Vegging out

Bhutan is not the hottest destination for food lovers, but there are ways to spice up what's on offer

Though tourists to Bhutan admire its unique culture and wonderfully elaborate architecture, they may be a bit surprised to learn that Bhutanese cuisine is simple and rather monotonous.

"Veg or non-veg?" All tourists flying into Bhutan will be stunned by this question on board Bhutan's national carrier Druk Air when the cabin crew offer you the lunch option. As Bhutan is a country with strong faith in Mahayana Buddhism, the local people avoid slaughtering other living creatures. This is a large part of why the Bhutanese menu is heavy on vegetarian options.

A dish you will regularly come cross is ema datshi. In the Dzongkha language "ema" means chilli and "datshi" means cheese. Bhutan's national dish, this fiery concoction of green peppers and cheese, is a regular in most Bhutanese people's diets.

Milk tea will be served with various kinds of cereal.

Though it is full of cheese, this dish is spicy _ those who normally do not like spicy food will feel its effects next morning. The Bhutanese sometimes add vegetables, such as cauliflower, to make it less spicy.

If ema datshi is not hot enough for you, aize may be the next stop. Aize is a chilli paste, quite similar to the ones found in Thailand. Fresh chilli is pounded with red onion and other seasoning. Having aize with other items, such as meat or vegetable dishes, will help complement the flavour.

Ema datshi is often accompanied by maize or Bhutanese red rice. The red rice of Bhutan is in the colour of pale brown with a nutty taste. It is the only variety of rice that can grow in the high Himalayan altitudes of Bhutan.

Another dish you will find around is kewa datshi, or potato and cheese. Potatoes are cut into small pieces and cooked with oil, salt, red onion, chilli and finally cheese.

The cheese in Bhutan is normally home-made from the milk of cows or yaks. The fat will be removed from the milk to make butter, and the remaining milk without fat is used to make the cheese. After the cheese is made, a watery milk is left over, which is used as a soup that can be taken with rice. No part of the milk is wasted.

Watery milk is sometimes used to make milk tea, soja, generally served before meals. It tastes like diluted milk with tea, with a salty flavour. It is normally served with various kinds of crunchy cereal.

Bhutanese people are not all vegetarian, they have meat too. Their diet includes chicken, yak, beef, pork and mutton. But Bhutanese do not kill. All meats are imported, mostly from India, thus their prices are rather expensive. Other foods you can enjoy in Bhutan include jasha maru, a curry of finely chopped chicken cooked with garlic onion tomatoes and chilli, and phaksha pa, pork stewed with mooli and finished with bok choy, ginger and chillies. Cuisines from neighbouring countries are widely found as well such as momo (Tibetan dumplings) and various styles of Indian curry.

When offered food, you should say "meshu meshu" and cover your mouth with your hands in refusal according to Bhutanese manners, and then give in on the second or third offer.

Bhutanese foods are served in buffet style.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Peerawat Jariyasombat
Position: Travel Reporter