Vegetarian Food in Bhutan

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A friend exclaimed, “We will have one Shamu datshi, ema datshi, and Puta. But what’s that?” I eagerly asked the waitress, “It is dry soba noodles,” she replied. “Oooh! I love soba noodles, get that!” I exclaimed. “And can we also have some veg cheese momos, suja, and steamed rice?” I added. “Sure,” smiled the waitress. Twenty minutes later, three satisfied girls sat immersed in the flavours of Bhutan.

Bhutanese food – a journey that required patience before we could savour some authentic Bhutanese cuisine. I know this sounds bizarre! But our hotel experiences were filled with Indian dishes. The receptionist at the Punakha Hotel proudly declared, “We serve all kinds of food. But, Indian food is our speciality.” No complaints; Indian cuisine was undeniably delicious. However, the craving for true Bhutanese flavours persisted. So, I took on the mission to avoid eating at the hotels and look for some of the best vegetarian dishes in Bhutan. Here’s my compilation of must-try vegetarian delights and popular drinks in Bhutan for an authentic Bhutanese experience.

Vegetarian Food in Bhutan

  1. Ema Datshi: Ema, meaning chilly, and Datshi, meaning cheese, unite in this national Bhutanese dish. Whether with fresh or dried chillies, combined with tons of cheese and dollops of butter, it’s best enjoyed with rice. A Bhutanese meal isn’t complete without savouring Ema Datshi.
  2. Shamu Datshi: My personal favourite, Shamu Datshi, is a delightful fusion of mushrooms and cheese. Despite my initial scepticism about pairing it with steamed rice, it turned out to be love at first bite!
  3. Kewa Datshi: Potatoes and cheese create a symphony in Kewa Datshi. Sautéed in butter mixed with datshi cheese and tomatoes, this dish is a perfect accompaniment to steamed rice.
  4. Puta: Cold Soba noodles, locally known as Puta, are tossed in mustard oil with herbs and seasoning. Made with the nutritious grain Buckwheat, these noodles offer a unique culinary experience.
  5. Hantey: Hantey, a momo variant from the Ha region, features a buckwheat outer covering and a filling of turnips, carrots, spinach, and cheese. Steamed or fried, it pairs well with ezay, Bhutanese chilli sauce.
  6. Momo: Traditional momos come in various vegetarian versions, including grated cabbage and onions, chilli cheese, spinach and cheese, vegetable cheese, and just cheese. Head to Takeaway Cafe in Paro for the yummiest fried veg momos.
  7. Suja: Suja, Bhutanese butter tea, is a mind-boggling concoction with butter and salt, resembling more of a buttery soup than tea. Enjoy it with delicious veg cheese momos, as I did at Acho Selpon Restaurant in Thimpu.
  8. Goyen Hogey: Goyen Hogey, the local salad, features cucumber and onions tossed in chilli flakes, coriander leaves, Sichuan pepper, ginger, and datshi cheese. A refreshing salad with a hint of chilli.
  9. Jaju: Jaju, an extremely rich Bhutanese soup, combines milk, butter, cheese, and spinach or turnip leaves. The buttery flavour may be overpowering, but it’s a comforting treat in the cold Bhutanese climate.
  10. Khatem: Khatem, or bitter melon, takes an unexpected turn. Thinly sliced and fried in butter, this acquired taste turns into a delightful snack. Try it mixed with hot dal and steamed rice, and thank me later!

Now that you know the top 10 vegetarian food in Bhutan you must be thinking what about the popular drinks from Bhutan? Here is what you should try.

  1. Zumzin Peach: Zumzin Peach, a peach wine, starts sweet but surprises with a punch. Ideal for lively karaoke nights, it costs about 240 Nu in a bar.
  2. Red Panda: Brewed in Bhumthang, Red Panda is an unfiltered beer that captures the essence of Bhutanese brewing. If visiting Bhumthang, try it on tap, or find it in Paro for a taste of Bhutanese craft.
  3. 11000: 11000, a widely consumed beer in Bhutan, may not be a personal favourite, but it serves as a backup when Red Panda isn’t available. It’s priced at 200 Nu in bars.
  4. Ara: Ara, the local wine, is a clear, potent elixir. While not found on bar menus, seek it through local contacts for a genuine Bhutanese wine experience.

Pro Tip: These beverages are more budget-friendly in wine shops. If you’re on a budget trip, stock up, grab some momos, and enjoy a picnic in Bhutan’s open lands. Remember, don’t litter!

I can’t wait for the day when I can try some steamed momos and a Red Panda overlooking the stunning landscape of Bhutan. Until then, let’s recreate the magic with some mushrooms, Amul cheese, and butter right here at home.

Planning a trip to Bhutan? Read also:

Bhutan Travel Guide

Gangtey (Phobjika) Valley Travel Guide


Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey Into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa

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