Ema Datshi |Chili Cheese from Bhutan |Ema Datshi Recipe

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Ema datshi is the national dish of Bhutan, it is chilli cheese, which pleased my wife enormously as it is vegetarian. This is absolutely her favourite dish from Bhutanese cuisine, next to momos, and once home we set about cooking it in our kitchen. The ema datshi in Bhutan varied a lot, some was thick and creamy, some very watery, and we can’t access the traditional yak (it can’t be yak, read why further down the page), sheep, and cow cheeses available in Bhutan, but our recipe below is a good representation of our favourite Bhutanese dish. Ema datshi, Bhutanese chilli cheese, a memory from our travels to make at home.

This post originally appeared on James Long’s site World Travel Chef. It is his original content, shared on this site with permission. He is an executive chef and this is his recipe. The original is here.

chillies for Bhutanese Ema Datshi drying on a roof in Bhutan
Drying chili peppers on a rooftop in Bhutan. Hopefully to make ema datshi, the national dish of Bhutan.

Ema Datshi

Ema Datshi is quite literally “chili cheese” with ema meaning chili and datshi means cheese. This dish can be fiery hot, so it’s not for the faint-hearted. Many westerners in Bhutan can’t handle the heat at all. Ema datshi is the national dish of Bhutan and is simple and very tasty. And hot. The chili used, I’ve read elsewhere, is normally sha ema in Bhutanese and is a long pepper like cayenne, it can be a red or green chili, fresh or dried.

There are a few variations on the “datshi” theme in Bhutan, potato cheese, kewa datshi, was quite common and easier on delicate eaters. We ate this for breakfast at one Bhutanese restaurant in a hotel. It also appeared at lunch and dinner.

Other vegetables, like radish, spinach (saag datshi) and beans, or even beef and chicken, can be used, but meat isn’t so commonly eaten in Bhutan.

Interestingly we were served very little spicy food in Bhutan, but the momo, popular throughout the Himalayas (Nepal, Tibet, India), is popular. Indian tourists were served different food to we westerners, and that was rather disappointing.

The nature of tourism in Bhutan means we had no choice over where and what we ate, every meal was a buffet for tour groups.

What Is The Cheese in Ema Datshi?

cheese used in chili cheese in Bhutan
This is the Bhutanese cheese we were told is used in ema datshi in Bhutan, it was cow cheese, our guide said. However, it didn’t have a label, so we’ll need to improvise. Photo taken at a food market in Bhutan.

Our Bhutanese guide said it was normally cow cheese used in ema datshi, but I’ve read elsewhere that it can also be yak. Yaks can only live above a certain altitude and a yak is male, so I’m not sure how that works!

Either way, you probably won’t be able to get the exact cheese in your local supermarket. The photo above is of the cheese selection in the produce market in Thimphu Bhutan. Not a problem, we can make something tasty with the cheeses we can access.

What Chilies are Used in Ema Datshi?

chilli peppers for chili cheese in Bhutan
Chil peppers in Bhutan for use in Bhutanese food. The chilli peppers in ema datshi were the long red or long green type like those above. You can use fresh or dried, red or green.

Pretty much your standard supermarket long chilli pepper, but fatter, is what they use in Bhutan. They’ll use red or green chillies and in winter when no fresh chillies are available they’ll use their summer harvest, dried. In autumn it was really common to see the chilli harvest drying on rooftops like this, throughout Bhutan’s countryside.

The type of chilli used in Bhutan generally wasn’t a super-hot pepper, think more a long pepper like cayenne or Anaheim, even a jalapeno. There are so many chillies in this dish that I really wouldn’t try to make it with super-hot chillies.

Avoid Thai chillies or Habaneros, find the mildest you can. In the finished dish, the cheesy sauce is so hot, you don’t notice if the forkfuls of peppers you’re eating are hot or not.

chopped chilli peppers for ema datshi
Cutting hot chili peppers for ema datshi is quite a job. Be careful. In all the chili cheese we ate in Bhutan the peppers were cut like this, in strips.

This dish will probably work out expensive if you have to buy fresh chillies, they’re not cheap, and you need a lot. Luckily, my wife is green-fingered and grows green chillies by the Kg in our garden, so chili cheese is firmly on our at-home menu. Even my kids will eat it. In small quantities.

In Bhutan there is a thing called a “white chilli” which is a fresh chili pepper blanched for 2-3 mins in hot water and dried. We might just try drying our own white chillies but we’ll probably use the dehydrator or oven rather than the roof. The neighbours might think we’re weird. They also make dried red and green chillies in Bhutan.

Emma Datshi Recipe Tips

Ema datshi cooking in pan
Our version of ema datshi cooking on a low heat. Hot peppers, de-seeded and veined, onion, garlic, tomato, butter. Cover and let it soften in butter and its own liquids until soft. Then add cheese.
  • This is a very large quantity of chilli peppers to prepare, be very careful with your face, eyes, hands, and any other part of your body. It will be quite time-consuming to clean and slice this many chilies so don’t enter into this dish lightly. Maybe start by making a smaller amount.
  • This is rustic home cooking so I don’t think anyone is going to worry too much about exact proportions. I started with approx 500g of fresh-picked red and green chillies. I had to discard some bug-bitten pieces, so I’d say almost exactly 500g. The weight of peppers that goes in the pan is nowhere near this.
  • I added one onion, 3 plum tomatoes, and a few cloves of garlic because that’s what I had available. The ema datshi came out exactly as we wanted it. You can also add the green tops from onions.
  • Always use good quality unsalted butter and add your own pink Himalayan rock salt or Celtic sea salt. Those extra minerals are a bonus. Salt the dish at the end. Your cheese mix will have a lot of salt so taste it first.
  • The cheese mix is hard to replicate without access to Bhutanese country cheeses but we experimented with strong cheddar, goat cheese, mozzarella, and a fetta. You’re aiming for a thick soup, stew, or casserole-type dish, so the stringiness and curdyness of mozzarella or cheddar doesn’t work so well. We liked using hard goat cheese and cow fetta best. If I were in Romania I think telemea would work well. You could make a cheat version of this using cheese triangles, I think it would be OK. You could also make this using banana peppers or sweet peppers (capsicum) if you grow them, for a heat-free dish.
  • Don’t get the pan too hot at any point, you don’t want the cheese to curdle, burn, or split. Keeping the heat low and using plenty of butter will help keep your ema datshi cheese sauce together. We added a little milk at the end to make it more liquid, water would be fine too.
  • You would normally serve this dish with rice (red rice is common in Bhutan), but we serve it as a vegetable side with just about anything. It’s good with crusty bread. If you leave it cold in the fridge it’s great on toast! Or maybe I’m just weird.

Ema Datshi Recipe (Printable)

ema datshi recipe
For Pinterest
Yield: 8 servings

Ema Datshi, Chilli Cheese

cooking ema datshi chili cheese

Ema Datshi, Bhutanese chili cheese, is the national dish of Bhutan and our favourite dish from this country. It's a vegetarian main course or side dish using hot chili peppers as a vegetable and main ingredient. A fantastic chili recipe to use up chili peppers. Ema datshi is traditionally served with red rice.

Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour


  • 500g mixed red and green chili peppers of your choice
  • 10g unsalted butter
  • 300g mixed cheeses
  • 3 chopped tomatoes
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • a pinch of Himalayan salt
  • a little water or milk


  1. Prepare your peppers using all normal precautions for handling hot peppers. Remove seeds and interior ribs. Slice the chillies into long thin strips.
  2. Chop your tomatoes finely.
  3. Chop your garlic finely
  4. Melt butter in a pan on low heat. Add your peppers, garlic, and tomatoes. Stir to mix and put a lid on it. The vegetables will cook in the butter and their own liquids. Stir from time to time. Cook slowly on low heat until soft, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add your cheese, it can be chopped or grated, allow it to melt slowly into the peppers. If your cheese is looking too thick, add a little milk or water. The consistency should be fairly runny and uniform. Add salt to taste.
  6. Serve with red or brown rice, as a side, or with crusty bread.


This dish will be super hot. Proceed with caution! We find that if we keep ema datshi in the fridge to eat cold, the heat becomes less intense. Obviously, adjust this recipe to taste, this is simply my best home recipe version of the ema datshi we ate in Bhutan. Without Bhutanese cheese, butter, and peppers, it will never be completely authentic. But it tastes great! Serving sizes are approximate

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 212Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 42mgSodium: 282mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 2gSugar: 6gProtein: 11g

The calculated nutritional information is an estimate only, and will vary.

Where is Ema Datshi from?

Ema Datshi is a dish from Bhutan, a country in the Himalayas, south of China, NorthEast of India, in the continent of Asia. Ema Datshi is important in Bhutan because it is the Bhutanese national dish. This dish is served as a side dish or main dish in Bhutan. “Ema” means chilli peppers, “Datshi” means cheese in the Dzongkha language of Bhutan. So ema datshi is chilli cheese. It is a very simple dish to make, with few ingredients, but requires a lot of fresh or dried hot chilli peppers, plus authentic Bhutanese cheeses. You can substitute other cheeses (see our recipe) as you are unlikely to be able to find authentic Bhutanese cheese. It’s a delicious dish if you enjoy your food “hot”, or “spicy”. Although technically chilli peppers are not a spice in this dish, they are the main ingredient, a vegetable.

cooking ema datshi chili cheese
ema datshi

We hope you enjoyed learning a little about ema datshi and Bhutanese cuisine. This is the only country we’ve eaten chilli cheese, which is interesting as many foods in the Himalayas and South Asia are found throughout the region. It’s certainly the food we’d most associate with Bhutan. We loved visiting Bhutan, but it’s a very expensive country to visit.

This is our home version, something tasty to remind us of our travels and a great way to use up all the chillies my wife grows in the garden. It’s a vegetarian dish, which pleases the whole family, although you could serve it alongside meat, of course. Want to head back to our food section? or check out the related posts about Bhutan, and other Himalayan cuisines. Hopefully, when borders open we’ll be back on the road finding more tasty and unusual international dishes to make in our home kitchen.

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About the author
James Long
James Long, we call him Chef because he was one, an executive or head chef, is the organiser and tech-head at World Travel Family. He was unable to write coherently until fairly recently but somehow, in his 40th year, he became a writer. If it's food, computers, visas, or how to get from a to b. He's your man. He's been getting our family around the world successfully since 2012. James is an Ironman triathlete, ultra runner, cyclist, scuba diver, and supportive homeschool dad. James also has his own site, World Travel Chef.

3 thoughts on “Ema Datshi |Chili Cheese from Bhutan |Ema Datshi Recipe”

  1. ” Our Bhutanese guide said it was normally cow cheese used in ema datshi, but I’ve read elsewhere that it can also be yak. Yaks can only live above a certain altitude and a yak is actually male, so I’m not sure how that works! ”

    I have no idea how you could even contemplate that a Yak was only male.

  2. Yaks are also known as the Tatary Ox. Looks similar to a Bison, except with longer hair and larger horns.


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