Bhutanese food

Eating out

A couple of friends and I went out for lunch the other day. We ate at Cousins, a new restaurant that specializes in authentic Bhutanese food. You’ll find the restaurant on the first floor of the new building opposite the BNB.

The food at Cousins is good. We had ribs (with dried red chillies and spring onions in a hot garlic sauce),chopped dried beef (in a chilli and cheese sauce), kewa-datsi, dal, rice and, for desert, fresh apples in cream.

The food, like I said earlier, was good. And it was mainly traditional Bhutanese fare.

But in fact, there was very little that was really Bhutanese on the table; almost all the ingredients had been imported. Pork, beef, green chillies, cheese, onions, garlic, cooking oil, salt, potatoes, apples, cream, rice – they’d all been imported; they’d all come from India. As far as I could tell, the only ingredients which had been produced locally were the dried red chillies and the spring onions.

But it wasn’t just the ingredients that had been imported. The plates, bowls, cutlery, shakers, napkins and table cloth all came from outside, as did the wooden tables and chairs. And the building itself was built by Indian workers using mostly imported material.

Cousins is not alone. All restaurants, throughout the country, rely, almost completely, on imported ingredients. And almost all restaurants, throughout the country, are housed in buildings that have been built using mainly foreign material and foreign workers. But it’s not just restaurants. The story is repeated throughout our country, in every school, every hospital, every monastery, and in almost every home.

We don’t grow our own food. We don’t build our own houses. And, besides hydropower, we don’t produce much else. So it’s no wonder that we depend so heavily on imports. It’s no wonder that have such a huge trade deficit. And it’s no wonder that we’re facing such serious currency crisis.



Facebook Comments:


  1. you are spot on..this is exactly why we are in a mess..from the ongoing saga of rupee shortage to our budding democracy to our gnh paradigm..
    rupee shortage is happening because we have a moron like wangdi norbu heading the finance ministry..he reports to parliament that selling bhutan’s $$$ reserves to meets shortfall in rupees is routine..and now we have a crisis on the same issue he thought there was nothing to be done about..the government’s response on this is as expected.. they were caught with their pants down..and have kept silence on the issue knowing only now how they got it all very, very wrong.. daw tenzin’s response, sense of responsibility & courage to tackle the issue heads on is admirable..well done !
    pm jthinley & his cabinet go on & on about their responsibility to set good governance & democracy on a good foundation..all the while avoiding an integral part of it – the right to information.. and now we have a council mp recognizing its need & initiating it as a private bill.. all that noise from this government on rti exposes their total reluctance on this extremely vital legislation which can do wonders for democracy & really, really empowering the public, even if they are not part of the inner circle..
    as for gnh, pm jthinley can preach it to the world as if it did not originate from our beloved 4th.. but bhutanese know his hypocrisy.. here’s a man who has, through this medium, been known to have a health professional positioned at his village full time to care exclusively for his mother while the common man suffers shortage of medication.. talk about misplaced trust in a character bereft of humility & exploding with ambition & greed (cf gyepshing land grab)..

  2. Good advertisement!perhaps indirectly!

  3. Kesang Chhoden says

    Sounds too much like a cpmplain. I regret to read that even cheese was imported. Are we that bad- what the wooden furniture – i know of the bedroom accessories bought worth $100, 000 from a North Carolina in the US last year but that was for a very special purpose. The shipping was not added to the cost another $3000.
    Do we not grow our own food? I don’t quite agree. The government killed our farms and a lot used to be produced in the form of cash crops before the curse fell on us. This week a team of about seven people including Dasho Karma Ura are heading to NYC for the happiness conference. Base don the seniority two other members are going and of course chhoden. They are going there to tell lies and the three are going from the PM’s office. RGOB is the sponsor for their travel and stay. A lot of foreign currency.

    They are oing to tell lies – that all Bhutanese are very happy. However, this time they are going to find something very unhappy. They will be greeted with questions based on the rights of the citizens to avail food, clothing and shelter. The questions raised by us at home will be raised there too by the foreigners. How long is the government going to tell lies. How long is the PM going to clear our villages and create “The Ghost Villages of Trashigang” How long are we going to live in this forced hapiness?

  4. I have been to the restaurant and the food is great. I was told that the owner herself cook the dishes. I have also been to other Bhutanese restaurant but the food in cousin is far better than other restaurants. The location is so better. One can see nice scenery other side of the river……

  5. Dear OL,

    So much has been said about the Rupee crisis but is there any solution to the problem?

    We all know we produce less and we consume more. But, this was happening all along, so why the sudden crunch? Has our country’s exposure to the modern world has spoiled us, increasing our demands and a new found habit of individuals living off the loan. Why is the sudden blame on Indian imports? Do we have any options?

    I may sound from old school but I feel that till the time the country was a sacredly guarded nation and people were not tempted towards materialistic gains, the loans and borrowings were done and well managed by the government, we were a happier lot. But again, as I said that too is a thing of past and we certainly cannot roll back.

    So what are the options?? How are we going to come out of this crisis??? Will we continue blaming each other?? Are we in a position to resolve the issue without any other country involved?? What are our choices??? Does our money has any relevance or value if not equated with Indian Rupee??? Why is so that we prefer to carry Indian rupee when visiting any foreign country because that it is easily exchangeable??? All these questions keep staring me but I do not have any answer…

    Just a thought…

  6. while in 1980’s when we were a budding students in schools and when the modernisation was just touching our feet i have seen the true happiness in the eyes of my parents , neighbours , friends and all the others that i knew of then. Not a single item was then bought from the shops. yet they (we) had plenty to eat and plenty to last until the next harvest. The paradox today is that roads , phones , internets etc have penetrated to every nook and corners of the villages and GDP has risen hundred folds and what i could see in the eyes of my friends , neighbours , and others is the weary tears and wrinkles on the forehead.

    Today is Rupee shortage and tomorrow will be food shortage and eventually until we revisit our past and measures being taken we are not far from FAMINE!. New seeds with new pests , New breeds with new Diseases destroyed the happiness of our bygone days.

    I fear the concept of GNH and self reliance needs to be practiced then being just preached. preaching is easier but doing is no so. For me modernisation has brought not happiness to Bhutan but just an Economic depression of the west!.

    just my opinion…..

  7. if the land tax is not pegged to the value of food it produces we may never have enough food – the food self sufficiency policy that the Ministry of Agriculture adopted. Just move around in the country. One will find huge chunks of land left fallow. One can afford to keep them uncultivated because the tax we pay is very very very less. the land tax was not revised for about 5 decades. why?

    Second, I would very much like to here from the OL about his solution to the problems highlighted in his post. we can only comment and nobody will listen. But he can. So i request the OL to share his would be solution to the problem.

  8. the careless traveller says

    And what grains we produce, will be wasted in pumping out cheap alcohol into the country. The recent Distillery is an added waste of precious grains. Somehow, I am surprised how the distillery never got any media attention while it was being planned or constructed.

  9. Live by Example.

    1. Minimize the endless meetings at Taj…cost of a meal per person is > 2000 wihtout drinks and other venues

    2. Walk to vegetable market once a week…good for health

    3. Improve public transport and reduce car loans and car imports

  10. Kesang Chhoden says

    If Nothing works meet kesang Chhoden and the Team. We have the answers.

  11. Rupee crisis? what crisis? Let’s us not expect Bhutan to be a utopian land. There will be some problems here and there. It is our attitude that manifests problems into crisis. Did we not have economic crisis around the world just recently? Remember, our attitude is our greatest disability.

  12. O rupee crises???Don’t worry.It is a just a drama created by both the Bhutanese and Indian government.
    Bhutan is not at all short of rupees.
    Our government just want to close those filthy rich Indians’ illegal accounts in Bhutanese banks. These Indians are getting richer at the Bhutan Government’s cost as they withdraw money in INR but deposit in Nu.and Government pays 10% tax to get INR from India.
    Very simple my friends.So no worry.

  13. Gandhi inspired his people and showed light to the Indian leadership that it is only by living life like the poor and living with them that one truly understands the problem of India. “Simplicity and truth” were his philosophy as an inspiring leader. What inspirations do we get from our leaders in Bhutan, a gho that cost over 50K, mobile phone costing over 50K, a landcruiser arrival and subject lining on both side of the road not even lifting their face as if they are slaves, I have not seen any of our leaders in the vegetable market carrying vegetables for their own consumption, either the cook or the driver will do that. If this is the inspirations we get from our leaders, surely every parents wants their children to become a dasho which means previlige, red carpet and a princely life. Where should the changes start?

  14. meat banned? says

    owey….but meat is banned this time.. then how come restuarants and politicians are enjoying meat when simple people are following the rules…… same thing will happen with rupee shortage today so many rules are made overnight but within one month everything will be same as before….

  15. Bro….It costs India millions to keep Gandhi living in poverty.

  16. Kelpazangla says

    The story telling and the reality is not surprising. What is surprising is The OL, one of our prominent Parliamentarian has realized this so late.

    So, no wonder, corrections are late and we suffer deficits only!

  17. Pelden Drukpa, please tell me which part of the world you live in? I need Indian Rupees to pay for my daughter’s college. I can’t pay her fees by having the right “atitude” as you have advised. Your arrogance says one and only one thing – you are an elite who benefits from the status quo. Please think of people like me (majority) who live on average salary of Nu 15 to 20000 a month. It is an insult when people like you gives any sort of advice.

  18. Indian rupee crisis is real. I just came from Phuntsholing after attending training and field visit. Each day, a long column of people line up before PNB, BoB for rupee to get their daily allotment of Indian rupee and cross over to Jaigon to buy Indian stuff. I did not have time to line up so i was rupee less and could not buy even a packet of Khaini from jaigon. I think the problem is real. To make situation worst, i knew that Rupee black-marketing is going on and price of commodities are artificially hiked………….


  19. Why do we need Rupee?
    Elsewhere business beyond borders is done by importers/exporters. Consumers buy from retailers and pay in respective currencies.
    We are so messed up hopping across the border, buy cheap stuffs and pay in our currency. This whole thing is not normal and the current situation is expected, anyway.
    Therefore, this Rupee crunch drama is not a big deal. In fact, I consider as an opportunity for us to do things like everyone else. Comparing the cost of sugar in Phuentsholing and Jaigaon is not at all fair! And we are so used to doing that.
    When it comes to travelling outside or import of essential items there is no problem at all. Generally speaking more than 70% of Bhutanes has nothing to do with the Rupee. Our folks in the villages hardly have cash. Those of us doing jobs spend half the salary on house rent, 20% loan repayment and the rest is hardly sufficient for groceries. Unless, you have just returned from abroad or engaged in some corrupt practice the average Bhutanese has nothing to worry about Rupee crunch or anything.
    ………but these are just my thought, perhaps a layman’s thought

  20. Perhaps, Bhutan will benefit in near future from this Rupee crisis! Or should i say, Blessing in disguise!

  21. I mean,come on.The honest of people nowadays and their wish to pay for anything and be fair is Zero.Do you know much much money would it cost if the actually imported from Bhutan on daily basis?And guess what,they would not even cover a 5th part of it by their salaries together,especially cause their restaurants are not as visited as Chinese,and people are reluctant to pay anything,cheap bastards,and yet criticize.I am a foreign myself,not from Bhutan,but I think you are doing a great job as Asian wanna be White(American) and also guess what,I run a tour company.Who cares what you write in a first place?Who are you?Lame still to speak so of your country restaurant knowing you are one of those cheap bastards I mentioned before reluctant to pay a dime!!!

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