Anthony Bourdain in Bhutan: 5 Places Where Tony Ate
Known as the “Land of the Thunder Dragon,” Bhutan is one of the most difficult to reach and culturally isolated countries in the world. Few visitors – just 315,599 in 2019 before the pandemic – cross its borders, and this is by choice: Bhutan has high visa fees and aims to limit tourism (and its impact) on the development of its culture and country.
Anthony Bourdain visited Bhutan once, to film the season 11 finale (episode 8) of Parts Unknown; it was his only on-screen visit to Bhutan, but it more than packs a punch in showing everything that makes Bhutan special – and what is threatened by the unavoidable forces of globalization and climate change.
With acclaimed film director Darren Aronofsky as his travel companion, Anthony Bourdain sets out to sample the flavors and experiences of Bhutan – from spicy dumplings to phallus statues.
If you’re considering a trip to Bhutan (or already planning one), you might wonder about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Bhutan. Below you’ll find a list of the places Bourdain and Aronofsky ate in Bhutan, as well as the foods they enjoyed. Let it inspire you to overcome the logistical challenges and terrifying inbound flight to reach Bhutan and you’ll be well-rewarded.
Want to watch the episode where Anthony Bourdain visits Bhutan?
The Parts Unknown episode is available on Amazon and Apple TV.
Menzu Shiri Restaurant (Thimpu)
Bourdain and Aronofsky’s first meal on screen takes place in the capital city of Thimpu; they visit Menzu Shiri Restaurant to tuck into one of Bhutan’s most popular dishes: momos.
These dumpings can have any number of ingredients, but usually some sort of meat; the pair start out with traditional momos but are encouraged by a fellow patron to try the chili-cheese momos. It’s their first introduction to the incredible spiciness of some Bhutanese foods – and they both love it.
Folk Heritage Restaurant (Thimpu)
Next, Tony and Darren head to Folk Heritage Restaurant, where they have a meal with their government minder, Dasho Benji Dorji, a judge, diplomat, and environmentalist.
The trio sit down to enjoy ara as a welcome drink; Aronofsky describes it as a worm sake but made out of wheat. Then, they have a meal prepared by a local woman and her husband – both of whom are captains in the police corps but also provide an incredible spread of Bhutanese foods. Dishes they try include Dru Na Gu, a Bhutanese nine-grain dish, and yak hide with onion, garlic, Sichuan pepper and tomatoes.
Punakha Mountain Village
Next, Bourdain and Aronofsky head out of Thimpu to explore more of the country by way of the East-West Highway. This trecherous mountain road is the primary road in the country, and takes them to Punakha Mountain Village – a popular spot in Bhutan, even with its low tourism numbers.
It’s not hard to see why travelers are drawn to this village when they arrive… the area is known for a very famous, um, symbol. “For centuries, Bhutan has celebrated the, um, phallus,” narrates, before sitting down with Aronofsky and Kunga Tenzin Dorji, a journalist and musician to discuss the story and heritage of this unique and popular destination in Bhutan.
Over beers, they learn the legacy of a holy man, who reveled in sex, spirits, and seduction, which laid a foundation for a town than celebrates the phallus in all its forms. When attempting not to make light of this significant cultural and religious symbol despite its, well, joke-worthy status in Western cultures, Tony quips in the voiceover: “Never in the history of television has a host faced a greater challenge.”
As they continue traveling through Bhutan, Borudain, Aronofsky, and their guide stop at a roadhouse along the East-West Highway. Here, they dine among local construction workers – many of them Indian – as India is helping pay for improvements on the highway.
We don’t see what the trio eats on-screen, unfortunately, and the restaurant is not named either.
Bumthang Sacred Valley
Finally, Tony and Darren make their way to Bumthan, a sacred valley in Central Bhutan. They sit down to a meal before an archery tournament between two local groups, feasting on rice, braised pork, bone soup, pepper soup, turnip greens in butter and milk, yak leg, and some beetle nut dish that makes Aronofsky’s mouth go numb and draws laughter from the whole room when he sticks his head out a window to get it out of his mouth as politely as possible.
Local Dining Experiences Tony Had in Bhutan
In addition to the more structured meals above, Tony and Darren also enjoy some informal and local dining experiences:
- Yak butter tea; Yak jerky and greens on rice; and dried chilies with yak cheese at a local restaurant in Central Bhutan.
- Drinking Ara with Cordyceps – a fungus that kills caterpillars – which apparently improves virility and other health issues, at a local shop.
- Ara cocktails with bhutanese peppers, at a roadside stop.
On the whole, the episode does an amazing job of showing the beauty, uniqueness, and uncertain future of Bhutan; it certainly left me wanting to plan a trip. While there aren’t many named restaurants in the episode, it shows that Bhutanese food is worth seeking out wherever you can find it – and that caution is necessary becaues it can be quite spicy.
Have any questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Bhutan? Let me know in the comments below.