Mealtime is typically a relaxed time in Bhutan. It is a social event and family get together; however, the time spent eating may depend as much on how much is put on the table as the need for conversation.
Three meals a day is typical, and it is not unusual for those three meals to all consist of rice and ema datse.
At a hotel restaurant the full cutlery ensemble will be provided, but in a local café you may be limited to the option of a spoon or using your right hand and bowl of rice to mop up the meal.
It should be noted that if you are dining out, tipping is not practised in most restaurants. It should also be noted that the food prepared for you in a restaurant will probably be LESS spicy than if you visited someone's home.
In general terms, chilies are using in almost all Bhutanese dishes. It has been heard that the Bhutanese say "If it doesn't make you sweat, then why bother to eat it".
In most cases salt and chili is the only spice used though there is some use of saffron and some curry spices.
You need to be able to eat spicy food if you plan on getting on in Bhutan. When you visit someone's house you will undoutbedly be offered food and it will have a kick to it. Refusing would be an insult... bring pepto or some sort of antacid if you have trouble with spice.
Ema Datshi or Ema Datse - vegetarian dish made of cheese and chili - a must
tryPhak sha laphu - stewed pork with radishYak skin - fried and served as a snack
No Sha huentseu - stewed beef with spinac
Phak sha phin tshoem - pork with rice noodles
Bja sha maroo - chicken in garlic and butter sauceMomos - yummy dumplings - chicken, pork, or cheese
Mushrooms - there are over 400 varieties of edible mushrooms - some of the mushroom flavors are magic
Cheese - is very common and something the Bhutanese people are very particular of. Cheese is made from cow, goat and yaks milk.Dal bhat - simple rice and lentils
NON SPICY - kewa datse - potatoes with cheese sauceBarthu - fried noodles or noodle soup
Red rice - is preferred to white rice though there is a lot of white riceZow - boiled then fried riceBreakfast generally consists of puffed corn or rice soaked in butter tea though porridge is also common.
Vegetarian and Vegan
There is a good variety of vegetarian food available, although much of it is made using a liberal amount of chili and a smothering of cheese sauce.
Ingredients such as nettles, fern fronds, orchids, asparagus, taro and several varieties of mushroom appear in traditional vegetarian dishes. Vegans should ask if a dish contains cheese or eggs when ordering.
It is quite common to see bright red chilies (small peppers) drying on the roof and strips of yak meat or beef hanging out to dry in the sun like a line of washing.
Food Culture and Customs in Bhutan
When invited to a meal: If you are offered food or drink, it is considered polite to decline at first. Your host will not take your refusal too seriously and will continue to offer refreshments.
Similarly, if you are entertaining a Bhutanese guest, be more insistent in offering food or drink than you would be in your home country.
Tea is about as common as water... in fact, more tea might be drunk than plain water. When having tea with someone older or in a formal setting, the cup should be held in the hand and not put on the table so as to show your respect.
There are two types of tea: suitja which is tea with butter and salt and natja which is tea with milk and sugar.
Chang, a local beer, and ara, a spirit distilled from rice, maize, wheat or barley, depending on which crop is grown in that area, are also popular drinks.
In the East, instead of tea, chang or ara may be offered. Again, it is polite to have at least two glasses. If you really dislike it, a few sips will be acceptable.
Sometimes ara is served hot with a raw egg broken into it.The Bhutanese eat with their right hand.
The dried cheese, churpi or chugui, which looks like an eraser, is very hard and is chewed between meals as a snack.
Doma or betel nut is often offered at the end of a meal.Guests will often leave as soon as the meal is finished.
At an official dinner, the guest of honour will indicate when it is time to leave; normally nobody will leave before s/he does for this is disrespectful.