Food & Cuisine in Bhutan

Travellers visiting Bhutan often prefer to dine in their hotel restaurants which are usually the most hygienic and serve the best food. There are, however, good Bhutanese restaurants in places like Thimphu and Paro. The cuisines on offer include Indian, Chinese, Tibetan and Continental. A less spicy version of the local Bhutanese cuisine is also served to foreigners.

When visiting Bhutan it is likely that the cost of all meals is included in your pre-arranged travel package, but this does not mean that you should miss the opportunity to dine out in some of the local Bhutan restaurants in the various cities and villages you pass.

Our Bhutan Restaurants Guide lists some restaurants that you may wish to visit during your holiday in Bhutan. Hit the marketplaces to discover the local ingredients for yourself. More information about Bhutan markets and other great places to shop can be found in our Bhutan Shopping Guide.

Food  & Cuisine in Bhutan

Traditional food, which displays strong Tibetan and Indian influences, is simple and enjoyable but invariably hot and spicy. Rice, the staple food, is served for lunch as well as dinner. It is usually accompanied by vegetable or meat dishes. These dishes are traditionally cooked with a lot of chillies making them so spicy that even tourists from India and Thailand sometimes find them too hot to handle. Most eateries in Bhutan catering to tourists cut down on the amount of chilli used, still it is better to make sure that the dish is not too hot before eating. Cheese is another ingredient commonly used in Bhutanese cuisine. A chilli cheese preparation called ema datsi (ema meaning chilli and datsi meaning cheese) is one of the most popular dishes in Bhutan. This is best avoided if you are not into spicy food.

The red rice frequently used in Bhutan adds to the visual aspect of the dishes which is important for the Bhutanese. In central Bhutan, where the altitude makes it difficult to grow rice, buckwheat is widely used. Buckwheat noodles and pancakes are commonly eaten. Corn is a favoured item in the highlands of Bhutan.

The different types of meat consumed in the country include pork, mutton, chicken, beef and yak. A variety of vegetables and fruits are also cultivated. Apple orchards are found all over Bhutan. Mushrooms are in great demand and Bhutan produces an assortment of them, some of the highly sought after ones are even exported. Dairy products, butter and cheese in particular, are important ingredients of the local diet. Spices like ginger, cardamom, garlic and turmeric are used, though of course chilli takes precedence over all others.

Kewa datsi (a dish of potatoes, cheese and chilli) and shamu datsi (a mushroom dish with cheese and chilli) are two popular Bhutanese vegetarian dishes served with rice. Fried rice, with small pieces of vegetables or meat in it, is a favourite. An Indian dish, Mutter Paneer, is relished throughout the country. During winter, different types of vegetables and meat soups are commonly consumed in Bhutan.

Drinks

The most popular drink in Bhutan is tea. Suja or butter tea, with yak butter and salt, is preferred by many. Coffee is also widely available. Ara is a local beverage brewed from rice, corn or wheat and consumed in large quantities by village folk.