International Cooking: Food from Bhutan

I had heard of Bhutan before this challenge, but I wasn’t sure where it was. I was pleased to discover that food from Bhutan includes lots of chilies and cheese, a delicious combination! Unfortunately, no one from Bhutan replied to my Reddit post asking about their cuisine, so I had to rely on my own research.

Bhutan is located in the Himalayas, a mountainous region between China and India. The country’s highest peak, Gangkhar Puensum, is the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.

Unfortunately, a fire in the ancient capital Punakha destroyed most of Bhutan’s early records in 1827, so a lot of their early history is unknown.

There is evidence to suggest the region has been inhabited since at least 2000 BC. Buddhism was introduced in the 7th century, and eventually came to heavily influence the country’s political development. It wasn’t until the early 17th century that the fiefdoms that made up Bhutan were unified by a Tibetan lama and military leader.

In 2008, Bhutan completed a change from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. This means that while the country still has a king, the executive power is controlled by the cabinet under the Prime Minister’s leadership.

Bhutan ranks well when it comes to economic freedom, peace, and lack of corruption. It also has one of the largest water reserves for hydropower in the world. However, the country is currently threatened by melting glaciers caused by climate change.

What Do People Eat in Bhutan?

Interestingly enough, I feel that the cuisine of Bhutan only seems to have minor influences from China and India. There are dumplings, rice, and noodles, and you could say that the chilies are a result of Indian or Chinese influence (I don’t know if that’s true) but that’s about it.

There’s definitely a common theme in many of the dishes I came across, in that chilies and cheese are very popular, often in the same dish!

Dairy is widely consumed in Bhutan, especially butter and cheese from yaks and cows. Datshi is a common cheese used in cooking, made from either cow or yak milk. There are many other popular Bhutanese cheeses too. One yak milk cheese, called chugo or chhurpi, is so hard that it can take half an hour to chew through. Bhutanese people eat it kind of like chewing gum, keeping a piece in their mouth as they go about their day.

Red rice is a common meal accompaniment in Bhutan, perhaps because it is the only type of rice that can grow at high altitudes. Buckwheat and maize can also often be found in Bhutanese meals.

As far as meat goes, you can find chicken, yak, beef, pork, and lamb. Beef and pork are often dried, and eaten as is or used in stews.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Bhutanese dishes I didn’t make!

Gondo Datshi (Scrambled Eggs with Butter and Cheese)

Gondo Datshi

This is just scrambled eggs cooked in a lot of butter, with feta cheese, garlic, and chili flakes mixed in. In Bhutan, this would be made with datshi instead of feta, and there would be a lot more butter. I used the recipe from Druk Girl as a guide. I only made a single serving, using 2 eggs, 2 ounces of feta and 3 tablespoons of butter (which sounds like a lot but is much less than the recipe calls for).

Most meals in Bhutan seem to be served with rice, so that is how I ate my gondo datshi. In Bhutan, it would most likely be red rice, but I didn’t try buying that since I already have way too many kinds of rice right now.

As you might imagine, this was delicious, but definitely not something one should eat on a regular basis!

Puta (Buckwheat Noodles)

Puta Buckwheat Noodles

In Bhutan, puta are simply noodles made from buckwheat. They are often stir-fried and seasoned with salt and Sichuan pepper. I did not make the noodles by hand; I don’t have a pasta machine and I didn’t have much faith in me creating anything close to respectable noodles without one. Instead, I used soba noodles, which are Japanese noodles also made from buckwheat. For all I know, soba and puta are technically the same thing. I tried Googling it, but you apparently have to be careful when you Google ‘puta’ as it has a very different meaning in some languages!

I followed a recipe from Romandian Masala which combined the noodles with egg, chili, soy sauce, and green onions. Instead of sprinkling with sesame seeds, I used ground Sichuan pepper. These noodles were delicious!

Jasha Maroo (Chicken Stew)

Jasha Maroo

Jasha maroo is a spicy chicken stew, with garlic, shallots, ginger, leek, tomato, and chili, and garnished with cilantro. I thought it seemed overly simple, and may not have a lot of flavor (aside from being spicy). However, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was delicious! It also wasn’t too heavy, which is a good thing since it’s summer here. I followed the recipe from What To Cook Today but I used serrano chilies instead of red ones since I can never seem to find those. As suggested, I served with rice.

Momos with Ezay (Dumplings with Spicy Sauce)

Momos with Ezay

Momos are dumplings that are popular in Bhutan, Nepal, and the surrounding regions. It appears they originally came from Tibet. Momos can have a variety of fillings, such as meat, vegetables, or cheese. In Bhutan, cheese seems to be a popular component of many meals, so I decided to make cheese and vegetable momos. I followed the recipe from The Food Hog, only I added feta cheese to the filling mix. I think I added about 4 ounces, but I was really just adding enough until it ‘looked’ right.

Ezay is a condiment made of chilies that comes in many variations and is served as an appetizer or side dish. It is also common to serve with momos, so that’s what I decided to do. I used the recipe from Druk Girl, which includes dried red chilies, tomato, onion, garlic, and ginger. Ezay can also be made with green chilies, or it can include datshi.

My momos did not come out looking as pretty as the ones in the recipe photos, but they tasted really good. The ezay was outstanding. I can see why people in Bhutan eat it with just about everything; it would make anything taste better!

Ema Datshi (Chilies and Cheese)

Ema Datshi

Ema datshi is a mix of chilies and cheese, and it’s Bhutan’s national dish. There are many variations, some including other vegetables, and it can be thick or thin. It’s usually served with rice, and I served it with the below phaksha paa and rice. I did not eat this whole bowl; I think we got about 5 small side-dish servings out of it.

Instead of datshi, I used a mix of feta and American cheese in an attempt to get both a flavor close to datshi and a smooth consistency. I feel like this worked pretty well.

I followed the recipe from World Travel Chef, though I halved it. For the chilies, I used jalapenos, since I wanted to make sure it didn’t end up being too spicy. In the end, it was definitely spicy, but not overwhelmingly so, and it was delicious. I think it would be really good with bread, so perhaps I’ll make it again someday and try that.

Phaksha Paa (Spicy Pork Stew)

Phaksha Paa

Phaksha paa is a pork stew, and the version I made included onion, daikon (white radish), chilies, bok choy, bell pepper, and ginger. There was supposed to be pork jerky too, but I couldn’t find any, and I hadn’t thought to try and obtain some online. In Bhutan, this is actually made with dried pork. Instead, I ended up just using some pork shoulder.

I was a bit unsure about this, because I don’t always love radishes in things, and I’d only eaten daikon before in kimchi. But the end result was really good. The pork was tender and the stew was spicy, but not too spicy.

I used the recipe from Mad Gourmet Adventures, and aside from omitting the pork jerky, I only used 1 head of bok choy. I’m pretty sure the recipe is actually referring to baby bok choy, because the three heads they were asking for would have been way too much.

Goen Hogay (Cucumber Salad)

Goen Hogay

Goen hogay is a simple cucumber salad, which also includes tomato, onion, datshi (in my case, feta), cilantro, chili, green onions, and Sichuan pepper. I got the recipe from From The Wet Market but I just used a jalapeno instead of the red chilies called for. This made a nice simple side for some of the spicy Bhutanese dishes. Despite the jalapeno and Sichuan pepper, it wasn’t really spicy itself.

Suja Tea

Suja Tea

Suja tea is essentially just tea with butter mixed in. In Bhutan, it would typically be yak butter, but I had to settle for the regular cow kind. I used the recipe from Foreign Fork as a guide, but I only made one serving and was not exact with the measurements. I also used a mix of milk and heavy cream instead of half and half, which I never have, and regular salt instead of Himalayan salt.

This was fine, I guess, but it mostly just tasted like a kind of heavy, rich cup of tea. I love butter but I’m not sure I need it in my tea!

  • Shamu datshi – a stew made from mushrooms and chilies, with cheese added at the end.
  • Kewa datshi – a stew made from potatoes, chilies, and cheese. This is usually not as spicy as other Bhutanese dishes. It’s a relatively new dish, since potato consumption didn’t take off until the 1970s.
  • Hoentay – dumplings that are similar to momos, except they are made with buckwheat dough. The filling is usually a mixture of spinach or turnip leaves and cheese.

Final Thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised by the delicious food from Bhutan. Everything was really good, even the dishes I was a little apprehensive about. I think my favorites were the gondo datshi, the ema datshi, and the momos with ezay. The ezay in particular was amazing and I can see myself making it again to go with all kinds of things.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Bolivia.

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