A landlocked nation bordering East and South Asia, Bhutan has an unexpected flair for unique food. The ancient culture only opened its gates to outsiders in 1974, so its cuisine has almost completely evolved isolated from its neighboring nations. Here’s a sneak peek into Bhutan’s eclectic gastronomy.
Before we dive into a selection of Bhutanese delicacies, let’s talk about its etiquettes. Even more significant than the exotic ingredients and flavor palette is the dining etiquettes.
The country has a unique list of customary rules to remember when eating. When offered food, for instance, you are supposed to say meshumeshu while covering your mouth as refusing the offer. You can accept it on second or third offer. Also, before eating, a short prayer is said and a small piece of food is placed on the floor as an offering to spirits.
Unlike in most South Eastern and Eastern countries, the food is eaten with hands and you are usually sitting cross legged on the floor. However, as the country modernizes, increasing number of families have started using cutlery and sit at tables. But as always in Asian countries, dining is always a family style buffet where you can sample a bit of every dish.
As a whole, Bhutanese cuisine is relatively spicy with chilies used in almost every dish. In fact, it is easy to assume that people do not eat a dish in Bhutan unless it’s spicy.
So, Naturally, Bhutan’s national dish in an incredibly spicy mix of chilies and local dish called Datshi. The dish, which full name is Ema Datshi, has several variations with added green beans, mushrooms, and potatoes. However, the most important aspect is the spicy flavor that can ignite a foreigner’s taste buds.
Momos may not be the country’s national dish, but it sure tops Datshi and everything else in terms of popularity. If you are 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 with pork, beef, or vegetable fillings. At first, they might look similar to Chinese steamed dumplings but their fillings are far more elaborate, especially with the generous use of cheese in the dish. Rare in majority of gastronomic cultures in Asia, Bhutanese cuisine features a lot of cheese. It is usually incorporated in every dish.
While in Bhutan, on numerous occasions, you will also be offered Sura, a slated milk butter tea which is served in social situations. It is a bit of an acquired taste because of its saltiness but when served after a tiring day of sightseeing, it is the perfect complement to an evening in.
Another wildly popular Bhutanese dish that is also the staple food here is the country’s red rice. The rice is a medium-grain rice, and when its cooked it turns a pale pink color with a soft, slightly, sticky textures. It is typically eaten with vegetable curries and lentil soup like in Nepal and India.
With its unique position in Asia, this tiny Himalayan nation offers a wide selection of traditional cuisines that can excite a visitor’s palate with its unique character. Overall, it is safe to say that Bhutanese food offers a one-of-a-kind twist on traditional Asian dishes like rice and dumplings. It is worth a visit to this small country for a taste of its magnificent culinary culture alone.