A friend said “We will have one Shamu datshi, ema datshi and Puta. But What’s that?” “It is dry soba noodles” replied the waitress “Oooh! I love soba noodles get that” I bolted. “And can we also have some veg cheese momos, suja and steamed rice.” “Sure.” smiled the waitress. 20 minutes later there sat 3 satisfied girls in Bhutan.
Bhutanese food, it took as a while before we could eat some real Bhutanese food. Every hotel we stayed in served Indian food. In fact, the receptionist at the hotel in Punakha told us gloatingly “We serve all kinds of food. But, Indian food is our speciality.” No complaints though, the Indian food sure was soul satisfyingly yummy. But we wanted to try some Bhutanese food. And like always I have a list of Vegetarian dishes you must try. If you are looking for the true Bhutanese experience.
- Ema Datshi
Ema means chilly and Datshi means cheese. Simply put chilli and cheese. It may as well be the national dish of Bhutan, for they eat this with every meal! Made with either fresh chilli or dried chilli, tonnes of cheese and dollops of butter best eaten with rice. You haven’t been to Bhutan if you haven’t tried this.
- Shamu Datshi
My personal favourite! And probably the first thing I tried at home after coming back from Bhutan. By now you know Datshi means cheese and Shamu means mushroom. Yes, you guessed it right. This one is Mushroom and cheese. I was a bit sceptical about how will it taste with steamed rice for as an Indian my palette likes a zillion spices! But to my surprise, it was love at first bite!
- Kewa Datshi
One cannot go wrong with Potato and Cheese. Kewa means Potato, this one like any other datshi is sauteed in dollops of butter and mixed with datshi cheese and tomato goes perfectly well with steamed rice.
Cold Soba noodles tossed in mustard oil with herbs and seasoning. These noodles made with the extremely nutritious grain Buckwheat. Buckwheat is a common grain in Bhutan especially the Bumthang region (unfortunately we couldn’t visit Bumthang. But ate all the vegetarian delicacies from the region).
Hantey type of a momo and a delicacy from the Ha region. It was one of the must-try dishes on my list. The outer covering is made of Buckwheat and the filling is a paste of turnips, carrots, spinach and cheese. Like any other momo, it can be either steamed or fried and goes well with ezay (Bhutanese chilli sauce). If you are in Paro head to My Kinda Place, it is in the heart of Paro town. The owner will whip up a fresh batch just for you and is extremely welcoming.
Speaking of momos, you also get the usual momos in Bhutan. Apart from the vegetarian version which has grated cabbage and onions you can also find the chilli cheese, spinach and cheese, vegetable cheese and just cheese versions of the same. Again you can either have fried or steamed momos with ezay. Do go to the Takeaway cafe in Paro for the yummiest fried veg momos.
Was also on the top of my must-try dishes in Bhutan. This one here is a drink, Bhutanese butter tea. It is quite mind-boggling because it is far from any sort of tea you have ever had. For starters, it has butter and salt! To me, it tastes like a soup, extremely buttery soup. You can find it everywhere, I had it at Acho Selpon Restaurant in Thimpu with some delicious veg cheese momos.
- Goyen Hogey
I love salads and it is the best way to taste some the fresh produces from a country. Goyen Hogey is probably the only kind of local salad you will find in Bhutan. It is cucumber and onions tossed in chilli flakes, coriander leaves, sichuan pepper, ginger and some datshi cheese. Quite a refreshing salad with a tinge of chilli.
An extremely rich Bhutanese soup. Made with milk, butter, cheese and spinach or turnip leaves. The buttery flavour is quite overpowering but what the hell! When you are in a cold climate you gotta do what you got to do!
Khatem is nothing but karela or bitter melon also known as bitter gourd. DO NOT SKIP onto the next point. Please. I had tasted karela once in my life and sworn to never eat it ever again. Then I had it in Bhutan because it was the only vegetable that night and I must say I loved it! Okay ‘love’ may be a bit much. I sure liked it enough to have it again. Bitter gourd is cut in thin round slices and fried in butter, some places mix it with potato. It tastes like a snack. Salty karela chips if you may call it. I know, I know, it is an acquired taste. But while you are at it give this one a shot mix it with some hot dal and steamed rice. Do tell me if your thoughts about karela changed after.
Now that you know the top 10 vegetarian dishes to try while in Bhutan you must be thinking what about the drinks? Here is what you should try
- Zumzim: A peach wine. Extremely yummy. You would feel almost as if you are drinking sweet peach juice. But wait till it hits you. Oh, and it hits you hard! Perfect for that fun karaoke hopping. It costs about 240 Nu in a bar.
- Red Panda: Bhutanese unfiltered beer. My personal favourite. Originally brewed in Bhumthang, so if you are visiting that region do try it on tap. If you are not then don’t worry with a bit of effort you can find it in Paro. Most places keep it on display-only. I was lucky to find it at Park 76 in Paro, a club that you must-visit! Red Panda costs 250 Nu in a bar.
- 11000: Wildly drank beer in Bhutan. Well definitely not my favourite, but since Red Panda was not available often you could make do with this. It is 200 Nu in bars.
- Ara: Last but not least. Ara, the local wine. It is a clear wine, as strong as it can get. We did not find it in the bar menu. But, our driver and guide got some for us so I wouldn’t know how much does it cost. But, while you are in Bhutan do try it out.
All these beverages are obviously at a much cheaper rate in wine shops. So if you are on a budget trip I would say stack it up, grab some momos and have a picnic. There is a lot of open land in Bhutan. Just do not litter.
Making that list got me salivating! Wish I could just walk into a cafe and order plate of steamed momos and a Red panda. Perhaps stare at the mighty mountains as I wait. Alas! All I have is some mushroom, Amul cheese and butter. Time to make a datshi!