The hidden restaurants of Thimphu
There are a lot of good restaurants in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu.
For non-locals, the question is just how to find them.
At home in Europe, I’m used to most restaurants being on the ground floor, usually with an illuminated sign and a welcoming doorway.
They’re easy to find, vying for my attention (and my money, of course).
Not so in Bhutan.
In Thimphu, you’d starve to death if you expected to just stumble upon a restaurant on the downtown streets.
Eating places here don’t have neon signs, billboards, or anything else to grab the attention of the hungry.
Restaurants are usually well-hidden on the first floors of the city’s shopping complexes. Tucked away between stalls selling cheap Chinese imported goods, internet cafes and tailor shops.
To find a restaurant, you usually have to climb up dirty, uninviting stairs. The smell and appearance of these staircases can hardly be considered the “amuse geule” of an enjoyable dining experience. On the contrary.
But once you’ve managed to locate the restaurant in the dimly lit hallways (God forbid there’d be a sign or an arrow pointing the way), you’re often in for a pleasant surprise.
The atmosphere can be really nice, the prices are generally low (you can get a full lunch menu for as little as a Euro) and the food is usually pretty interesting.
Chillies are considered a vegetable in Bhutan, not a way to spice up some other dish. They’re hot, but if you like spicy food, ema datse is actually pretty tasty.
Other national specialties include shamu datse – mushrooms sautéed with cheese –, or kewa datse – potatoes with cheese sauce.
And those who don’t like cheese might enjoy Bhutanese red rice, a kind of locally grown rice that tastes a little nuttier than plain white rice.
Unfortunately, you’ll only find such good food if you know where to look for the restaurants in Thimphu – and if you don’t let unappealing stairways put you off.