Food is one of the few things that gives me intrinsic happiness. My love lies in cooking, learning and experimenting with newer cuisines and new ingredients – more so if they are something local to a region.
My trip to Bhutan would have been incomplete without a visit to the local food market there. I pestered my trip host to make a stop to a local market there and they gladly obliged my request.
So, we made a short stop to the weekend market in Thimphu to explore the place a bit.
The market is held usually only over the weekends. The building is a massive one storey structure, where you can find almost everything around Bhutanese food – be it pulses, lentils or vegetables.
Bhutan imports quite a lot its other produce from India as well. However, they do have extremely strict quality control checks too and ensure that the materials they source are organic to an extent and if not, then treated with the least amount of chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
Bhutan cultivates a lot of produce locally too and some of the stuff that I saw in the market was quite amazing.
Entering the ground level space, you can find many vendors selling rice. Red rice is a local specialty and is grown in good amounts in Bhutan. Apart from red rice, another variant that I found was “roasted rice”. These are eaten as a snack or served with soups or butter tea. They are quite nice to eat and have a good texture and bite too. Sold by the kilo, these are very cheap – at about Rs. 100 per KG. Quite a bargain, I’d say.
Moving further, you can spot almost all shops selling bags and bags of dried red chilies. Now, Chilies are a staple in Bhutan. In fact, they are eaten as a vegetable here as opposed to just a spice. The dried red chilies are pounded or even made in pastes to be used with the local food. Fresh chilies are also found here and these are the ideal ones for making the traditional dish called “Ema Datse” which translates as “Chilies and Cheese”.
For ease of use, some shops were also selling the pounded chili powder in bags which you can just pick and use directly.
Dried beans are another local staple and these are packed and sold in the market too.
Walking through, I found something interesting – what the locals told me was a medical product. It was to be boiled in water and consumed for curing coughs. I don’t really know what it is called but it looked like a huge pod to me.
Fiddlehead ferns were in season and a few selected vendors had them. But these are had in soups as well as sautéed and had as stir fries too.
Some local flowers were popular too as vegetables and were sold here. I couldn’t really understand how these were used in cooking (owing to my limited knowledge of Bhutanese language and hence, the limitations in conversing with the locals there) but I believe they were to be used in vegetables and stir fries. These were delicate white blossoms and don’t really last longer than a day.
Tree tomatoes or tomatillos were another product found widely in the market. I haven’t eaten them anytime but I believe they make for a good sauce or a gravy.
Finally, the product that caught my heart was the local cheese or “Datse” as it is called. White roundels of soft cheese, usually made from Yaks milk and cow’s milk, were stacked and wrapped in plastic covers were sold by a few vendors. It would have been wonderful to buy and cook with them and get some home but since the cheese is made fresh every day and without the addition of any preservatives, the shelf life is limited to just a day. It wouldn’t have survived the journey back home.
Another interesting product I found in a few shops were the dried versions of pumpkins, mushrooms and a few other green vegetables.
The market was filled with people – mainly stocking up for their week. The vendors were hospitable but beware, sometimes, they can mislead you for selling their produce too (I was told the white flowers could stay for 15 days by one vendor and while I almost bought them, my tour guide advised not to as they could stay only for a couple of days). Bargaining is possible here but then again, the food isn’t high priced. You could try a bit though.
Indian currency is usually accepted here, which was a boon for most of us in my group.
I spent barely 30 minutes in this market as we had to take off for our other location but the 30 minutes I spent here gave me a bit of insight in the lives of people here and their food.
While a little more time would have definitely been loved, I guess you always have to leave something for a next visit too.
Someday, I will be able to visit this land again and possibly, cook with the local produce from the market too.
In the meanwhile, I managed to buy a vegetable that looked like a baby tomato but was in fact called a local variant of an Eggplant.
The recipe I got from the vendor for it – well, slice it, fry it and then eat..Else it would be very bitter in taste. I do not have a name for them but here is the image. In case any of you readers know, leave a note of it in the comments.