What is ema datshi?The Quirky Origins of Bhutan’s Beloved Fiery Cheese Dish


Here’s the only thing you need to know about Bhutanese cuisine: chilli is not considered a spice in this country. This is a vegetable. You can cook with it as if it were potatoes or zucchini. You don’t even have to worry about the fact that your main ingredient (the base of the whole dish) is just chili.

So yes, it’s fair to say that Bhutanese don’t mind a little heat, perhaps best exemplified by the national dish, ema datshi. If you speak Dzongkha, the name is simple: “ema” means pepper and “datshi” means cheese. These are the two main ingredients from which almost all of this dish is made. Simply slice and sauté red or green chilies, then dip into a sauce made with rich yak milk cheese. Ema datshi is served with rice and sometimes ezay, a condiment made from — you guessed it — chilies.


Given that Bhutan is sandwiched between two hugely influential gastronomic countries, India and China, you can expect Bhutan to take culinary inspiration from these neighbours. However, it is not. This mountainous kingdom does things in its own way, and its cuisine exemplifies Tibet more than anywhere else. Bhutanese have long used yak cheese, a Tibetan staple. However, when chiles were introduced from Latin America (via India) in the early 1600s, a national obsession was born.

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If a restaurant in Bhutan serves local cuisine, it serves ema datshi. In the capital, Thimphu, try Zombala 2 restaurant (Norzin Lam 1, Thimphu).

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Sydneysiders can have a hard time finding ema datshi nearby; however, in Canberra, try Druk Family Restaurant ( The closest thing to Bhutanese food in Melbourne is Wild Yak (, a Tibetan restaurant.

And one more thing

More than just a dish, Ema datshi is the basis for many staples on the Bhutanese table. Add potatoes and you have kewa datshi. Add mushrooms and you have shamu datshi. Add some dried beef and you have shakam datshi. etc.

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