Bhutanese cuisine

Partaking in a traditional Bhutanese meal: What to expect

Author: TourGenie
Date: 2022-11-18

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Food in a new country can be daunting if we don’t have an experimental palate. Although food is quite important, we don’t quite make it a deal breaker when we want to visit a new country. But if you’re a finicky eater, it’s good to know what you’re getting into otherwise you might want to pack a few snacks like instant noodles that can get you through your visit.

If Bhutan is on the cards for you, then here’s a low-down on what to expect cuisine-wise in this small Himalayan Buddhist kingdom. 


Most of Bhutan, a whopping 71% of it, is under forest cover. Less than 8% of the land is arable and is used in cultivating rice, wheat, and other minor cereal crops. So when in Bhutan, you can expect a cuisine that centres around just a few ingredients, the most common being rice, chilli, dairy, and yak meat (all meat is imported).   

At every meal, be prepared to see red rice, the staple dish, accompanied by curries and pickles. And what ties all of these separate dishes together? Chillies! They are put in almost everything. And Bhutanese dishes are wholesome and hearty all thanks to the chillies and cheese that also help in combating the cold at high altitudes. 

We recently visited a Bhutanese restaurant in Gangtok to partake in a traditional Bhutanese meal just to get an idea of what might be served on our future visit to Bhutan. 

It’s best to choose a rice meal to taste all the components of the cuisine and then add other dishes to it, so we chose shakam paa rice. This comprised rice served with dried beef, black dal, and a pickle. We ordered more side dishes to this such as kewa datchi, shamu datchi, and goep (beef tripe). All meals are accompanied by unlimited servings of moi (buttermilk). 

Red Rice: A typical Bhutanese meal will have the staple red rice rather than white. It is a medium-grain rice and is semi-milled, which makes it cook faster. Cooked rice is pale pink in colour, soft, and slightly sticky. The rice has a nutty flavour and went perfectly with the other dishes. 

Shakam Paa: Strips of dried smoked beef is cooked with red dried chillies and radish. The meat was nice and tender but It was spicy, so if you can’t take the heat, let the chef know beforehand.  

Shakam Paa

Shakam Paa

Goep: Strips of beef tripe are tossed in chillies, garlic, and green onions. The texture of the tripe is rubbery and not for everyone’s palate. But the overall taste of the dish is good if you can get over the weird texture. 

Kewa Datchi: This Bhutanese potato and cheese stew is made by cooking potatoes with chillies and garlic before stirring in Bhutanese cheese called chugo, a hardened cheese made of yak’s milk. By far our favourite.