ema datshi - bhutan national dish

Ema Datshi: An Authentic Recipe From Bhutan

Bhutan, the land of the Thunder Dragon, impresses people not only with its spectacular serene scenery but also with its uniquely fiery cuisine. In Bhutan, we may not know who our neighbours are at birth, but we are well aware of what chillies are from an early age and begin experiencing them early on.
People in most countries use chilli as a spice to add a tang to their dishes. In Bhutan, however, chillies are not just considered a seasoning, but a true precious vegetable. It must be present in every dish; Bhutanese people consider any meal lacking in chilli pepper to be worthless. This eternal love for chillies contributed to making Ema Datshi one of Bhutan’s most beloved dishes. It is undoubtedly one of Bhutan’s national dishes.

What is Ema Datshi?

‘Ema’ and ‘Datshi’ mean ‘chilli’ and ‘cheese,’ respectively. It’s a basic stew made with a variety of chillies, including green, dry white, and Sundried red chillies, and fresh yak or cow cheese. The chillies used in the ema datshi are extremely hot, and the meal is served over a bed of red rice, another Bhutanese staple food.

Ema Datshi comes in a variety of flavours, and everyone has their tastes. Some people prefer it cheesy and without soup, while others prefer it soupier. Some people like to add things like tomatoes, garlic, onion, and stalk onion leeks, while others prefer to keep it simple and plain with just garlic, chilli, and cheese. Ema Datsi might also be mixed with other vegetables such potato or mushroom to become Kewa Datshi, Shamu Datshi – a slightly milder version of the dish.

Ema Datshi is eaten by Bhutanese people with anything. We commonly eat it with rice, fried rice, roti, puri, bread, we even served it with drinks as snacks. Ema Datshi is available throughout Bhutan, from homes to restaurants and any places in between.

Cultivation of Chilies in Bhutan

With the objective of becoming the first country in the world to make all of its homegrown food organic, The kingdom of Bhutan refrains from using chemical fertilisers. The farmers obtain seeds from certified organic farms or from farmer’s fields that are organically grown and use farm resources such as cow dung, chicken manure, and other farm wastes to grow the chillies. 

Chilli pepper production in Bhutan, however, is difficult due to the fact that chillies cannot grow anywhere in the country. Chilli is a tropical and subtropical plant that requires a mix of warm, humid, and dry temperatures to thrive. The ideal temperature range for chilli growth is between 15⁰-32⁰C. Chillies in Bhutan are mostly grown in Tsirang, Dagana, Sarpang, and Samtse, as well as the lowland settlements of Mongar, Wangduephodrang, and Trongsa.

Chilli pepper farming is a lengthy process that begins in the winter and ends in the middle of fall. Red chillies are harvested in September and October, and this is the time when many roofs in villages turn red as people place red chillies on top of their houses to sundry them. Farmers can earn good cash incomes if they decide to sell this precious vegetable.

Health benefits of Bhutanese chillies

Red chilli peppers can fuel your body with healthy nutrients. They’re rich in vitamin C and contain a little bit of carotene (a precursor to vitamin A). They’re also packed with vitamin B—especially vitamin B6. Trace of potassium, magnesium, and iron can also be found.

The vitamin C content can help boost the absorption of non-heme iron from other foods like beans and grains. The other benefits of Chili pepper include enhancing digestive health and metabolism, reducing migraines, lowering cancer risk, combating fungal infections, colds, and the flu, reducing inflammation, and supporting cardiovascular health.

Chilli peppers are also well-known for their ability to enhance the flavour of any dish with their fiery flavour. Ema Datshi is a must-try if you’re suffering from a serious lack of appetite. It’s one of the best food appetizers you’ll ever have. And if it was not enough to tempt you, we can guarantee that it will also keep you warm and energized in our freezing winter temperatures.

The Traditional Recipe of Ema Datshi

Ema Datshi is a quick and easy meal that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. Follow this traditional Bhutanese recipe to make an incredibly tasty and healthy Ema Datshi at home

  1. Remove the stalks from the sun-dried red chilli peppers (9 to 10 pieces) and chop them lengthwise into halves. Slit the onion (1 pc), the tomato (1 pc) and coarsely chop the garlic (3 to 4 cloves). Grate your processed cheese.
  2. Add all of the ingredients, including salt, 2 tablespoons of vegetal oil, and 1 cup of water into the pan.
  3. Cover the pan with the lid and turn on the heat to medium. Simmer until the peppers have softened.
  4. Stir in the butter and cottage cheese. If you remove the pan from the heat before adding the cheese, curdling will be avoided. These should be stirred until the cheese has melted.
  5. Add salt if needed, depending on the saltiness of your cheese. Serve hot.

Tip: Adjust the amount of cheese, chilli and water to your liking. 

For a visual explanation, you can watch this video from the food blogger Druk Girl:


If you’re craving a dish that’s satisfying and a little spicy, then you are highly recommended to make some ema datshi or Bhutanese chilli cheese at home. It is a special dish whose texture, aroma, and taste will leave you asking for more. It’s surprisingly easy to do, and it’s flavorful enough to be eaten for lunch, dinner or any day of the week. Feel free to try it at home and make sure to let us know how it goes!

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5 thoughts on “Ema Datshi: An Authentic Recipe From Bhutan”

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  3. could you please be more specific about what type of cheeses you are using? We traveled in Bhutan and loved the chili cheese dishes over red rice. I would love to be able to duplicate those recipes. thank you, gail

    1. Hi Gail.

      We use cottage cheese, however, if you are out of cottage cheese or want more of a cheesy flavour you can use processed cheese like the laughing cow type. Let us know how it goes when you make one :)

      Warm regards,

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