During our week-long stay in Bhutan we experienced some real highs on the food front. Unsurprisingly, the only lows were when the Bhutanese attempted to cater for the western palate, but outside of that the local dishes & the wonderfully fresh produce that Bhutan offers were a delight. There was one exception to this ‘stay local’ rule & you can read about Brioche Bakery in our previous post.
Our time in Bhutan was spent in Paro, the capital Thimphu & a couple of nights under canvas & under the stars on our mind-blowingingly beautiful trek. We saw many amazing things & here’s what we discovered when it came to the food.
Irrespective of where you find yourself geographically in this little kingdom you can expect to be served a couple of main staples with every meal; Himalayan red rice and cheese & chilli. These form the basis of all Bhutanese cuisine. More often than not, the Bhutanese will eat just that. But for tourists the rice is the non negotiable and then come the additional layers of vegetable and meat dishes, with cheese and chilli making an appearance somewhere along the way. It may sound like a dubious dish but the cheese & chilli is surprisingly good. It is made by heating the abundant, local, super-hot dried red chilli with a little water & a local soft cheese (that has often been kept for a year to ripen) until you get a rich, melted dish ready for the table.
Overall as we reflect on our experiences, it is surprising that our best food was actually served under canvas during our 3 days trek of the Druk Path. Despite this being the most well known trek in Bhutan (from Paro to Thimphu, typically taking 4-5 days to complete) being in lower season we spent it almost alone with our guide & new friend, Sangay. Meeting us at camp each night were the 5 horses which carried all the sleeping & cooking equipment & the man of the moment, Chef. Along the way were no tourists, no well trodden paths, no signs. Given its basic nature, it was all the more impressive that over a small gas stove & with whatever ingredients the horses could carry were rustled up 3 generous, hot, wonderfully cooked meals each day.
Breakfast was enjoyed in the open air with mountains as backdrops & included porridge, eggs, toast, coffee plus additional surprises each morning for variety. Lunch was served hot on the mountains as we took a break from the climbing. It included treats such as paneer, peas & spinach; creamy aubergine; a dish which elevated the humble tinned tuna through the simple addition of coriander, ginger, onion & tomatoes, always with the familiar Himalayan Red Rice. Dinners were presented under solar lamp on the camp site, often surrounded by Yaks & Horses, & were equally impressive with curries, potatoes, cold Bhutan lager & some questionable brandy to finish.
Outside of mountain cuisine, the other Bhutanese highlights worth tracking down were the fresh cheese dumplings we found from a street seller at the exciting Centenary Farmers Market in Thimphu. Costing all of 30 pence, the plateful of hot dumplings served with a chilli sauce were 20 times cheaper, yet just as good as any we have eaten in posh Singaporean restaurants. The market itself is a great spot to spend an hour or so & we couldn’t resist taking back home some huge bunches of locally grown asparagus & Himalayan mangos. Interestingly, whilst vegetables are often sourced from within Bhutan, all the meat & the majority of processed food comes from India. This is due to the Buddhist adoration for animals forbidding their slaughter & the lack of processing facilities within the country.
We cannot recommend Bhutan enough if you are looking for an intrepid trip of stunning scenery & fascinating food & culture. The company we went with, Bhutan Dzogchen Tours & Travel, and especially our guide Sangay, were phenomenal.
Bhutan Dzogchen Tours, Bhutan