Bhutanese Restaurants that Double as Historic Centers
Die hard history buffs and foodies usually don’t travel well together. It’s a constant struggle between museums vs. food trucks, historical homes vs. food emporiums. But with these two restaurants serving up traditional Bhutanese cuisine in historical settings, no longer will these two adversaries have to plan two separate itineraries.
Located on the outskirts of the capital city is Babesa Village Restaurant. Specializing in traditional Bhutanese cooking in a 500 year old renovated farmhouse, the restaurant is so popular that reservations (not often needed in Bhutan) are required. Not withstanding its popularity, calling early also ensures that you won’t have to wait an hour for your food. All meals are cooked in house, from scratch from ingredients from the restaurant’s local garden and family-owned livestock.
Open for lunch and dinner from 10am to 10pm (closed Mondays), the restaurant serves everything from the old favorite, red rice with ema datsi — chili in a creamy cheese sauce — to sikam paa, shakam paa, bjasha maru, pork ribs, nosha phin, and gondu datsi. They have a good selection of non-meat dishes as well, including ema datsi, chili cheese noodles, fried spinach, loam fry, ema fry and more.
And while the food is clearly the main draw, the ambiance alone is reason enough to visit. The farmhouse that houses the restaurant is one of the oldest in the Thimphu area, and entering it is to step back in time. Foot-thick rammed-earth walls with recessed windows, solid doors with heavy locks, wooden floorboards and pillars, and earth tones all set the stage for an authentic dining experience. There are long low tables with cushions on the floor for communal eating (chair seating indoors and outdoors on the patio is also available), and food is served in traditional wooden bowls and woven baskets.
Local Tip: Call early to reserve a pre-dinner tour of the restaurant and its many artifacts from the owner.
Folk Heritage Restaurant
The museum recreates a traditional Bhutanese family home inside a beautiful 19th century rammed earth and timber building. Set among terraces planted with wheat and millet, surrounded by fruit trees, the museum offers a fascinating insight into how rural Bhutanese families have lived for hundreds of years. Explore dimly lit lower floors that would have sheltered newborn calves and goats, storerooms stacked high with winter provisions and the airy living quarters on the second floors. On display are wooden bowls, richly patterned fabrics hung alongside aged leopard fur bags and colorfully decorated thangkas hung in the family’s altar room.
The Folk Heritage Restaurant offers delicious traditional meals made with local organic ingredients. The food is old-school Bhutanese and doesn’t stray too far from what Bhutanese ate hundreds of years ago.
Local Tip: Try the shikam (pork) on the outside terrace.
STORY BY SARAH CAHLAN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY VINCENT ROAZZI JR.