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  • Writer's pictureThe Flapper Life

Complete vegetarian guide to Bhutan.

Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom on the Himalayas’ eastern edge, is known for its monasteries, fortresses (or dzongs) and dramatic landscapes that range from subtropical plains to steep mountains and valleys.

Traditional Bhutanese food has been influenced by its neighbors, especially China, Tibet, and India. But like the country itself, the local cuisine has been able to maintain its unique character. It’s less oily than Chinese or Indian food and spicier than most Tibetan dishes. When you travel to Bhutan, take this list of our six must-taste Bhutan food items to sample at least once. These are the few dishes a vegetarian can try while travelling to Bhutan.

Ema Datsh

If there is one national dish to eat when touring Bhutan, this is it. It’s so ubiquitous that some say if you haven’t eaten ema datshi, you haven’t been to Bhutan. The locals eat the stew, which is similar to a curry, daily along with red rice. It’s made of green, yellow or red chilies, yak or cow’s milk cheese, onions and tomatoes. Taste very carefully, though. The chilies of Bhutan are high up on the Scoville Heat Scale and are meant to make you warm enough to sweat.

Momos – (Dumplings)

This is one food that Western travelers may have sampled, since the momo has immigrated to India and is quite similar to the Chinese dumpling. Throughout the Himalayas–from Nepal and Tibet to Bhutan– these steamed buns are eaten as treats. They may be stuffed with almost anything, but the typical fillings are minced pork or beef, cabbage, or fresh cheese mixed with spices such as garlic, ginger and coriander. Hoentay Known especially for originating from Haa Valley in Bhutan, are similar to momos, but they are made with a buckwheat dough wrapper. The dumplings are usually filled with a combination of a local spinach or turnip leaves and cheese

Shamu datshi

A third staple cheese dish in Bhutanese food is shamu datshi, cheese with mushrooms. ema datshi is my personal favorite variation of a Bhutanese veggie cheese dish, but shamu datshi was a close second. The mushrooms, which can be any variety of local Bhutanese Himalayan mushroom, are again cooked into a cheesy saucy stew along with butter. Just like with all the other variations of Bhutanese datshi, you eat shamu datshi along with rice.


Jaju is Bhutanese milk and vegetable soup. It’s often made with some type of local spinach or turnip leaves or any number of light leafy vegetables. The soup broth consists of milk and butter. Overall, the taste is usually quite mellow and plain, but it goes well together to supplement a full Bhutanese feast.Some others variant also includes a bit of cheese to make them heartier and more rich.


Especially common in the Bumthang region of Bhutan, puta are noodles made from highly nutritious buckwheat that can be grown in high altitudes. For puta, the noodles are prepared and boiled, and sometimes before being served the noodles are stir fried in mustard oil along with a light seasoning of salt and Sichuan pepper. Puta are a traditional Bhutanese staple, and they really reminded me of Japanese soba noodles.

Kewa datshi

Kewa is potato, so kewa datshi is potatoes and Bhutanese cheese. It surprised me by how similar kewa datshi is to a dish similar to scalloped potatoes. The potatoes are typically sliced into thin pieces, then sautéed down with cheese and lots of butter. Sometimes cooks will toss in a few chilies or tomatoes, but usually, this is a Bhutanese dish that’s pretty mild, but just focuses on potatoes and cheese.