Bhutan is a country of many surprises, but nothing surprised Asia expert, Amy, more than its cuisine. Having shaken off its reputation as a land of nothing more than red rice and even redder chillies, Bhutan’s culinary offering is taking centre stage, and for good reason, discovers Amy.
When travelling abroad, many people take the food aspect of their trip very seriously, hoping to become acquainted with local delicacies or culinary haunts whilst on holiday, and rightly so. Before heading to the majestic Kingdom of Bhutan, I did some research and asked a couple of people who had already been for some advice. The resounding response was ‘don’t expect much except chilli, cheese and rice’! As one of its most famous national dishes is called Ema Datsi, meaning chilli cheese, I certainly didn’t expect much at all. I reluctantly decided to remove my foodie hat and focus on the other delights Bhutan had to offer.
The reality was quite different, the food was without a doubt some of the best I have ever had in my life. An amazing assortment of local Bhutanese dishes, artisan trendy western food and varied Asian cuisines greeted me at each hotel and restaurant and whilst the combination of chilli, cheese and rice was never far away, I was spoilt for choice at every meal time.
The local rice grown in Bhutan is red rice, which has a delicious flavour and adds a nutty element to any dish. As Bhutan sits at such a high altitude, this rice is the only grain that can be grown in the country and able to withstand such harsh conditions. Along with this local ingredient, there are other phenomenal local delicacies available in different seasons, such as the mushrooms and asparagus in July and August or the fruits of the harvest in September and October. Due to its climate and altitude, Bhutan isn’t generally an easy country to farm and therefore it has to import the majority of its food from neighbouring countries, which costs more than cultivating it locally. Luxury hotels such as Amankora, COMO and Taj are all leading the way in the expansion of Bhutan’s foodie scene.
Each dish we tried was a culinary masterpiece, whether it was Wagyu beef at COMO, the artisan medley of western dishes at Zhiwa Ling, Indian cuisine at Druk Hotel or Bhutanese fare in the Taj. My only piece of advice would be to mix it up – make the most of the choice of food available in these world class hotels. If you have a penchant for beer, a pint of local Druk lager or Red Panda is the perfect accompaniment to any meal.
The most important thing is to open your mind, and taste buds, before you arrive in Bhutan and prepare yourself for the tantalising culinary surprises that the country has in store for you.