Bhutan is this summer's must-visit travel destination for foodies with a taste for mushrooms

Bhutan's government is encouraging visitors to try mushroom foraging tours (Photo: Bhutan Department of Tourism/Supplied)Bhutan's government is encouraging visitors to try mushroom foraging tours (Photo: Bhutan Department of Tourism/Supplied)
Bhutan's government is encouraging visitors to try mushroom foraging tours (Photo: Bhutan Department of Tourism/Supplied)
Some of the destination’s 400+ incredible mushrooms you can try sprout from caterpillar heads, or are celebrated with local festivals.

Want to try foraging for edible mushrooms, learn to cook incredible new dishes, and explore a lesser-known travel destination all in one? Bhutan’s government has got your back.

The small, South Asian country’s Department of Tourism is inviting international travellers keen to explore the world of fungi this year - with all manner of fungal forays and activities on offer. Bhutan’s unique environmental conditions and rich biodiversity mean the Himalayan kingdom is home to more than 400 catalogued mushroom species. Many are thought to have medicinal properties, while others are the key ingredients in delicious national dishes.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Some of its most prized species are harvested from July to September, and are even celebrated with mushroom festivals - which visitors are welcome to attend, the Department says. Locally known as Sangay Shamu, Tricholoma matsutake - the ‘matsutake’ mushroom - is one of Bhutan’s most sought-after varieties. Revered for their distinct flavour and taste, these mushrooms grow in the country's coniferous, high-altitude forests. It is, however, also home to many other popular favourites. Distinguished by their golden hue and funnel shape, chanterelles thrive in Bhutan - while shiitake and oyster mushrooms are cultivated alongside indigenous varieties to add a rich, savoury flavour to its vast culinary offerings.

The matsutake is one of Bhutan's most prized mushrooms (Photo: Bhutan Department of Tourism)The matsutake is one of Bhutan's most prized mushrooms (Photo: Bhutan Department of Tourism)
The matsutake is one of Bhutan's most prized mushrooms (Photo: Bhutan Department of Tourism)

One of its most famed medicinal species, Bhutanese foragers also seek out the parasitic Cordyceps sinensis mushrooms - which sprout from the heads of caterpillars. “These species are difficult to harvest and only thrive at very high altitudes, making them a highly prized variety that travellers to Bhutan will have the opportunity to taste when visiting the nation,” it adds.

The Tourism Department encourages visitors to book with local guides and tour operators. “During a spectacular guided mushroom trip, visitors can learn more about the national dishes of Bhutan, foraging for fresh mushrooms - which are safe to eat and the cultural heritage of Bhutanese cuisine. Guests also have the chance to experience a one-to-one cooking class with freshly harvested mushrooms.”

Mushrooms are part of some of Bhutan’s most famous and traditional dishes, including the national dish Shamu Datshi, a stew made with mushrooms, vegetables and cheese. Shiitake and matsutake mushrooms are also used to create meals like ‘mushroom chicken’, ‘fairy ring mushrooms’, and many others. “Guests can enjoy the dishes produced with these unique mushrooms during the mushroom festivals, where locals use mushrooms to prepare a variety of delicacies, or they can enjoy them in some of Bhutan's hotels and restaurants.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Travellers can try the national dish of Shamu Datshi, a stew made with mushrooms, vegetables and cheese (Photo: Bhutan Department of Tourism)Travellers can try the national dish of Shamu Datshi, a stew made with mushrooms, vegetables and cheese (Photo: Bhutan Department of Tourism)
Travellers can try the national dish of Shamu Datshi, a stew made with mushrooms, vegetables and cheese (Photo: Bhutan Department of Tourism)

Attending a mushroom festival

While travellers can find and sample Matsutake, oyster and shitake mushrooms from local markets or even roadside stalls, those looking to take their culinary adventure even further can join the popular Matsutake festivals.

One of these is held each year in the village of Genekha, which will run from 15 to 16 August this year. The Genekha region is easily accessible by car, and is only a 45 minute drive from the capital, Thimphu. A slightly heftier eight-hour drive from Thimphu, Ura, in Bumthang also hosts an annual mushroom festival from 23 to 24 August.

The department describes these festivals as “an enlightening cultural experience”, that includes mushroom foraging, sampling delicious mushroom dishes, local cultural performances, and opportunities for visitors to try out local sports.

What UK visitors need to know before they go:

Unfortunately, there don’t appear to be any airlines offering direct flights from the UK to Bhutan, but this doesn’t mean you can’t go. You can get to Bhutan by flying from the UK to either Delhi in India, or Kathmandu in Nepal, and connecting up with a Drukair flight - Bhutan’s national carrier.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

UK travellers also need to apply for a visa and a permit to enter Bhutan, but this is a fairly simple process. You can apply online here, and your application should be processed within five days. If you’re booking a tour with a local travel company, they should be able to help you apply for your visa.

Visitors are required to pay a Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) of about £80 per person, per night (with concessionary rates for children) and a non-refundable, one-off visa application fee of £32. The SDF is used to fund important cultural, environmental, health and educational projects across Bhutan.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.