Ema Datshi: Bhutan’s National Dish Is Not For The Faint-Hearted
Image Credit: Ema Datshi

With an increasing interaction between cultures, an exchange of a variety of things takes place. These include language, rituals, customs, as well as food. While India has been known as the land of spices for ages, it is Bhutan’s local produce of chilli peppers that remains untapped. These chillies form a core part of Bhutanese cuisine and you’ll find them in their national dish too.

So what is Bhutan’s national dish? Ema datshi is a popular delicacy that is widely eaten in different parts of the country. The dish comprises a combination of chilli peppers and fresh local cheese that are mixed together to make a thick curry that is spicy and cheesy at the same time. The name of the dish translates to ema, meaning chilli and dashi meaning cheese. These two ingredients are the most intrinsic components of Bhutan’s national dish.

Also known as the cheese and red chilli stew, this dish has been rightly accorded the status of a national dish because of the ingredients it is made up of. Both chilli peppers and cheese are locally produced in the country and Bhutan is known for its wide variety of chillies, ranging from red to green. For this dish, dried red chilli peppers are used and yak cheese is added to lend it a creamy flavour. What is yak cheese, you ask?

The yak cheese, as the name suggests, is made from yak milk, also known as datshi. This cheese is quite similar to cottage cheese in texture and is prepared by fermenting raw milk and then coagulating it with fresh milk over a period of five days. This cheese is then obtained by separating buttermilk and butter and finally sold by wrapping it in jute bags. There are two varieties of this cheese - hard and soft - and the soft variety is used in the preparation of Ema Datshi.  

The cheese is so popular that it is eaten as a snack and chewed on for hours to release the pungent and tangy flavours into one’s mouth. While being dunked into a stew like Ema Datshi, you’ll also find hints of tomato and onions in the mix. The creamy and smooth texture of the curry should not be mistaken for a sweet curry with subtle flavours because the hot and fiery spices will hit you right after.

Bhutan, although landlocked between India and China, finds more influences of Tibet in its cuisine than others. Today, due to the intermingling of cultures, you’ll find several Himalayan flavours satiating your palettes in metro cities like Delhi. In fact, many serve Ema Datshi with a side of tingmo, the traditional soft steamed Tibetan bun. What would you like to pair this hot and creamy dish with?