Last year, Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone embarked on a memorable journey to the Land of the Thunder Dragon, Bhutan, to celebrate the release and success of her film “Pathaan” (2023), alongside Shah Rukh Khan. Amidst the breathtaking landscapes and serene surroundings, Padukone took a much-needed break from her hectic schedule, indulging in some rejuvenating experiences and delectable cuisine.
One dish that captured Padukone’s heart during her Bhutanese escapade is Ema Datshi—a simple yet flavorful stew that holds the esteemed title of Bhutan’s national dish. In a recent interview, Padukone expressed her newfound love for this Bhutanese staple, highlighting its unique blend of cheesy goodness and spicy kick.
Chef Sonam Tshering, a professor at the Royal Institute for Tourism and Hospitality in Bhutan, sheds light on the essence of Ema Datshi. “Ema” translates to chilli, while “datshi” refers to cheese in the Dzongkha language. Tshering explains that this dish is among the most beloved in Bhutanese cuisine, revered for its comforting flavors and cultural significance.
To prepare Ema Datshi, green chillies are sliced lengthwise, with some seeds left intact to control the spice level. Onions and garlic are sautéed until translucent, before adding the chillies to the pan. The cheese—either cubes or slices—is then added and stirred continuously until it melts, creating a creamy consistency. The stew is simmered to allow the flavors to meld together, seasoned with salt, and served warm.
The dish’s unique appeal lies in its marriage of spicy chillies with creamy cheese—a combination that perfectly complements Bhutan’s chilly winters. In a highland country like Bhutan, where fresh produce may be scarce during winter months, drying vegetables allows for year-round consumption. Bhutanese people view chillies not only as a spice but also as a vegetable, with the heat mellowed out by the cheese in Ema Datshi.
As Padukone reminisces about her culinary adventure in Bhutan, her appreciation for Ema Datshi reflects the rich tapestry of flavors and traditions that define Bhutanese cuisine. With each spoonful of this beloved dish, Padukone—and perhaps countless others—relishes in the warmth and comfort it brings, connecting with Bhutan’s culture and heritage in a truly delightful way.