Food and drinks are a major part of our lives in Bhutan. The tap water is not safe to drink, so we have to purchase bottled water daily to drink and use for brushing our teeth. Fortunately, bottled water is cheap here (about 60 cents a bottle), and the bottles — like the beer — are huge. Water mostly comes in one liter bottles, which is about twice as big as the standard U.S. water bottle. The beer also comes in extra large glass bottles. I didn’t get a look at the bottle to see how big they actually were, but they look similar to our “40s” at home.
Because the water is not safe, it’s also not safe to eat fresh fruits and vegetables that may have been washed in tap water. Our Bhutan guru, Preston Scott (who has been here 34 times since 2001), has pointed out two restaurants where it is safe to eat a salad — they add iodine to their water before washing vegetables, he said. I’m headed to one of them for lunch today because I really miss fresh, raw vegetables and fruit.
Our food is varied, and so far, very good. For breakfast, we eat at the hotel buffet, which always includes toast with jam and butter, something similar to oatmeal, fried eggs, French fries (!) and slices of apple or banana, plus tea, coffee and juice. We’re on our own for lunch and dinner.
I’ve had everything from Italian pizza, a chicken panini sandwich and fish ‘n chips to shamu datshi (mushrooms, onions and spicy chilis in cheese sauce), momos (dumplings filled with cheese or meat) and a yak burger (tastes like a very lean beef hamburger with the texture of a turkey burger).
Supermarkets as we know them are nonexistent in Bhutan. The closest thing we found was a new market (of about four aisles) shown below. For the most part, small stores stuffed with various packaged food items, rice, shampoo and toys line the streets.
The Hong Kong market near our hotel (a small alleyway lined with fruit and vegetable stands) is a popular place to get produce, as is the Weekend Market near the river, where vendors fill their booths with fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, cheese and eggs every Saturday and Sunday. I stopped by this morning to wander around. It was definitely a popular spot for the locals and a great place to people watch.
Jenn Crawford is the director of editorial services for UTEP's University Communications Office.