Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Ema Datshi: the national dish is a spicy cheese and pepper
mixture with the tendency of a stew
Paa: slicked pork and beef served with red rice
Zow Shungo: an easy dish of rice with whatever vegetables
Nearly every foreigner in Bhutan is on an organized tour
so the places you eat will be quite lenient in their etiquette rules as they are
most certainly accustomed to foreigners. However, you should still make an effort
to understand local dining customs and if your tour includes a meal at a house you
must do your best to conform to these etiquette rules.
Be aware that Hindus don't eat meat and many Hindus and Buddhists are vegetarian
so avoid beef and if your host is vegetarian try to follow suite and order a vegetarian
meal as well. You should also dress conservatively when meeting locals, meaning
your arms and legs should be covered. You should also arrive on time for a meal
(although food might not be served for a couple hours) and take your shoes off at
the door if others do so.
You will likely be asked to wash your hands prior to eating; follow the lead of
others. Let your host show you a seat, which may be on the floor. When seated, be
sure to avoid pointing the bottom of your feet at anyone so keep your feet flat
on the floor or pointed behind you. Once everyone is seated, your host may toss
a few grains of rice into the air as an offering.
Your host may invite you to serve yourself first; if so take more rice than other
foods as rice is meant to be the base and substance of most meals. Your host will
not serve him or herself until you do and will not begin eating until you have begun.
You should try all the foods your host recommends, but be sure to take only a small
amount of food at first as more will be offered later. When your host does offer
more food, you can act like the locals by covering your mouth with your hand (but
not actually touching your mouth) and say meshu meshu, only accepting food
on the host's second or third offer. If you take your own food from a communal
serving tray, be sure to avoid touching your plate with the serving spoons as this
is considered unclean. Once you have food you may notice there are no utensils (cutlery);
this is because you are expected to eat with your right hand and right hand only
as the left is considered unclean. You may use naan or rice to scoop the
food or to soak up the sauces.
As you finish eating, leave some food on your plate to signify your host has provided
more than enough food, even if at a restaurant. Tipping is discouraged in
Bhutan and you should take the government's suggestion when dining in
a restaurant and leave no tip. In other situations (to guides for example) this
"no tipping" policy is changing so be sure to check with your travel agency
for up to date tipping recommendations.
Celebrations & Events
The greatest food celebration in Bhutan is the Matsutake
Festival, which takes place at the beginning of mushroom season. This mushroom,
the matsutake mushroom is considered a special treat for the people, especially
in the mountains as this celebration is defined by the hunting, picking, cooking,
and eating of this favored food.
The locals in Bhutan enjoy their teas, but not in the form
you may expect as heavily salted butter tea is the drink of choice and many people
carry thermos of the drink with them everywhere. If you can't handle the salt
there are numerous other options in the country including all the international
favorites such as soft drinks, coffee, milk, and juices.
The Bhutanese don't have a wide selection of alcoholic
drinks. Beer and rice wine are the two most popular, but little else is available.
The best options are probably in the hotel bars and restaurants catered to tourists,
where there is a limited, but somewhat diverse selection of alcohol.
The tap water is generally not safe to drink in Bhutan, but
in limited mountainous areas it might be safe. The most cautious course of action
is to entirely avoid the tap water and items that could be made from or with the
water, such as ice, fruits, and salads. If you do decide to drink the local tap
water first check with your local hotel or guesthouse to learn the cleanliness of
the water in that area. If the water is safe, remember that many people may have
trouble adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly be different
from what your system is used to if you are not from the region.