My Bhutan Food Adventure | MF Travels
As I sit and reminisce about my last week out of the country, I’m only just coming to terms with the difference in the quality of life I had been living in Bhutan and Bombay. While there, I was hopping from a monastery to a market in 10°C weather, here, I’m downing coffee after coffee in 35°C weather, to get me through the day. Thinking about my Bhutan adventure feels almost bitter-sweet, because I wish I was writing this from there, sitting in a log cabin near a fireplace and sipping on chai. I’m filled with nothing but positive memories, anecdotes and positive energy from my brief time in The Kingdom of Bhutan.
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a humble country nestled on the east of the Himalayas, between India, Nepal and China. To reach, I had to fly to Guwahati and switch to Druk Airlines (Bhutan’s national airline), to reach Paro, Bhutan in a quick span of 30 minutes. Our one week was divided into four towns or villages, namely Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Gangtey Valley.
Every time I’m planning a holiday, I make a list of restaurants to visit. Soon after arriving, I learnt that Bhutanese food is very simple, and revolves around the same few ingredients. They don’t eat any kind of bread as part of their diet, but stick to rice instead. Along with their rice, they eat vegetables that are typically cooked in a cheese sauce with red chilies. They only have a few options available in standard restaurants – Kewa Datshi (potatoes, chilies, cheese), Shamu Datshi (mushrooms, chilies, cheese), and Ema Datshi (chilies and cheese).
While most of the restaurants have the same menu throughout Bhutan, I reall enjoyed Sonam Trophel in Paro, and Zombala and Druk Kitchen in Thimphu. You can only really head out for a meal in Paro and Thimphu, them being proper towns. In Punakha and Gangtey Valley, which are villages, there isn’t much scope to be out and about for dinner, so I’d eat the wholesome preparations of the hotels or home-stays themselves.
My favourite Bhutanese dish has to be the Shamu Datshi. I have never eaten tastier mushrooms than the ones available in Bhutan, and had to bring some back home with me. I was surprised to discover that every vegetable and meat available in Bhutan is organic! Every vegetable just tasted richer that it usually does to me. So many times, I ate a bowl full of steamed vegetables (broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, beans and cabbage) as an accompaniment to my meal. The vegetables didn’t need any masalas or marinades to taste so spectacular, they did the job by themselves. For someone like me, who often finds that a meal is incomplete without meat in it, I found myself going for more vegetarian meals than non-vegetarian, all thanks to the sheer quality of the produce here.
Another aspect of my time eating in Bhutan that I enjoyed thoroughly were the momos. So. Many. Momos. Chicken is not a popular meat in Bhutan, so you’ll rarely find it. Instead, pork and beef are the go-to options. I don’t know how many momos are one too many, but let’s just say that I ate a shocking number of pork and cheese momos while there. Momos are available in most restaurants, but Momo Corner specialises in them, and was one of my favourite spots to eat at.
To fight the biting winter, many times I’d eat a warm bowl of thukpa (noodle soup) and other times I’d resort to suja, a local butter tea. After making it to Chelela pass, which is this highest motorable point in Bhutan at 4000 meters above sea level, there are a few small food trucks that serve tea, coffee and snacks. I just had to go for a cheeky little bowl of hot Maggi which became cold within minutes thanks to the 6°C temperature!
While most restaurants have the same standard across the country, Paro and Thimphu have a good number of small cafes that serve freshly roasted coffee and divine desserts if you’re looking for a change. In Paro, I recommend the cheesecake at Mountain Cafe and the divine coffee at Champaca Cafe, both located on the same market road, just a few blocks apart.
Eat in Bhutan with an open mind, because you won’t always find ingredients or flavours that you’re familiar with. Bhutan is a gorgeous and surreal country, and its food just happens to be an incredible part of the experience. So, go, make those pending holiday plans now! Here’s wishing you lots of love and momos on your future trip to Bhutan!