Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet
I am in the very early planning and researching of a first trip to Bhutan, Katmandu, and Lhasa. Will there be restaurants that I must try or should I rely on eating at the hotels where I will stay which will be in the luxury range. Thank you for your response.
Just came back from Bhutan and as w/ any cuisine, it is dependent on the chef/cook. We had a large number of meals at the hotels throughout Bhutan, mostly at the higher end of the tourist range (not the Amankora, Uma or Taj).
In Paro, the restaurant at the Zhiwaling Hotel is very good. Stick to the Indian and Bhutanese food, both of which they do very well.
Also in Paro is an excellent, local, homestyle Bhutanese place, Sonam Trohel. It was one of the 3 best meals I had in 2 wks. Tiny place, run by a wonderful woman for the last 20 yrs. She cooks what is in season and does it well. Our guide says this is his favorite place in Paro and brings groups there for at least 2 meals when they stay for 3 or more days. I would eat here every meal.
The other good meal we had was at the Hotel Dewachen in Phobjika. The cook knows how to use local ingredients w/o drowning them in "cheese (ie: cream sauce)." The emadatse we had was the best b/c he used red chilies instead of green and didn't drown it out in "cheese." Also had a delicious roasted/dry fried potatoes w/ cumin seed and cilantro. He also did an excellent dish of shiitakes and "cheese."
The rest of the meals we had were either really bad attempts at European food (Damchen Resort; cook needed to stick to Indian, which was marginally better), so-so to adequate Bhutanese or bland Indian. The bland Indian was better w/ cut up emadatse. My default meal was dal, emadatse, stir fried or steamed greens and rice. For backup, I brought protein bars but they weren't really necessary.
Definitely ask for momos. They are not the Cantonese momos, but actually smaller versions of potstickers. They're always served w/ ezzey, a fresh red chili paste that is excellent, similar to the fresh chili paste you get at Ranch 99.
I tended to avoid all meats b/c I was warned that all the meat is trucked over from India on unrefrigerated trucks. Not sure if that is still the case, but when I did try the beef, it is much grassier and earthier than what you get in the U.S. and it threw me off, probably b/c I'm not used to it being that way. The Bhutanese also have a technique of drying beef and pork, then cooking it, so it can come off as tough and chewy.
Also get fiddlehead ferns, orchids, pumpkin greens, "Indian spinach (clean taste like lettuce but crunchy stems) and turnip greens. When done right, they're all very tasty.
Unless your GI tract is used to the microbes and water of the Himalayas, it's safer to stick to the hotels or where your guide takes you. You really don't want to get diarrhea out there, unless going in the bushes along the side of the windy highway doesn't bother you. I got a leech from using the bushes in the higher elevations, FWIW.
Forgot to mention the buckwheat noodles tossed w/ oil, Szechuan peppercorn and Bhutanese chilis. We had this at a farmer's house in Chumey/Bumthang area. The noodles are short and round, not thin and long like soba, for starters. I would eat this again and want to try doing it w/ soba at home.