Most Bhutanese meals (even breakfast!) include rice; it could be red or white, which may be eaten with meat or veggies. The meats of choice are pork, beef and chicken; veggies include spinach, pumpkins, turnips, river weed, onions radishes, tomatoes and green beans. These are the basics – but they always have a Bhutanese twist.
An excellent way to discover the rich and colorful world of Bhutanese cuisine is to explore a farmers’ market. The raw ingredients on display serve as a great orientation to what your meals will feature. An added bonus is the enriching interactions with the local people.
Fresh veggies, including many varieties of chilies (ema), cheeses (datshi), wine, honey … all manner of produce arrives here from many regions. There’s also boyo zaw (puffed rice), zaw (roasted rice), mekhu (crispy rice crackers), kabchi (roasted, ground wheat) and kharang (pounded maize) – all staples in Bhutanese kitchens.
If you love rice there are two interesting versions to sample; there’s desi, which is an exotic combination of white rice, sugar, butter, raisins and saffron. Zow is a tad simpler; this fried rice is combined with sugar and butter. Ideally, it’s eaten from a wooden bowl and with one’s fingers! In fact, traditionally a lot of dishes are eaten in this manner…but times are a-changing!
Kewa Datshi is a milder potato and cheese dish. Vegetarians will love Jaju, a milky broth, brimming with spinach and turnip leaves dried in the sun; servings are traditionally in a wooden bowl.
A different take on momos has emerged from Bhutan’s Haa Valley. Hoentay are momo life dumplings but are made with a buckwheat dough envelope. The stuffing could be a combination of local spinach or turnip leaves and cheese— served steamed or fried— as you like it. It goes without saying the spicy ezay, chilli sauce, adds its own special bit to the dumplings.