Eating Bhutanese Food in Bhutan
A Month of Eating Bhutanese Food
by Mark Wiens
Before traveling to Bhutan, I really had no idea what Bhutanese food was. Yet having previously traveled to both northern India and Nepal, I automatically imagined traditional Bhutanese food to include dishes like dal, curry, roti and chapatis. And while a mix of Indian, Nepali, and Tibetan dishes are all widely available in Bhutan, there’s an entire range of unique Bhutanese food that’s incredibly delicious. During my one month visit to Bhutan, my mission was to sample and eat as much Bhutanese food as possible. Though I’m positive I have much more to still discover, it was an incredibly rewarding month of full out eating and learning about Bhutan through its food.
Ema-datshi, often considered the national dish of Bhutan, and a dish I ate at least everyday I was in the Kingdom, sometimes 2 – 3 times daily, turned out to be one of my favorite Bhutanese dishes. What could be better than chilies, cheese, and butter, cooked together and eaten with rice? Though the recipe of ingredients used to make ema datshi is quite simple, there are many different versions of the dish – some with a more runny gravy style cheese sauce, others with a thick and sticky cheese sauce. I attempted to decide whether I preferred the runny style or the thick sticky cheese style and finally I just decided to agree that they were both equally good.
Another Bhutanese dish I thoroughly enjoyed and smiled every-time a restaurant or farm-stay family delivered it to my table was shakam, Bhutanese dried beef. Curing meat by drying has been a method of preserving meat around the world for thousands of years. But what I loved about the shakam in Bhutan was that it wasn’t too chewy, but it was often quite tender (in a jerky kind of way), and with every chew, more and more dry beef flavor was released. A few of my favorite Bhutanese dishes made with shakam were shakam coated in yak cheese, and one of my ultimate favorites, shakam shukam datshi – dried beef sliced into bite sized pieces and cooked in cheese sauce with white chilies.
Along with cheese and salted cured meat, vegetables were another highlight of the food in Bhutan. Although depending on the season and time of the year which will determine what’s available, Bhutan is still dominated by locally produced fresh organic vegetables. And when you take a bite of carrot or spinach, you can actually taste the difference – the vegetables have so much flavor and so much natural sweetness to them. One of the vegetables I frequently enjoyed was lom, turnip leaves. I hadn’t really eaten, or really even heard or eating turnip leaves prior to visiting Bhutan, but in Bhutanese food they are consumed frequently. The turnip leaves tasted similar to spinach, but with a tougher rather than a slimy texture, and with a hint of a bitter taste, which I loved.
You can find out more about Mark Wien’s food travels at migrationology.com
Migrationology travelled to Bhutan via MyBhutan