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Food and Drink in Bhutan

Bhutanese Cuisine

Cities in Bhutan have been hit with a cafe and restaurant craze. This is especially true in Thimphu where you can find Korean, Japanese, Indian, Nepali, Russian and Thai food- just to name a few. With a variety of themes and good ambience, there are no better places to chat with friends or find shelter on a rainy day than one of the many restaurants and cafes in urban areas.

The variety of cafes and restaurants will depend on which area of the country you are in. Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Phuentsholing cities have much more to offer gastronomically, although this is not the case in rural parts of the country.

You can find restaurants to suit every budget. You can expect to pay less than 500 nu (around 6$) per person in budget restaurants. These usually serve traditional meals and popular snack foods like momo (dumpling), juma (sausages) and thukpa (noodles).

Mid-range restaurants can cost upto 1000 nu (around 12$) per person. These usually serve a variety of dishes ranging from Thai, Indian, Chinese and continental. At this budget you can find restaurants serving specialized cuisine like Japanese, Korean and American fast food. Be sure to ask a local for recommendations.

High-end restaurants are less in number and can cost upwards of 2000 nu (around 25$). These restaurants can be identified by their high-end decor and luxurious atmosphere. Some are attached to 4 and 5 star hotel chains. They feature international or fusion food prepared by specialized chefs.

Café culture is also growing in popularity in Bhutanese cities. With a variety of themes and styles, they usually serve coffee, pastries and snacks. Some specialized cafes feature Russian, French and Japanese treats. They are perfect for catching up, working or people-watching.

If you want a change from the traditional fare, you will never be bored with the cafes and restaurants in cities all over the country. Try fusion food, international cuisine or just sip coffee and watch the world go by.  Take a break from sightseeing and immerse yourself in the food and drink culture of contemporary Bhutan.

Bhutanese drinks

Any good host in Bhutan will not let guests leave their house without having some type of beverage. It is considered rude not to offer anything to someone who has come to visit you. It is equally rude for the visitor to refuse the offer. Here are some of the beverages you can expect to enjoy on your next trip to Bhutan.

The most common drink in Bhutan is tea. Suja is a churned tea made from butter and salt. Ngaja is sweet milk tea, similar to ones found in India. Both teas can be enjoyed with zaw (puffed rice) or sip (pounded corn).

If you’re looking for something a little stronger, you can’t go wrong with ara, a traditional alcohol made by fermenting or distilling rice, wheat, millet, buckwheat, maize or barley. Butter and eggs can also be added for flavor. Banchang and sinchang are made by fermenting grains and yeast.

Aside from traditional alcohols, Bhutan is also known for producing high-quality beer and whiskey. Local beers include Druk 11000, Premium Lager, Red Panda and a variety of lagers including red rice. Popular whiskeys are K5 and Grain Whiskey. You can also find local rum and wine.

With the variety of drinks found in Bhutan, you are unlikely to ever go thirsty. Tea and non-alcoholic beverages are served in every house, office and restaurant. Those wanting to try traditional alcohol can visit rural areas, attend a festival or try a homestay.

Visitors who want to try local alcohol can find them in any supermarket, pub or bar.

Fine Dining

A decade ago, Bhutan may not have been the place you think of when it comes to fine dining. That is no longer the case with luxury restaurants with gorgeous ambience and skilled chefs popping up all over the country. Try traditional Bhutanese, fusion and international cuisine surrounded by the backdrop of the Himalayas.

You can find most fine dining restaurants in cities like Thimphu and Paro. These establishments are easily identified by their sumptuous decor and glitzy lighting. Popular with expats you can find juicy burgers, pizza, Asian fusion food and more.

Another option for fine dining are the restaurants of four and five star hotel chains. Found all over the country, these well-known businesses serve up exquisite Bhutanese, Indian and continental fare. They also have glamorous settings and the food will cater to foriegn palettes.

Eating a delicate and delicious meal, experiencing high quality service and enjoying your natural surroundings. The Bhutanese fine dining experience is one you cannot miss.

Regional Cuisine

Though rice and spicy stews are eaten all over the country, the ingredients used and method of preparation can vary based on the region. Although not discernable to the Western tongue, Bhutanese can taste the difference between an ema datsi made in western regions like Paro and one made in Lhuentse in the east.

There are also some specialties like buckwheat dumplings and corn porridge that are only found in certain districts. Those with an open mind and adventurous spirit will discover that there is a lot more to Bhutanese food than they initially thought. Tease your tastebuds with a culinary tour of the regions of Bhutan.

The western region of the country consumes what most consider the “traditional food” of Bhutan. This includes copious amounts of white and red rice accompanied by spicy stews made with combinations of local vegetables, lentils or cheese. Chicken, yak meat, pork, beef and dried fish are commonly eaten.

With many inhabitants of the region descending from Tibetans, this influence can also be seen in the food of the western regions. Tibetan noodles such as thukpa, bathtub and snacks such as momo dumplings, khabzey fritters and shabalay patties are widely found.

The village of Nobgang in the western district of Punakha is famous for its unique delicacies. The home of the four Queen Mothers, this tiny hamlet has had a big impact on regional recipes such as ema lumtsho (fried chillies), jatsa gondo (sieved egg) and maekhu (puffed rice snack). Nobgang’s most famous food is the 29 ingredient aezey nyergum, a chili paste originating from this village.

People in the beautiful north-central valley of Bumthang are known to enjoy food made from buckwheat. Buckwheat delicacies from this region include khurle pancakes, puta noodles, jangbuli pasta and chogdan polenta. This region is also known for its dairy products including swiss cheese, butter and curd.

Food culture changes as you move towards the eastern parts of Bhutan. Dzongkhags or districts in these areas enjoy corn dishes and the pungent zoedoe, comparable to blue cheese. Visitors to Trashi Yangtse should try asham thukpa or corn porridge and urka bangala chilies. The Khenpa people of Zhemgang enjoy delicacies like mud crab, wild potatoes and orchids.

Southern Bhutan is home to the Lhotshampa community or Bhutanese of Nepali descent. The traditional food of this region is influenced by Indian and Nepali cuisine. Rice and roti flatbreads are eaten with lentil stews, fragrant curries and marinated pickles. Meats like chicken, mutton and lamb are popular.

The variety of cultures and people found in different regions of Bhutan has heavily influenced the food and eating habits. The dishes mentioned above barely scratch the surface of the range of cuisines enjoyed in the country. The best way to learn about regional foods is to visit the different districts and taste for yourself.


Traditional Cuisine

On your visit to Bhutan you are sure to become acquainted with Tigers Nest Monastery, Tsechu Festivals and Buddha Point. There is another cultural wonder that you will definitely meet and that is the country's unofficial national dish: ema datsi- a spicy chili and cheese concoction served with a heaping serving of rice.

Bhutanese food is entrenched in the country's history and culture. It is heavily influenced by Tibetan cuisine but also borrows flavors from other neighbors like India and China. Staple crops grown in the country are red and white rice, maize and buckwheat.

Traditionally meals would be eaten with all members sitting on the floor. The rice and stews are placed in the middle and usually served by the matriarch of the house. Early Bhutanese would eat with hands from wooden plates and bowls called Dapa.

Even though there are a wealth of cuisines available in Bhutanese cities nowadays, you can’t go wrong with the classic traditional meals. The ones served in roadside eateries and local homes are usually eye-wateringly spicy but meals served in hotels and restaurants are milder for foreign palates.

Rice is a staple of Bhutanese cuisine, so much so that in the olden days people used to eat it for all meals of the day. That is still the case in rural areas. Rice is usually accompanied by tsem or stew usually made of vegetables and sometimes local cheese. Meat dishes are also served with beef and pork being especially popular.

There are endless combinations that staple vegetables, meats and spices like ginger, garlic and cardamon are used to make side dishes that accompany rice, flatbread or noodles. Some must trys are ema datsi (chili cheese), kewa datsi (potato cheese), shakam datsi (beef cheese), jasha maru (chicken stew), phaksha paa (pork stew), shakam paa (beef stew), jaju (soup) and momos (dumplings).

Traditional food in the country is made of organic, local ingredients and has remained unchanged for centuries. Like its people, Bhutan’s food is unaffected, warm and wholesome.

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