We’ll start off with the most famous Bhutanese food of them all: ema datshi, which is chilies and cheese.
You’ll eat ema datshi not only everyday when you’re in Bhutan, but likely for just about every meal when you’re in Bhutan. The chilies, which can be either fresh green chilies or dry red chilies, are sliced lengthwise, and cooked with datshi, which is local Bhutanese cheese, and plenty of butter for good measure.
Although the basic ingredients remain the same, the more you eat ema datshi, the more you’ll realize that no two ema datshi’s are the same: every cook has their own version, some being lighter or more watery, others being richer and more sticky with cheese.
Kewa is potato, so kewa datshi is potatoes and Bhutanese cheese. It surprised me by how similar kewa datshi is to a dish similar to scalloped potatoes.
The potatoes are typically sliced into thin pieces, then sautéed down with cheese and lots of butter. Sometimes cooks will toss in a few chilies or tomatoes, but usually, this is a Bhutanese dish that’s pretty mild, but just focuses on potatoes and cheese.
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.
If you haven’t already noticed, there’s just about no way you can go to Bhutan and eat Bhutanese food without eating lots of cheese. Datshi will probably one of the first words you learn in Dzongkha.
Shakam is Bhutanese dried beef, which is among the most famous of meats. The beef is dried and preserved so it tastes similar to beef jerky, but thicker, and not quite completely dehydrated.
For shakam datshi, dried beef is cut into bite sized pieces and simmered with cheese and butter. What a combo this is.
Shakam paa is a wonderful Bhutanese food of dried beef cooked with dried chilies and sometimes slices of radish.
During my month staying in Bhutan, shakam paa quickly became one of my favorite protein dishes of choice. Again, the beef is slightly chewy from being dried and preserved, and it’s combined with lots of dry chilies.
One thing I loved about Bhutanese cooking is how the chilies are just tossed in whole — don’t worry about slicing things up and making them look pretty — you get the whole chilies in Bhutan, amazing.
Along with beef and yak, pork is also widely loved throughout Bhutan, perhaps the most of all meats.
For phaksha paa, slices of pork are stir fried with whole red dry chilies and sometimes some mountain vegetables as well. The result is another staple Bhutanese dish that goes great with rice and mixed in with some datshi dishes.
Do you love bacon? Sikam paa is like bacon on the next level, and from my experience, this is a dish that many Bhutanese love with passion.
You’ll see strands of half transparent pork belly hanging in the sun to dry — that’s sikam. The pork, which has quite an impressive ratio of fat, is dried in the sun. For sikam paa, the dried pork belly is then is fried up with dried chilies.
I have to admit, sikam paa was pushing my oily food limits meter when I was in Bhutan. But a small piece at any meal, plus a bunch of the dry chilies, was what I most enjoyed about this famous Bhutanese dish.
If there’s a meat that can be argued as better than dried beef, it’s dried yak meat. Yak is similar tasting to beef, but it has a little bit of a different fragrance (without being too gamey), and it supposedly is quite nutritional.
For yaksha shakam, the yak meat is dried into a jerky like meat and it can be cooked in a number of different ways. One of the best versions of dried yak meat that I ate in Bhutan was dried yak cut up and cooked with fermented yak cheese. It was a Bhutanese dish of dreams.
Juma is a type of common Bhutanese sausage made with minced meat, rice, and some light spices all filled into an intestines wrapper.
The first thing I could taste on my first bite of juma was the wonderful citrusy zing of Sichuan pepper. Other than that, most versions of Bhutanese juma I tasted were a little plain tasting, but very meaty