Ema Datshi

Ema datshi, the national dish of Bhutan, is an easy-to-make, hearty soup with chilli peppers (ema) and cheese (datshi).

  • Cooking time
    25 minutes
  • Calories
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[In this series, we tip our hats to some of our favourite dishes available in the restaurants, cafés, and cabins of Calcutta. Our purpose in doing so is to document their existence, and give people a way to recreate them if they happen to live away from the city. Make these at home, or hunt them down from the source—irrespective of how you get your hands on these items, we hope you enjoy them.]

Ema datshi is the national dish of Bhutan, and rightly so. All across the country, residents and travellers alike can be seen eating this hearty concoction of cheese and chillies. Apart from Bhutan, this preparation is also consumed in several parts of Northeast India and Nepal.

a bowl of Bhutanese ema datshi with red and green chillies alongside a casserole of rice and a mug of milk tea
Bhutanese shopkeeper having her lunch of ema datshi with rice and tea
Ema datshi with rice, paksha pa and beef sausage at Za Khang restaurant, Kalimpong
Ema datshi (bottom right) with Paro red rice and egg omelette curry on the way to Tiger's Nest Monastery

‘Ema’ and ‘datshi’ stand for ‘chillies’ and ‘cheese’ respectively, and as such can be made using one or more varieties of either ingredient. In Bhutan you will find fresh green chillies being sold specifically for datshi. These chillies are only moderately hot—almost like jalapenos in terms of heat. A special soft fresh cheese (datshi) is sold in Bhutanese markets and roadside stalls that has a ripe smell and a mild tang. This cheese is what goes into a Bhutanese ema datshi. Of course, being a fresh cheese, it is nearly impossible to find this outside Bhutan.

Even though datshi means cheese, ‘datshi’ is also used to refer to these cheese-based recipes. The version with potatoes, for example, is called ‘kewa datshi’ where ‘kewa’ means potatoes. Shakam datshi is made from Bhutanese dried beef (shakam). Shamu datshi is made from mushrooms, and so on. Datshis are not eaten like soups. They are eaten with plain boiled rice.

If like us you don't live in Bhutan, but would still like to enjoy its taste, this dish can be prepared using an assortment of chilli peppers for flavour. We’ve used jalapeños, but look for slightly large chillies such as those commonly used for achar or pickles. We’ve combined them with green chillies, which provide the heat. As for cheese, any good, locally available melting cheese (such as that commonly found in New Market in Calcutta) will do. In a pinch, you can also use processed cheese. Avoid using a stringy cheese like mozzarella for this soup.

A word of caution about the ratio of cheese to chillies: many restaurants outside Bhutan tend to turn ema datshi into a cheese fondue with a few chillies. In reality Bhutanese ema datshi consists of a lot of chillies coated with a little cheesy sauce. Think of the chillies as a vegetable and not a cheese flavouring when making this dish at home.

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2 servings
  • 220 g jalapeños (quartered)
  • 6 g green chillies (slit)
  • 70 g onions (sliced)
  • 15 g garlic (roughly chopped)
  • 50 g tomatoes (diced)
  • 75 g cheese (grated)
  • 15 g butter
  • 7 g vegetable oil
  • 5 g salt
  • 250 g water


  1. Remove the stalks off the chilli peppers and cut them in quarters lengthwise. Also slit the green chillies, slice the onions, roughly chop the garlic, and dice the tomatoes.
  2. Add all these ingredients to the pan along with the salt, oil, and 250 g water.
  3. Turn on the heat and cover the pan with a lid. Allow everything to boil on medium heat for 15 minutes until the peppers have softened.
  4. Turn off the heat and add the butter and grated cheese. Killing the heat before adding cheese will prevent it from curdling. Stir these in until the cheese has melted.
  5. Check for salt, which will vary depending on how salty your cheese is. Serve hot with boiled rice or tingmo.

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Ema Datshi

Ema datshi, the national dish of Bhutan, is an easy-to-make, hearty soup with chilli peppers (ema) and cheese (datshi).

  • 25 minutes
  • 282