Bhutan is a landlocked country situated in South Asia, in the Eastern Himalayas between China and India. The country is also known as “Druk Yul” or “Land of the Thunder Dragon.” Bhutan is famous for its amazing textiles and for its cane and bamboo plantations.
The population of Bhutan is primarily composed of two different ethnic groups: the Ngalops and the Sharchops, also known as Western Bhutanese and Eastern Bhutanese, respectively.
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Most Popular Bhutanese Dishes
Most Bhutanese dishes typically include red rice, buckwheat or maize. Other commonly consumed ingredients include chicken, yak meat, dried beef, pork, pork fat and lamb. Bhutanese people also often eat several types of soups and stews (prepared using meat, rice, ferns, lentils and dried vegetables flavored with chili peppers and cheese) during the winter season.
So without further ado, here are the absolute must-try traditional dishes of Bhutan along with recipes to try for yourself.
Red rice is a medium-grain variety of rice that is cultivated in the Eastern Himalayas. It is considered one of the staple foods of Bhutan and is known to cook quicker than most other varieties of rice.
Red rice is gluten and wheat-free and is packed with minerals, making it extremely nutritious. It is known to be earthy and nutty in taste and is usually accompanied by dishes that have a bold taste.
Bhutanese people often eat red rice with dishes containing mushrooms and chillies, such as Ema datshi, Shamu datshi, Khewa datshi, and a variety of other cheese and meat-based dishes.
Jasha Maroo or Maru
Jasha maroo is a Bhutanese stew or curry prepared using diced chicken, onion, garlic, chillies, tomato, ginger and coriander leaves. It is usually accompanied by a generous serving of chicken broth. Some people also use beef as a substitute for chicken. This spicy stew dish is generally served with red rice and is considered perfect for the wintertime.
Ema datshi is a traditional Bhutanese stew prepared using hot chili peppers and cheese (made of cow or yak milk), mixed with garlic, water and oil. Sometimes people also add onions and tomatoes to enhance the flavor of the dish.
In the Dzongkha language of Bhutan, ema refers to chili, and datshi translates to cheese. There are many different varieties of chilies used to make this stew. Some of them include green chili, red chili or white chili, which can be used dried or fresh.
Ema datshi is considered the country’s national dish. There are several variations of the dish, such as kewa datshi and shakam datshi.
Phaksha paa is a dish prepared using pork slices stir-fried with whole red dried chillies, ginger and bok choy/pak choy. Several mountain vegetables, including radishes and spinach, can also be included in the dish.
It is generally consumed along with rice and datshi dishes, or some people add phaksha paa to fresh salads.
There are several variations of the dish including shakam paa, sicaam paa and yaksha shakam.
Suja (Bhutanese Butter Tea)
Suja, also known as Po Cha or Goor Goor, is a traditional Bhutanese tea prepared using fermented yak butter (which is obtained from fresh yak milk). The butter is then boiled in water along with tea leaves.
Unlike regular tea, Suja is frothy and is said to taste more like butter than tea. Generally salty in flavor, suja is also enjoyed in Tibet and several parts of Nepal. A variation of this tea also uses cow’s butter instead of yak’s.
Ara, also known as arag, is a traditional Bhutanese alcoholic drink. It is prepared by fermenting or distilling rice, wheat, maize, millet, barley or buckwheat. This beverage is typically creamy and white-ish or clear in appearance.
Ara, which has a very strong smell and taste, is usually consumed hot. It can be served neat, but occasionally it is heated with butter and eggs. It is also prepared for religious occasions, particularly in eastern Bhutan, where it is prepared as a Lhasoel offering on several auspicious days.
Jaju is a traditional soup prepared using green leafy vegetables such as local spinach or turnips. The broth is made using milk and butter. Occasionally, cheese is also added. The dish is typically served as a side dish alongside a main course.
Puta is a type of noodle dish made using buckwheat, which is a healthier alternative to regular noodles made from all-purpose flour. They are typically boiled but they can also be stir fried in oil. Puta can be customized with the addition of a sauce and sautéed vegetables.
The noodles are usually handmade and often spiced with chilli. The dish is then often accompanied by an egg and scallions. In several parts of Bhutan, Puta is offered to the gods (tshok) and to the priest. Served as an alternative to rice, buckwheat noodles are also considered one of the staple foods in Bhutan.
Momos are hot dumplings that are stuffed with a variety of ingredients such as minced meat (usually beef, pork and several other meats) and vegetables such as cabbage. Some momo varieties include cheese and are flavored with spices.
Besides the traditional steamed versions of momos, deep-fried momos are also common. They are served with hot chilli sauces, also known as ezay.