When we looked up for food while planning our Bhutan trip, we came across dishes such as – Ema Datshi, Phaksha Paa, Jasha Maru….and we were sure that we were in for a good time in Bhutan as far as food was concerned.
We were in for a surprise though. Most hotels in Bhutan serve Indian food as if you were in India. We excitedly hopped in to the restaurant of our first hotel, Hotel Druk in Phuentsoling, asking for Ema Datshi, and the hotel staff pointed to the India buffet dinner. Disappointed, when we told Sonam, our guide, about not wanting Indian food in Bhutan, Sonam admitted that most hotels make only Indian or Continental food, if not requested otherwise. So, from then on, our standing instruction to him was that we’d eat only Bhutanese food throughout the trip. And although we still got a lot of Indian and Conti at numerous places, we managed to have a fair share of Bhutanese cuisine too.
It amazed me to find that the Bhutanese food habits are not very different from that of the Indians. Especially Indians living in hills and in cold places. Theirs is a rice-based society. The Bhutanese don’t eat much breads or even the Indian roti. The other reason why they are similar to India is because they import heavily from India – everything! From juices to vegetables etc. Having said that, here’s what you can eat differently in Bhutan:
- Ema Datshi! That’s what everybody asks for the moment they step into the Bhutan soil. Ema Datshi, a dish made with chillis and cheese, is Bhutan’s national food. Yes, it’s spicy! So think before you leap, but no chickening out once served. Although I am not a huge cheese fan, I loved the Ema Datshis. Maybe the cold weather and the wholesome taste of the cheese with spicy chillis does the trick. We loved Ema Datshi with Red Rice.
- Which brings me to the next must-have when in Bhutan — Red Rice!! Small, rounded, sticky, pinkish in colour (although called red rice), red rice is tasty and is more fibrous that the normal white rice. We loved it for its coarse taste, and also kept raving about it since it was a good consolation for the absence of wheat in our diet. Further, typical Bhutanese dishes like Ema Datshi and Phakshaa Paa, taste good with red rice.
- Ah! Phaksha Paa. Jayanta loved this Bhutanese pork dish that is normally very spicy. I am not much of a pork lover. Hence, the miss. And Jasha Maru – the chicken dish that was our staple for most part of the trip. Also try the No Sha Huentse – Beef cooked in a spinach gravy.
- Momos! How can you be in this hill country and not think of Momos? We ate then every where – off the street shops, at restaurants, everywhere. You mostly get Chicken Momos here, unless you have ordered Pork Momo well in advance for them to buy the required ingredients.
- And finallya must-drink – the Red Panda Beer – which is available everywhere in Bhutan. Must be their staple drink, for it is cheap too and Jayanta had a merry time drinking at least 2 bottles every evening. I, on the other hand, loved the Po Cha (Butter Tea), that felt just right for the chill of the high altitudes and the evenings.