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Bhutanese food is spicy and varied, and has strong Tibetan and Indian influences. Most meals are served buffet style and consist of several dishes. Traditional Bhutanese food always features chillies, and one dish called emadatsi, actually uses hot green chillies as the vegetable rather than seasoning!

Other popular dishes (with chillies) are phak sha laphu, stewed pork with radish, no sha huentseu, stewed beef with spinach, and bja sha maroo, chicken in garlic and butter sauce. You will find that most of your meals revolve around chicken, pork, and cheese or vegetables and are accompanied by rice – either white or the locally produced Bhutanese red variety, which has a nutty taste. Tibetan dishes including momos, which are steamed dumplings with a vegetable or meat filling and thukpa, a noodle soup are also common in Bhutan. In Bumthang, buckwheat pancakes and noodles replace rice as the favourite staple.

Most of the restaurants in Bhutan are situated in hotels, and the cost of all meals is normally included in your travel package. The hotel restaurants offer Bhutanese cuisine, as well as Chinese, Indian, Japanese and some other international food. Locally cooked traditional Bhutanese food is served during treks.

Bhutan’s national specialities include:

  • Meals are often buffet-style and mostly vegetarian.
  • Cheese is a very popular ingredient in dishes and the most popular cheeses are datse (cow’s milk cheese), often served in a dish with fresh chillies (emadatsi).
  • Another favourite is mushroom and chilli with cheese.
  • Rice is ubiquitous, sometimes flavoured with saffron. Look out for the excellent Red Rice!
  • The country is replete with apple orchards, rice paddies and asparagus, which grows freely in the countryside.
  • There are also over 400 varieties of mushroom.
  • Fat brown and rainbow trout swim amid the glacial waters of the Pa Chu River, but these will not be caught by Bhutanese Buddhists. However, recent restrictions on meat-eating have lapsed ever so slightly. Meat and fish are now imported from nearby India, and Nepali Hindus living in Bhutan are licensed to slaughter animals.
  • In Bhutan there is a good variety of vegetarian food available – even if much of it is made with chillies! Unusual ingredients such as nettles, ferns and orchids may also appear in traditional Bhutanese vegetarian dishes.
  • The most popular drink is sud-ja (tea served with salt and butter).
  • Other drinks include buttered and sweet teas and delicious fruit juices.
  • Bottled water and soft drinks – Pepsi cola, lemonade and orangeade – can be found almost anywhere, as can fruit juices of which apple deserves special mention.
  • Many alcoholic drinks like beer, rum and whisky are imported from India and relatively cheap.
  • Bhutan's alcoholic drinks include chang (brewed from fermented cereals) and arra, which is stronger and distilled from either rice, barley or wheat. Locally produced beer and whiskey can also be found in some places.

Tipping

Officially tipping is illegal in Bhutan. Nevertheless in some circumstances it is appropriate and appreciated. Your tour leader can collect and administer a tipping kitty.
Traditionally gifts, such as textiles, are given when visiting a Bhutanese home. You may want to consider bringing duty free spirits or fancy long socks (very popular) from home in case you have the opportunity to visit someone’s home.

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