Ema Datshi: Bhutan’s Spicy Love Affair with Chili and Cheese

Last updated on September 25th, 2023 at 04:55 pm

ema datshi is the national dish of bhutan

If you ever find yourself wandering through the serene landscapes of Bhutan, nestled in the Himalayas between India and China, there’s one dish you absolutely can’t miss: Ema Datshi. Considered the national dish of Bhutan, this mouth-watering concoction of peppers and cheese is the star of Bhutanese cuisine.


Our team at Remitly put together this guide as part of our series celebrating the traditional foods of our customers around the world. Let’s dive in.

What is Ema Datshi?

In Dzongkha, the native language of Bhutan, “Ema” means chili peppers and “Datshi” refers to cheese.

Essentially, it’s a chili cheese stew that uses the green chili as one of its main ingredients. For those who are heat-averse, beware; this dish packs a punch.

Ema Datshi has been a beloved dish in Bhutan for centuries, with its origins dating back to the 16th century. It is believed that the dish was first created by the Buddhist monks who required a spicy and nutritious dish to help them withstand the harsh mountain climate.

Variations: Kewa Datshi, Shamu Datshi, and More

There are various adaptations of this Bhutanese dish, like Kewa Datshi, which includes potatoes, and Shamu Datshi that features mushrooms. But let’s stick with the classic Ema Datshi for now.

Ema Datshi Recipe


  • 10 green chillies (or a mix of green and red chilli peppers), sliced lengthwise
  • 1 cup of yak cheese or substitute (farmer’s cheese, feta, mozzarella)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of water
  • Salt to taste

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes


  1. Prep: Wash the green chilis and slice them lengthwise. Remove the seeds if you prefer a milder dish.
  2. Cook: In a saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the chilis and simmer until they are almost cooked.

  3. Add Garlic and Cheese: Add minced garlic and cheese to the saucepan. For an authentic Himalayan touch, use yak cheese if available. Yak’s milk is plentiful in Bhutan.

  4. Simmer: Lower the heat and let the mixture simmer until the cheese has fully melted and blended with the chili.

  5. Salt to Taste: Add salt as needed.

  6. Serve Hot: Ema Datshi is best served hot as a main or side dish, commonly with red rice.

What to Pair With Ema Datshi

Since this Bhutanese food can be quite spicy, it’s often served with rice to help balance the heat. Other side dishes may include other forms of Bhutanese cuisine, often influenced by neighboring Indian and Chinese flavors.

So if you’re ready to take your tastebuds on an Asian adventure without leaving your kitchen, give Ema Datshi a try. It’s not just a dish; it’s a journey to the heart of the Himalayas.

More about Bhutan

Bhutan is a small, landlocked country nestled in the Eastern Himalayas, bordered by India to the south and China to the north. The history of Bhutan is deeply intertwined with its unique geography, Buddhist faith, and monarchic rule. While much of its early history is wrapped in myth and legend, it is generally believed that Buddhism was introduced in Bhutan in the 7th century by Guru Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche.

Over the centuries, various Buddhist schools and sects played a significant role in shaping Bhutan’s social and political landscapes. The Bhutanese state began to take its current form in the 17th century when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, a Tibetan lama, fled religious persecution in Tibet and unified Bhutan, establishing himself as the spiritual and temporal leader.

In the 20th century, Bhutan underwent a series of transformations that propelled it into modernity while preserving its cultural heritage. The country transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 2008, following a royal decree.

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