Vegetarian food in Bhutan

A Vegetarian travelling in Bhutan!

Before travelling to Bhutan, as a vegetarian, I was anxious. Will I find vegetarian food options? Will I find them everywhere? Will it be that one boring dish in every menu? After all, we were to spend nearly two weeks travelling through the dragon kingdom.

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls! Bhutan served awesome mouth watering vegetarian food! Vegetarian food is ubiquitous and you will find good options in almost every eating joint. Much of Bhutan thrives on organic produce, though the range of vegetables they locally produce and consume is a limited fare. The beautiful Himalayan kingdom is big on cheese though. No dish is complete without ‘Datshi’. 

I fell in love with the Bhutanese cuisine — simple and delectable. I found vegetarian cuisine to be spartan yet mainstream. Two ingredients are ubiquitous- chilies and cheese. In Bhutanese, chilies are called Ema and Cheese is called Datshi. You will hardly have a dish that does not hero one of these ingredients. 

Must try vegetarian delights of Bhutan

The Datshi brothers (married to Ema, Kewa, Mushroom and Saag) are the first family in the Dragon kingdom.

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Ema Datshi (the national dish of Bhutan) – Chilli and Cheese gravy

Ema Datshi (the national dish of Bhutan) - Chilli and Cheese gravy
Ema Datshi (the national dish of Bhutan) – Chilli and Cheese gravy

The mouth watering chilli cheese gravy or dry preparation is the national dish of Bhutan. It is a dish I fell in love with. I had it every day. I was told that is what Bhutanese people have everyday. The hot flavors of chilli so beautifully wedded to the smooth and bland taste of cheese. Get me some red rice and a cup full of ema datshi and I am ready for a one way ticket to space. Yummmmmmm!

Kewa Datshi – Potato and cheese gravy

The famous datshi dish done with starchy potatoes. Cheese, potatoes, onions and tomatoes. These friendly ingredients come together for a starchy and creamy melange. Hot piping Kewa Datshi along with rice or buckwheat noodles are an absolute treat. 

Shamu Datshi – Mushroom and cheese gravy

Shamu Datshi Mushroom datshi
Shamu Datshi or Mushroom datshi

A third staple cheese dish in Bhutanese food is shamu datshi, cheese with mushrooms. Being a chili addict, ema datshi is my personal favorite variation of a Bhutanese veggie cheese dish, but shamu datshi was a close second. The mushrooms, which can be any variety of local Bhutanese Himalayan mushroom, are again, cooked into a cheesy saucy stew along with butter. Just like with all the other variations of Bhutanese datshi, you eat shamu datshi along with rice.

Saag Datshi – Spinach and cheese gravy

Saag Datshi

The fourth of the datshi brothers. Spinach and cheese bring in a refreshing green revolution to the dairy heavy dish. The fresh flavors of spinach ride along the creamy texture of cheese to make this an absolute comfort food while you are in Bhutan. I can bet by the third day you would want one meal of Saag Datshi with some red rice to make you feel comforted.

Hoentay 

The delicacy of the Haa Valley with blessing of the local diety Ap Chungdu. A close cousin to momos – with fillings of sun dried turnpin or spinach with cheese wrapped in a buckwheat dough. This one is special. The taste will stay with you for life. Unique, balanced and smack in the middle of culinary magic. No matter what you do, please do indulge in a plateful of Hoentay. 

Puta – Buckwheat noodles

buckwheat noodle

The sumptuous noodles of Bhutan – these buckwheat lovelys are first boiled and then stir fried before being served. They go well with bhutaneese vegetarian dishes and break the monotony of red rice when you have had too much.

Ezay

Ezay, the chili chutney from Bhutan
Ezay

If there is one dish that you will find in every Bhutaneese meal spread, then it is the hot hot Ezay. And almost every ezay will be a tad bit different – just like the fingerprints of the chefs who make them. It is basically Bhutaneese chilli chutney – can range from dry to gravy. Super hot to moderate. No matter what dish you are eating just be liberal with ezay. 

If you are in the munching mood, here are some snacks and beverages to consider 

Churpi – dried Yak cheese

Churpi is dried yak cheese that is more than a snack, it is a pastime or even a hobby. It takes anywhere between 30 minutes to a couple of hours to chew through a small piece. Not only a Bhutaneese speciality, this one is a favourite in the higher climes of Himalayas across Tibet, India and Nepal.

Zaow – the crispy rice quick eats

Humble crispy puffed rice that are mildly salted and sometimes (only sometimes) served with a dollop of hand churned butter. Nothing fancy here. Just plain good old crunchiness and fun.

Suja – rose colored butter tea

Suja, the Bhutaneese salty butter tea
Suja, the Bhutaneese salty butter tea

The darling Bhutanese salted butter tea. Have it once and you will want to have it everyday with every meal. Some say it is an acquired taste, well I seem to have acquired it the day I landed. Suja has a beautiful brownish-pink colour and has butter instead of milk, salt instead of sugar. Good high fat drink to counter the high mountain winter cold. 

I brought back Suja tea leaves to Bangalore (India) and savour the concoction once in a while.

Naja – Now, if you want the contemporary milk and sugar tea, it goes by the name.

We also found Nepalese and East Indian cuisine intermingling with the Bhutanese which was rather interesting. But as someone I work with would say, “Can’t complain!”

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