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Food & Drinks in Bhutan

Bhutanese Cuisine

Diverse Culinary Scene in Urban Areas

Urban areas, particularly Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, and Phuentsholing, have witnessed a surge in cafes and restaurants, offering a variety of international cuisines such as Korean, Japanese, Indian, Nepali, Russian, and Thai. From traditional meals to snacks like momo (dumplings) and juma (sausages), the culinary scene caters to every budget.

  • Budget Restaurants: Offering traditional meals and snacks, these are affordable, with prices typically below 500 nu (around $6) per person.
  • Mid-Range Restaurants: Costing up to 1000 nu (around $12) per person, these establishments serve a range of dishes, including Thai, Indian, Chinese, and continental cuisines.
  • High-End Restaurants: With prices starting at 2000 nu (around $25), high-end restaurants, often attached to 4 and 5-star hotels, feature luxurious decor and international or fusion food prepared by specialized chefs.
  • Growing Café Culture: Cafés are gaining popularity, serving coffee, pastries, and snacks with diverse themes, making them ideal for socializing, working, or people-watching.

Bhutanese Drinks

Hospitality is a key aspect of Bhutanese culture, and offering beverages to guests is customary. Tea, including Suja (butter and salt tea) and Ngaja (sweet milk tea), is a common choice. For those seeking stronger options, ara, a traditional alcohol, is made by fermenting or distilling grains with added ingredients like butter and eggs. Local beer, whiskey (K5 and Grain Whiskey), rum, and wine are also popular.

Fine Dining in Bhutan

Fine dining has become a notable feature in Bhutan, with luxury restaurants offering traditional Bhutanese, fusion, and international cuisine against the backdrop of the Himalayas. These establishments, often found in cities like Thimphu and Paro, boast sumptuous decor and serve diverse menus, including burgers, pizza, Asian fusion, and more.

  • Four and Five-Star Hotel Restaurants: Renowned hotel chains across the country provide exquisite Bhutanese, Indian, and continental fare in glamorous settings.

Regional Cuisine

Bhutanese cuisine varies by region, with distinct ingredients and preparation methods.

  • Western Region: Known for traditional Bhutanese food, this region features white and red rice accompanied by spicy stews with local vegetables, lentils, or cheese. Tibetan influences are evident, seen in dishes like thukpa, momo dumplings, khabzey fritters, and shabalay patties.
  • Central Valley of Bumthang: Famous for buckwheat delicacies, Swiss cheese, butter, and curd.
  • Eastern Parts: Corn dishes and pungent zoedoe, comparable to blue cheese, are popular.
  • Southern Bhutan: Influenced by Indian and Nepali cuisine, with rice, roti flatbreads, lentil stews, curries, and marinated pickles.

Traditional Cuisine

Bhutanese traditional food, deeply rooted in history and culture, includes the iconic ema datsi (spicy chili and cheese) served with rice. Staples like red and white rice, maize, and buckwheat are complemented by stews, meats, and side dishes. Traditional meals are often eaten with hands and reflect the warmth and wholesomeness of Bhutanese culture.

  • Must-Try Dishes:
    • 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)
    • Momos (Dumplings)

Bhutanese cuisine, whether traditional or contemporary, provides a flavorful journey through the country’s rich cultural heritage.