While they say neighbours China, Tibet, and India have influenced Bhutanese cuisine, you would do well to remember that, like in all other components about its indigenous culture, its cuisine is still rooted in its native persuasions. Be prepared for fiery hot dishes, plenty of cheese and chilli combinations, and lots of fresh greens for health and nutrition. And you can wash it all down with the local ara.
For The Love Of Ema Datshi
We encourage you to pursue some cooking classes in the kitchen of a local host to get to the heart of Bhutanese food culture. There’s one thing you will learn quickly while travelling through Bhutan–there is no getting away from the Bhutanese love for cheese and chillies, which can be found in an array of dishes. Ema Datshi, the national dish, simply combines cheese and chillies, but it’s an addictive dish across all social borders. It even shows up on the table for all meals! They put together the dish with chillies (fresh green or dry red chillies), that are cooked with a healthy helping of the local cheese (datshi) and lots of butter. You’ll also discover, while sampling the dish around town at different places, the texture and taste of the basic dish can vary, which adds a nice twist to your sampling session! This spicy stew favours chilli peppers, onions, tomatoes and lots of cheese made from cow’s milk; its eaten with red rice You might want to sample another version which is Kewa Datshi, a combination of potatoes and Bhutanese cheese.
The Bhutanese love their mushrooms and will even camp out for days on end in a local forest during the harvest time of a favoured variety. There are over 400 varieties of mushrooms to be found in Bhutan. In Genekha village in Thimphu, they organize an annual mushroom festival in August. It also promotes the popular Tricholoma Matsutake, locally known as Sangay Shamu or Buddha mushroom. It is beloved for its aroma and succulence. Join your local host and his friends in a mushroom foraging expedition and learn all about mushrooms, edible or otherwise. You can also find the local markets selling these popular mushrooms in the season in Thimphu. Learn how to cook up a yummy dish of Shamu Datshi, the third staple cheese dish from a Bhutanese kitchen.
Ara By The Glassful
After all that talk about fiery dishes and cheesy diversions, it might be a good time to investigate the makings of the local brew known as ara. To guide you through the production of this home-grown brew, there is farmer Ap Passang who will share with you his personal version of making ara. Ap Passang’s home at the nearby Sirigang Village is the place to go to uncover the secrets of making this heady brew which is made from rice, millet, or wheat; it can be distilled or fermented, depending on your choice. Ara has quite a kick, so you might want to be careful as you compete by the glassful with the local lads, who are quite adept at holding their liquor!
There are many other yummy, intriguing, inventive dishes being turned out in a Bhutanese kitchen. On your next visit to the country make sure a kitchen adventure is on your bucket list!