Earlier this year the Opposition Leader, Lyonpo Tshering Tobgay posted a review of a new restaurant in Thimphu and while he raved about their ribs, he also bemoaned that fact that everything on the table from the rice to the beef to the onions to the cooking oil had been imported from India . He writes, “We don’t grow our own food. We don’t build our own houses. And, besides hydropower, we don’t produce much else.” Lyonpo ( perhaps ironically?) titled the blog post, “Bhutanese Food.”
My first instinct is to agree—when I lived in the east for a year, if the big trucks didn’t wind their way up from the border there were no onions, no mangos, no chilies, no butter, no tea. But that is less our experience here in Thimphu where my parents’ garden provides a decent chunk of what makes it way to our table. Of course by no means does that mean we aren’t dependant on Indian imports for some of what we eat. But here are some of what is currently growing in our garden:
Salad green and beet root
and basil, which my mother makes into pesto using walnut or cashew nuts instead of pine nuts which are not as far as I know locally available
And here is a picture of our garden, since it slopes upwards it hard to convey it’s full scale. I do however love that my parents like many other Bhutanese kitchen gardener, also grow flowers among their veggies.
But I know we are lucky, as Thimphu continues to grow, both outward and upwards, space is becoming more and more of a luxury. How many other people can even have a kitchen garden in a Thimphu that looks more like this?
These are part of complex reserved for government servants, just below our own house and my sister’ s boyfriend – P---’s family live in one of the apartments. We often cut through the complex on our way down to town which is how I know that some of the green spaces have been used by residents to grow their own vegetables. Here are two photos of these gardens.
I asked P--- a little bit about the gardens and he says that use of these green spaces is mostly through informal mutual agreements rather than a formal mechanism. His family has lived in the complex for years and always maintained a kitchen garden but he has noticed that in recent years as food prices rise, more families who live in the complex have taken up gardening.