What is Bhutan’s Food Like?

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A tiny nation bordering East and South Asia, Bhutan has an unexpected flair for unique food. This ancient culture only recently opened its doors in 1974, so its cuisine has evolved almost completely isolated from its neighbors. Here’s a peak into the region’s eclectic gastronomy.

Landlocked in the Eastern Himalayas between China and Bangladesh, you might not expect to find interesting culinary culture in this tiny country. However, Bhutan has an exciting array of dishes ready to sample that are both surprising and satisfying.

7_70 flickr user

A typical Bhutanese family’s food

The most important aspect of food and dining in Bhutan is etiquette. The country has an interesting list of customary rules to remember when eating. For example, when offered food, you are supposed to say meshu meshu while covering your mouth as if refusing the offer. On the second or third offer, you can accept.

Unlike China and Japan, food is eaten with your hands across the country and you are usually sitting cross legged on the floor. Women usually serve the meal. Before eating, a short prayer is said and a small piece of food is placed on the floor as an offering to spirits.

However, as the country modernizes, some families use cutlery and sit at tables. But as always in Asia, dining is always a family style buffet where you can sample a bit of everything.

As a whole, Bhutanese cuisine is relatively spicy with chillis used in nearly every dish. In fact, some people say that people do not eat a dish in Bhutan unless it’s spicy.

Bhutan’s national dish is incredibly spicy with a mix of chillis and local cheese called Datshi. The dish, which full name’s Ema Datshi, has many variations with added green beans, potatoes and mushrooms. But the most important part is the spicy flavor that can ignite foreigner’s taste buds.

Ritesh Man Tamrakar momos

Momos – A traditional dumpling

If you’re lucky enough to be invited into a local’s home then you could be offered Momos, a popular dish that is usually saved for special occasions. Momos are Tibetan style dumplings that are filled with pork, beef or cabbage. At a first glance they look very familiar to Chinese steamed dumplings however their fillings are far more elaborate, especially with the increased use of cheese in the dish.

Sreeram Narayan

Sura – A Salted Milk Butter Tea

You’ll also probably be offered Sura, a salted milk butter tea which is served in social situations. It’s a bit of an acquired taste due to its saltiness but served after a full day of sightseeing, it’s the perfect compliment to an evening in.

Unlike most gastronomic cultures in Asia, Bhutanese cuisine features a lot of cheese. It’s usually added along side more popular dishes.

flickr user Sreeram Narayan - Ema datse with red rice

Bhutan Red Rice

But if there’s one dish that you’ll leave Bhutan adoring, it’s the country’s red rice. It’s the staple rice of the Bhutanese people. The rice is a medium-grain rice, and when its cooked it becomes a pale pink color with a soft, slightly sticky textures. Lotus Foods began importing this red rice to the United States in the mid-1990’s and it’s currently the only agricultural export of this small country.

With its unique position in Asia, Bhutan offers a wide array of traditional cuisines that can excite visitor’s palates with its unique character. Overall, Bhutanese food offers a one-of-a-kind twist on traditional Asian dishes such as dumplings and rice. It’s worth a visit to this small country for a taste of its culinary culture.

Imagine how good a dish of momos washed down with a swig of sura would taste after running the Bhutan International Marathon. We’ve a small group tour set to embark on this unique race coming up. We also have several private tours that visit this exciting land including the Land of the Thunder Dragon and Kingdom in the Clouds tours.