Find Out Why Ema Datshi is Beloved in Bhutanese Cuisine

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When thinking about great food dishes, an Ema Datshi recipe and Bhutanese cuisine don’t really roll off the tongue. But this cheese chili recipe is full of surprises.

What is famous Bhutanese food? Let’s be honest, there isn’t a lot known about Bhutanese cuisine. After all, Bhutan has only just opened its doors to the world in the last few decades.

Find Out Why Ema Datshi is Revered in Bhutanese Cuisine
Ema datshi and organic red rice

So, if you enjoy discovering new food options, Bhutan’s cheese chili recipe might just be for you. Ema Datshi, also known as datsi, is beloved in Bhutan. It’s a star of Bhutanese cuisine. The Bhutanese eat ema datshi every day. It is available in every Bhutanese restaurant and may be served at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Consequently, ema datshi is without doubt, the national dish of Bhutan.

Cheese and chilis are the main ingredients for any ema datshi recipe. But in 2016, there was a severe shortage of chilis. So the Bhutanese restaurants and its customers suffered severe withdrawal pains. Read on to understand how Bhutan’s commitment to the environment unwittingly caused this chili shortage. It does have a good ending though!

The Importance of Ema Datshi in Bhutanese Cuisine

Find Out Why Ema Datshi is Revered in Bhutanese Cuisine
Culture of Bhutan – stupas and prayer lags

Bhutan is a very mountainous country and is unable to produce all the chilis it needs. The Bhutanese hunger for Ema Datshi is that great. Therefore to satisfy demand, Bhutan imports chilis from neighboring India.

True to its commitment to organic, food principles, the Bhutanese government tests these chilis for pesticide residue. Because of unsatisfactory results, Bhutan consequently banned Indian chilis in July, 2016.

Suddenly there were not enough chilis to go around to make the most famous Bhutanese food. Most Bhutanese people could no longer make their beloved cheese chili recipe, Datsi.

This famous Bhutanese food was suddenly no longer available. For the Bhutanese, this was devastating. It’s the equivalent, maybe, of bread not being available where you live!

Luckily the “crisis” ended when the Kingdom of Bhutan identified a healthier source of chilis from Kolkata, India. Since then, supplies have been re-established to permit the cooking of this most famous, Bhutanese dish.

The Bhutanese Government was under immense pressure during the ban period. However, they decided a long-term solution was more important for the health and well being of its citizens. Politicians with ethics and a commitment to the environment, as well as to the long-term health of their citizens. I like that!

Bhutan’s Commitment to the World means Bhutanese Food is Organic

The story above may not sound that important to us. However, it sums up the commitment to Gross National Happiness in Bhutan. The Bhutanese respect all life (humans, fauna, flora). They understand the need to respect the earth.

The Kingdom of Bhutan uses no chemicals in agriculture. As well, there is a blanket-ban on genetically modified food throughout Bhutan. Indeed, there is a question on the Bhutanese Customs form confirming you are not bringing any GMO food into the country! Bhutanese cuisine is therefore organic, tasty and healthy, thereby ensuring that Bhutanese food is of the highest quality.

Find Out Why Ema Datshi is Revered in Bhutanese Cuisine
Bhutanese food is organic and grows in pristine conditions

The Bhutanese figure their citizens will be happier as a result. Although only a minnow in world affairs, they are active in world environmental efforts.

To sum up the attitude of the Bhutanese, watch the short video clip in this article, it was taken at the Memorial Chorten in Thimpu.

Note worshipers walking in a clockwise direction and praying. The audio you hear is the monk (with maybe the deepest voice I have ever heard) giving the blessing. Those blessings are for liberating all sentient beings from suffering. Yes, to all human beings and animal life. The Bhutanese commitment to happiness extends beyond their borders to you. And you didn’t even know!

This is part of the reason Bhutanese cuisine is primarily, but not exclusively, vegetarian. So, enjoy some famous Bhutanese food by making this cheese chili recipe.

Ema Datshi: A  Cheese Chili Recipe and Star of Bhutanese Cuisine

Find Out Why Ema Datshi is Revered in Bhutanese Cuisine
Bhutanese cuisine is full of chilis and cheese

This chili cheese recipe really is a simple dish to make in quick time. Ema Datshi features in every meal in Bhutan and in every Bhutanese restaurant.

In Bhutanese cuisine, there are many variations of the dish. You can simply replace the chilis with potatoes (Kewa Datshi) or mushrooms (Shamu Datshi).

Bhutanese recipes tend to result in their Ema Datshi being spicy! Using long, green, peppers, called Anaheim peppers in the United States, tones it down. And I have used long, red chilies (milder than green chilis). But, I did not remove the seeds. If you want no heat at all then de-seed the red chilis. If you want it spicier, replace the Anaheim peppers with green chilis.

As for cheese, I use a small amount of feta cheese. As it can be salty, I also use a good melting cheese, such as gruyere, emmanthaler or comte.

For a truly Bhutanese meal, enjoy your Ema Datshi with Red Rice. And fancy a warm and simple fruit cocktail to accompany that? Using everyday ingredients, enjoy a Dragon Warmer for a real Bhutanese experience.

While enjoying your meal just think about the Bhutanese pushing out their love to you. Just, maybe, you can feel it.

More Warm Dishes on Compass & Fork

Do you enjoy warm foods, like this one? You might like these recipes:

Fish Amok, the national dish of Cambodia.

Chicken Green Curry, made with Thai Green Curry Paste.

Thai Fish Cakes, made with Thai Red Curry Paste.

Looking for a refreshing summer salad, with some crunch and attitude? Try this Chicken Larb from Laos or Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad.

When thinking about great food dishes, Ema Datshi and Bhutanese cuisine don’t really roll off the tongue. But this chili cheese recipe is full of surprises.


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Ema Datshi (Cheese Chili)
Print Recipe
Easy to make from every day ingredients.
Servings Prep Time Cook Time
2people 10minutes 15minutes
Servings Prep Time
2people 10minutes
Cook Time
Servings: people
Servings: people
  1. In a wok or large pan over a moderate heat, add the pepper, chili, onion, tomatoes, garlic and water. Stir to combine, cover and bring to the boil.
  2. When boiling, turn down the heat to achieve a simmer. Add the feta and butter, stir and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the gruyere cheese and stir well to combine. When the cheese has fully melted, stir again to fully incorporate.
  3. Place the ema datshi into a serving bowl. Serve with red rice.Find Out Why Ema Datshi is Revered in Bhutanese Cuisine
Recipe Notes

Tashi Delek.

We traveled as guests of Yangphel Adventure Travel. As always, all opinions are our own.

8 Responses

  1. Christine
    | Reply

    How amazing to have a culture that respects their food and environment so much. The rest of us could learn a thing or two from this country!

    • Editor

      That’s what I think too! For such a little country, they take a leading role in the world environmental movement.

  2. Chava Mazal
    | Reply

    This is such a wonderful article. I have to confess complete ignorance about Bhutanese culture but you’ve inspired me to go out and read more about it. What a remarkable story.

    • Editor

      Thank you so much for that. We really appreciated the people of Bhutan. They have some principles which they hold to.

  3. Kristen R.
    | Reply

    I really love this article – My background is actually in Himalayan Studies and it’s always a wonderful surprise when I find recipes and articles exploring that part of the world. I can’t wait to give the recipe a try! Tashi Delek!

    • Editor

      Kristen, I am so please to hear that. We have only visited Bhutan in the Himalayas and we were so impressed with the whole country. Love the people, scenery, food. And the festivals are maybe the best cultural event I have ever seen as a traveler. Thanks for your comment, you have really made my day. Tashi Delek.

  4. Kortney
    | Reply

    That was an extremely interesting article. I would love to visit a country that places an emphasis on eating organically. What is the cheese that they would be using in Bhutan?

    • Editor

      I think it is the most interesting country I have visited. I love their attitude and sense of optimism. The cheese is made by local farmers and is the local cheese featured in the picture from the market. It melts well. I can’t really think of anything equivalent in the US except maybe a queso freso which melts well.

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