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22 June 2015 / leggypeggy

Discovering new ingredients in a Bhutanese market

birdseye of Bhutan market

A birdseye view of the Thimphu farmers’ market

We didn’t have the chance to visit many food markets while we were in Bhutan, but the weekend farmers’ market in Thimphu (the capital) helped to tide me over until my next ‘fix’.

This amazing market draws vendors from all over the country and nearby India too, I think, as there was an entire section of Indian food items. Farmers start arriving from Thursday and stay until late Sunday, unless they sell out.

The market has two parts—food and craft— and is located on the edge of town, near the Wangchhu River. We focussed on the food section and were rewarded with new ingredients and new takes on some known ingredients.

cheese ropes

Ropes of dried cheese

chillies with scale

Chillies galore

After eating just a few meals in Bhutan, we figured out that cheese and chillies are the national ingredients. They’re in virtually every dish and served at every meal—even breakfast. Not surprisingly, the market had hefty supplies of these national ingredients.

fiddlehead ferns

Fiddlehead ferns

Fiddlehead ferns are another popular item. I’ve known about these ferns for years and always thought of them as being native to Canada. Let me tell you, they grow wild all over Bhutan too. We had several meals featuring ferns—they are delicious—but the first time I saw them for sale fresh was in the Thimphu market.


Incense stall

Although not a food, incense was another common item on display. It’s important in the home and in monasteries. I don’t think religious rituals can take place without dozens of incense sticks burning.

A completely new-to-me ingredient were crow’s beaks. These bright green vegetable pods are hollow inside and a little bigger than a thumb. We never ate any, but they smell a bit like cucumbers and I’m told they taste a lot like green beans. Common names used in Bhutan for this plant include slippery gourd or olochoto and kichipoktho. I’ve now discovered that crow’s beaks are also grown in South America (although I never saw it there) and that, in tropical climates, the plant can grow to 40 feet.

I’ve seen plenty of bitter melon in markets around the world, but Thimphu was the first place I ever saw it pre-sliced. Nice idea.

I was surprised to see banana pods, tamarillos and other fruits that I think need a warmer climate to grow. But Bhutan has better weather than I imagined. In fact, the southern part of the country, that borders India, is quite mild for a good part of the year.

The market was well-supplied with all sorts of produce that is designed to keep well. This especially makes sense in a place where remote and rural households might not have refrigerators or reliable sources of power. So there were vast arrays of honeys, pulses, dried vegetables, dried mushrooms, dried fish, tea, pickles, and herbs and spices. They were selling the biggest bay leaves I’ve ever seen.

Of course, one of the best things about visiting markets is the people-watching. It’s a chance to see how and what people buy and sell, what they wear and how they work.

dried fish

Selling dried fish


Preparing cabbages


Leave a Comment
  1. jazzyoutoo_lostinbraga / Jun 22 2015 11:26 pm

    Fantastic place!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. priyankamoraes / Jun 23 2015 12:42 am

    Dried cheese …….wow ! Never seen that one before. Nice shots !

    Liked by 2 people

  3. thewhisperingpen / Jun 23 2015 1:03 am

    Your images are gorgeous! What an amazing experience!

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jun 23 2015 2:34 pm

      Thanks so much. It was a wonderful market to visit.


  4. Curious to the Max / Jun 23 2015 2:44 am

    Fascinating – I had no idea that ferns of any kind were edible. And the hanging cheese looks like installation art!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jun 23 2015 8:02 am

      Funny you should say that. Neighbours two houses down have an art installation that looks much the same.


  5. susan@marsha'sbungalow / Jun 23 2015 5:11 am

    Fascinating market. The idea of a market that is there on Thursday, gone by Monday is so alluring. No sliced bread there, I imagine!

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jun 23 2015 8:04 am

      No sliced bread, in fact, not much bread at all in Bhutan. Our Fyshwick Market in Canberra is open Thursday to Sunday. I can buy great bargains after 4pm on Sunday.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Curt Mekemson / Jun 23 2015 5:12 am

    I found the ropes of dried cheese quite interesting. I assume they are dried to avoid the necessity of refrigeration? –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jun 23 2015 8:06 am

      I think you’re right, Curt. Not only do the cheeses have to make it to the market, but they have to survive for the buyer too.


      • Curt Mekemson / Jun 23 2015 10:00 am

        Sounds like good backpacking food. 🙂 –Curt

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Jun 23 2015 12:18 pm

        It is. We camped all the away across Bhutan and needed to carry food that would keep.


  7. Dorothy / Jun 23 2015 7:19 am

    Amazing the variety of food that does not need refrigeration. I can remember as a child not having a fridge. Dad could not see the point in them he reckoned our cupboard by the back door was as cold as anyone needed for storing stuff. Mum still bought one. Would not like to live without one nowadays. Dorothy


    Liked by 3 people

    • leggypeggy / Jun 23 2015 8:07 am

      I can’t imagine living without a fridge. In fact, I have two and both are crammed full.


  8. Sy S. / Jun 23 2015 9:03 am

    Thank you LeggyPeggy, for another great post of a food market in the capital of Bhutan. Each food area is simple, but clean and the people seem to be dressed nicely. And yes, many vegetables, cheeses which are new to me. How is the cheese used, served? What is that red closed tulip/flower vegetable? and with beige thin tubes? around it? Also, I am surprised there is no fresh milk/yogurt from local domesticated animals, water buffalo, goats…or fresh meat (even without refrigeration) or dried. Where did the pineapples come from? warm India?

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jun 23 2015 12:54 pm

      Oh yikes, I forgot to mention butter and livestock. All the milk (from cows and yaks) is made into cheese, butter or some yogurt. Bhutanese are big meat eaters, but they don’t slaughter any of the livestock themselves. That gets done in India.
      The red closed flower is a banana pod—or flower of the banana tree. It’s edible, but I don’t think I’ve ever had it.
      Cheese goes in everything. Usually it melted into a dish. Can say I had any ‘raw’.


  9. Jane / Jun 23 2015 12:22 pm

    I always find pics of overseas food markets really fascinating. That’s certainly one part of travel that I look forward too. We really don’t see markets like that here much in Australia do we? I couldn’t help thinking of the traditional fathers day gift “soap on a rope” when I saw the cheeses. As you know, I really love my cheese! As for the fiddlehead ferns, which parts are eaten? Stems and leaves? The stalks look a little like asparagus. Thanks for a really interesting food post. One of my favourite topics… 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jun 23 2015 12:56 pm

      I love food and markets too! Canberra has a couple of farmers’ type markets and I should do a blog post on one of them someday.
      As for the ferns, all of what you see is edible—heads and stems. I think all the ones I had were steamed with butter and some seasonings.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. tailorsmeasure / Jun 23 2015 7:10 pm

    Love the photos. Love markets – here and overseas. Might be related to my love of shopping.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The Sock Mistress / Jun 26 2015 5:47 pm

    Chilli and cheese, I have to go to Bhutan! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  12. chattykerry / Jun 27 2015 10:00 am

    Wow – what a market! Great blog but not sure about the cheese… I thought I was well traveled but you have left me in the dust. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. annabelletroy / Jun 29 2015 8:52 pm

    really interesting–those ropes of dried cheese look like they could be used for a kitchen chandelier, lol

    Liked by 2 people

  14. hoxton spanish tutor info / Jul 2 2015 12:38 am

    Food markets are a world on themselves. I love to visit them when travelling. As you said one of the best thing is to see the people watching and all that interaction in there. For me is the fun of exploring and finding new flavours. Thank you for sharing this. The photos are beautiful. Adrián

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jul 2 2015 8:50 am

      Thanks so much for dropping by. Always appreciated.


  15. Zambian Lady / Jul 3 2015 1:55 am

    Beautiful, colorful photos. I have found that visiting a market in a new country is a good way to see the locals in their element.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Problems With Infinity / Jul 6 2015 6:27 am

    Wow that looks like fun! Beautiful photos, wish I was there!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Shiva Acharya / Jul 7 2015 9:17 pm

    Fantastic blog. Bhutan is a place I have always been wanting to visit.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jul 8 2015 8:15 am

      Thank you. We had 15 days there and I have lots more to post about. Just getting all the photos and words organised.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. thegreyeye / Jul 11 2015 6:37 am

    Hi, I am planning for Bhutan. Can you tell me if you took flight from Calcutta or From Baghdogra airport or directly from Delhi?

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jul 11 2015 8:49 am

      We entered by road. We travelled India with Prayaan India Overland and they also took us to and through Bhutan. All our travel there was by road. Happy to pass on as much information as you’d like.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Ruchi / Jul 21 2015 5:06 pm

    There are some interesting food items at the market specially the hanging cheese. Have also not heard of many of the other vegetables.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. neha(guddu) / Jul 27 2015 11:31 pm

    amazing place……
    nice article !!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. / Jul 28 2015 6:32 pm

    Freundliche Grüße, Wolfgang


  22. agenda19892010 / Jul 29 2015 2:40 pm


  23. Laura McLively / Aug 12 2015 4:05 pm

    I LOVE your photos and descriptions — both equally colorful — of this market!!! I would love to know how to prepare banana pods… Did you get to try that there?

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Liz / Oct 13 2015 2:45 am

    Omg I’ve totally enjoyed the pictures; dried cheese, giant bay leaves, lots of herbs and spices. That is what I call a market. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 13 2015 8:18 am

      My pleasure. It really was an amazing market.


  25. payeljit / Jul 9 2016 6:29 pm

    I am born and brought up in Kolkata (India),which is not far from Bhutan.Surprisingly I never have seen ‘ Fiddlehead ferns’ and ‘dried cheese’. This article is extremely informative. By the way banana pods are my favorite vegetable,my Mum used to cook banana pods with prawns.Thank you for sharing your wonderful experiences. I am looking forward to visit Bhutan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jul 9 2016 8:30 pm

      I knew of fiddlehead ferns and dried cheese, but I have never seen them until I got to Bhutan. I’ve never cooked with banana pods. Maybe I can soon. I hope you get to visit Bhutan. It is fascinating.

      Liked by 1 person

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