The Centenary Farmer’s Market in Thimphu is an explosion of colours and scents. Thimphu residents throng the market on the weekends, to buy the freshest local produce from across the country, as well as a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and other products imported from India. The existing two-storey concrete structure was inaugurated in 2008 and renamed the Centenary Farmer’s Market– the previous vegetable market operated out of rows of open structures with roofs, and tents in between.
Produce are sourced from across the country, with the most perishable brought in from Paro, Punakha, Wangdue, Haa, and villages around Thimphu.
The two-storey Centenary Farmer’s Market, built in 2008, is crowded with Thimphu shoppers looking for fresh vegetables and fruits in the weekend.
Banners above the stalls at the Centenary Farmer’s Market encourage buyers to eat colourful, natural foods for good health.
Pineapples in a row: The Farmer’s Market is a cacophony of colours and scents, with a huge variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, and other produce on display. The ground floor has fruits and vegetables sourced from various cooperatives and farmers in Bhutan as well as imported from India, while the first floor is reserved for local produce.
Fragrant incense powder (sang) of different varieties are displayed at a corner of the market. These incense powders are made from specific, special ingredients, some of which are available only in high altitudes, and sold to incense makers by nomadic communities when they visit the towns.
Boys play on a vegetable trolley while their parents, vendors at the market, market their produce.
60-year old Aum Zam and her husband are from Kawajangsa, in Thimphu, and have been selling vegetables and dried produce at the Centenary Farmer’s Market (which was the Thimphu Vegetable Market before 2008) for over ten years. Potatoes are the most popular item they sell.
Dechen Zangmo inhabits a pungent corner of the Centenary Farmer’s Market, selling strong-smelling dried fish of various shapes and sizes, imported from India. “People buy a lot of dried fish. I don’t really keep track of how much I sell in a week, we buy in bulk and store it. But dried fish is cheap, I can’t make much of a profit, however much I sell,” she says.
The fruit section is far away from the dried fish, and smells heavenly, of ripe Indian mangoes. Mangoes are popular right now, as they are in season, delicious and cheaper than they will be throughout the year.
Sangey Dema rents her fruit stall for 5 days a week, paying a weekly rent Nu 400, and estimates that she makes a profit of Nu 3,000 – 4,000.
Last season’s pumpkins are mature and flavourful- and if they are unsold for longer, they will be sliced, dried, and sold in neat bags.
Shoppers wander through the colourful stalls, choosing the best of the season’s choicest offerings of vegetables.
While most vegetables in the Farmer’s Market are seasonal- the dried chillies are as permanent a feature of the market as it is of the Bhutanese diet. Next to the chillies are dried lom (turnip greens), the quick green often added to traditional meat dishes.
Nakey (fiddlehead fern) is available in the market for a rather short season, because these delicacies can be harvested in a very small window of time, before the fronds unfurl into leaves and become inedible. In season, Nakey is extremely popular with the Bhutanese, who commonly add cheese and lots of chillies to make “Nakey Datshi” with it.
Chillies in all colours and forms are sold at the Centenary Farmer’s Market– the coarsely ground powdered dried red chillies are a staple that will be found in most Bhutanese kitchens.
A mini-spiderman clambers up the stalls filled with the season’s greenest offerings– green chillies and green beans from Paro.
Richly coloured dried red chillies pepper the market stalls with brightness.
Different varieties of dal (lentils and beans) are a big part of the diets of the Lhotsham community.
Khena Maya is from Dagapela, and sells jars of home-made bamboo-shoot, lime, and dalle (cherry-pepper) pickles, along with honey produced in her own home.
Commonly known as Dalley, the little round cherry peppers are said to be the third hottest in the world.
Traditional yeast, made by farmers in Tsirang. Yeast is often used to make local wine.
Banana flowers are starchy, slightly bitter, and usually cooked as a vegetable to be eaten with rice. Perhaps unknown to many locals who consume it, they are also among the latest in fashionable superfoods, said to be packed with all kinds of nutrients and with numerous health benefits.
On the first floor of the Centenary Farmer’s Market, vendors sell vegetables, pulses, fruits, and produce from all parts of the country.
Dried seeds, fruits, and herbs at the Centenary Farmer’s Market, Thimphu.
Besides fruits and vegetables, a variety of incenses are among the locally produced goods sold at the farmer’s market in Thimphu.
Cabbage, Brinjal, and Carrots from Bjemina, Kabisa, and Paro find buyers at the Centennial Farmer’s Market in Thimphu.
Sikam (dried pork) and juma (Bhutanese sausages) are mostly bought in bulk by restaurant owners of Thimphu.
Sangay Tshomo, a shopper at the Centenary Farmer’s Market, estimates that she spends an average of Nu 3,000 a week shopping for vegetables and fruits.
Chugo (dried cheese) is usually brought from Lingshi, and sold in strings.
Local eggs have enjoyed a resurged popularity in Bhutan, after imported eggs were banned due to bird flu breakouts. Even though a single piece of local egg costs around Nu. 9, Bhutanese report consuming more eggs than ever– they are huge and delicious.
A corner of the Farmer’s Market houses a pretty stall covered in potted flowers, priced between Nu 150-300. The flower vendor says that she sells at least 30 plants a week.
Peaches from Paro.
Aum Dema’s home dried vegetables include lom, chillies, dried pumpkins, and edible flowers.
Aum Dema lives in Thimphu, and sells vegetables from her sister’s farm in Paro.
Half kilogram packets of bitter gourds conveniently sliced.
White mushrooms are a popular delicacy, often cooked with chillies and cheese.
Small dried fish imported from India are usually ground with chillies and spices to make nyakam ezay.
Kabita is a Librarian at a private school in Thimphu, and helps her husband at the Centenary Farmer’s Market on the weekends. Her husband, a supplier of vegetables, imports vegetables from India.
Outside the Farmer’s Market, small meat shops are crammed with buyers- these shops sell cuts of fresh meat and dried meat.
The cereal section of the Farmer’s Market is comparatively quiet even on weekends. The vendors here display a wide variety of rice from Paro, Punakha and other parts of the country, as well as packets of pounded, roasted and powdered cereals.
Bhutanese red rice comes in many varieties, grain-shapes and sizes. Most of them have a rich, nutty flavour.
Boyo zaw (puffed rice), sip (flattened, roasted rice), zaw (roasted rice), kabchi (roasted, ground wheat), tengma (roasted, flattened maize) and kharang (pounded maize) for sale at the cereal section of the Centenary Farmer’s Market.
Ap Karma sells several varieties of rice grown in Paro.
Colourful Mekhu (Crispy rice crackers) made in Punakha.
Pearl Long says
I am so mesmerized!! What a lovely market. This is so informative and it does enticed me to want to visit your country! Well done… Keep up the great work and dont let modernisation change your country one bit. The world has to love you just the way you are!!
N Watkins says
Beautiful… the colors and smiles are contagious!