well with the robust flavours of Bhutanese spices and herbs. Red rice is delicious and healthy, as it is a good source of fibre, vitamins, and minerals.

Ingredients: Flavored rice, staple rice, species 

Where to Eat: Local Markets, Tea Houses

Cost: 100-200 BTN

12. Suja

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Suja, also known as Bhutanese butter tea, is a traditional hot beverage with a special place in Bhutanese culture. It combines salted yak butter, tea leaves, and water. The mixture is then boiled and churned until it forms a frothy, creamy texture. Suja is a staple in Bhutanese households and is often served as a welcoming gesture to guests.

This unique beverage has a rich, savoury flavour with a hint of saltiness from the butter. It provides warmth and comfort, especially in the cold mountainous regions of Bhutan. Suja is not only enjoyed for its taste but is also believed to have numerous health benefits, such as aiding digestion and providing energy.

When visiting Bhutan, trying a cup of sugar is a delightful way to experience the local culture and savour a traditional Bhutanese beverage.

Ingredients: Yak butter, tea leaves, butter tea

Where to Eat: Traditional festivals, Local Markets, homestays

Cost: 50-100 BTN

13. Zow Shungo

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Zow Shungo is a popular Bhutanese dish made from leftover rice and vegetables. It is a flavorful and hearty dish showcasing Bhutanese cuisine’s resourcefulness and creativity. The dish typically includes a variety of vegetables, such as cabbage, carrots, peas, and beans, stir-fried with spices like garlic, ginger, and chilli. The vegetables are then mixed with the cooked rice and seasoned with soy sauce or other condiments for added flavour.

Zow Shungo is a delicious way to reduce food waste and make a satisfying meal from simple ingredients. It is often a satisfying lunch or dinner option, balancing flavours and textures. When in Bhutan, don’t miss the opportunity to taste this unique and flavorful dish that reflects the Bhutanese tradition of making the most out of ingredients.

Ingredients: a mixture of leftover rice, vegetables, and cheese

Where to Eat: Khuru Village Resort, Local Festivals and Events, Chh’a Bistro & Bar

Cost: 150-200 INR

14. Sikam Paa

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Sikam Paa is a mouthwatering Bhutanese dish featuring dried pork stir-fried with aromatic spices and vegetables. It is a popular and flavorful dish showcasing Bhutan’s rich culinary heritage. To prepare Sikam Paa, thin slices of dried pork are marinated with spices such as garlic, ginger, chilli, and turmeric. The marinated pork is then stir-fried with onions, tomatoes, and green chillies until tender and infused with the flavours of the spices. 

The result is a delectable dish with a perfect balance of savoury, spicy, and tangy flavours. Sikam Paa is often enjoyed with rice or traditional Bhutanese flatbread, known as roti. When visiting Bhutan, be sure to try this tantalising dish that offers a delightful combination of textures and tastes.

Ingredients: Pork’s belly, species, potato as per choice

Where to Eat: Resorts, Traditional Events, Chh’a Bistro & Bar

Cost: 100-150 INR

15. Gondo Datshi

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Gondo Datshi is a delicious Bhutanese dish that combines mushrooms and cheese in a flavorful sauce. It is a popular vegetarian option in Bhutan food and is known for its unique taste and texture. To prepare Gondo Datshi, fresh mushrooms are sautéed with onions, garlic, and spices until tender. Then, slices of local cheese, usually made from cow’s milk, are added to the pan and melted to create a creamy and rich sauce. 

The dish is typically seasoned with Bhutanese spices like chili powder or chili flakes to add a hint of spiciness. Gondo Datshi is often served with rice or traditional Bhutanese bread. If you’re a fan of mushrooms and cheese, this dish is a must-try when exploring Bhutanese cuisine.

Ingredients: Mushroom, cheese, chilli, peppers

Where to Eat: Tourist Areas, Local Restaurants

Cost: 150-200 INR

16. Momos

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Momos are a beloved dish in Bhutanese cuisine, known for their delectable flavours and delightful appearance. These dumplings are made by wrapping a thin sheet of dough around a filling that can vary from meat to vegetables and cheese. The filled dumplings are then steamed or fried until they become tender and succulent. 

In Bhutan, momos are popular street food and can be found in local markets, roadside stalls, and restaurants. They are often served with a spicy dipping sauce made from chilli and tomato. Whether you prefer the meaty flavours of pork or the vegetarian options, trying momos in Bhutan is a must to experience the country’s culinary delights.

Ingredients: meat and vegetables, a dipping sauce of tomatoes and the coriander

Where to Eat: Streets of Bhutan, markets, restaurants

Cost: 100 BTN

17. Doma

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Doma is a traditional and unique chewing habit in Bhutan, where people chew a combination of betel nut, betel leaf, slaked lime, and various other ingredients. It is a cultural practice deeply rooted in Bhutanese society and is often seen as a symbol of hospitality and socialising. The betel nut, also known as areca nut, is sliced and wrapped in a betel leaf along with lime paste and other flavourings like cardamom, cloves, or tobacco. 

Doma is believed to have stimulant and digestive properties and is commonly offered to guests as a gesture of welcome. While Doma is an integral part of Bhutanese culture, it’s important to note that excessive chewing of betel nut can have adverse health effects, and it is recommended to consume it in moderation.

Ingredients:  Betel nut served with various accompaniments like paan leaves and spices.

Where to Eat: Street Food Stalls, Local markets, Ambient Cafe & Bakery

Cost:100-150 BTN

18. Jaju

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Jaju is a traditional Bhutanese snack that holds a special place in the culture of Bhutanese food. It is a deep-fried pastry made from a dough of refined flour, butter, and water. The dough is rolled into thin sheets, cut into small rectangular shapes, and deep-fried until golden and crispy. 

Jaju is often enjoyed as a tea-time snack or served during festive occasions and celebrations. The crispy texture and buttery flavour of Jaju make it a delightful treat that both locals and visitors love. It can be enjoyed independently or paired with a hot cup of butter tea, offering a perfect balance of flavours.

Ingredients: Dried yak cheese, often used as a snack or in cooking, red rice

Where to Eat: Chimi Lakhang Cafeteria, Babesa Village Restaurant

Cost: 200-250 BTN

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

1. What is Bhutanese cuisine known for? 

Bhutanese cuisine is known for its unique flavours, different ingredients, and emphasis on spicy dishes. The cuisine of Bhutan reflects the country’s cultural heritage and is heavily influenced by Tibetan, Indian, and Chinese culinary traditions. One of the prominent characteristics of Bhutan food is its generous use of chilli peppers, considered essential ingredients in almost every meal. The cuisine also features a variety of dairy products, including cheese and butter, as well as grains like rice and buckwheat. Bhutanese dishes often incorporate locally sourced vegetables, meats, and spices, resulting in a flavorful and hearty culinary experience.

2. What are some must-try dishes in Bhutanese cuisine? 

When exploring Bhutanese cuisine, several must-try dishes showcase the country’s unique flavours and culinary traditions. One such dish is Ema Datshi, a spicy chilli and cheese stew considered Bhutan’s national dish. Another popular dish is Phaksha Paa, a flavorful pork dish cooked with chilli peppers and radishes. Other must-try dishes include Jasha Maroo (spicy chicken curry), Kewa Datshi (potato and cheese stew), and Momos (steamed dumplings filled with meat or vegetables). These dishes offer a tantalising blend of spices, herbs, and local ingredients, providing a true taste of Bhutanese cuisine.

3. Can I find vegetarian options in Bhutanese cuisine? 

Yes, vegetarian options are available in Bhutanese cuisine. While Bhutanese cuisine is known for its emphasis on meat and dairy products, there are vegetarian dishes that you can enjoy. One popular vegetarian dish is Kewa Datshi, a stew made with potatoes and cheese. Other vegetarian options include Shakam Datshi (vegetables and cheese stew), Ema Datshi without the meat, and various vegetable curries like Phaksha Tshoem (spicy mushroom curry) or Khur-le (spinach curry). Bhutanese cuisine makes use of a variety of vegetables, grains, and legumes, allowing for a range of vegetarian choices for those who prefer plant-based options.

4. Are there any popular street food options in Bhutan?

In Bhutan, street food culture is not as prevalent as in some other countries, but some popular street food options still exist. One such snack is Momos, dumplings filled with meat or vegetables, usually served with a spicy sauce. Another popular street food item is Bhutanese Noodles, which are stir-fried noodles with vegetables, eggs, and sometimes meat. While street food options may be limited compared to other cuisines, these snacks offer a delicious and convenient way to sample Bhutanese flavours while on the go.

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