I must confess that I was pleasantly surprised and pleased by the quality of Bhutanese cookery. Variation on a theme springs to mind but in an agrarian society food is often dictated by what is available at the time. The seasoning and taste were spot on, with delicious food frequently served throughout our trip.
Part of my itinerary request was to experience local food, per booking I had read about the international buffets and was keen to avoid them where possible. The notoriously chilli heavy Bhutanese food was tamed for western palates in a few places we stayed but was at its best in the local eateries.
Most of the local restaurants had a weird feel to them, stark and bleak with bad paint jobs and scuffed floors. More like a series of living rooms with any decoration and embellishments removed, each room is kitted out in a similar fashion, regardless of size or lighting with a few sofa like seats around a few coffee tables. They are so far removed from our concept of a restaurant that if as a tourist you wanted to try something local you’d probably not be brave enough to sit down and order without a local accompanying you. The ambience is not inviting.
In one restaurant where the meal happened to be excellent, there was meat drying in a fly proof cage out the front. This meat in full sun gave the place the smell of an unclean butchers shop, not bad, just not good, certainly off putting. I’m certainly glad I had the opportunity to enjoy such great food, I wasn’t expecting it.
The Thimphu Farmers Centenary Market
This market served as an excellent place to see much of the Bhutanese produce available at the time of my visit. Inside the newly built market building this very clean, calm, airy market is separated into 2 levels, the upper level for Bhutanese produce, the lower for produce imported from India. Nearby the considerably smaller grain market shows a complete range of locally produced rice.
Strolling through the abundant food market I’m surprised by the range of local vegetable produce, never have I seen so many chillies in one place. I could peruse the open stalls, there is so much more than I expected, the stall holders and local shoppers alike offering me curious glances, their generous smiles mirrored my own, often revealing a set of betel stained teeth.