top of page

Food in Dewathang Gewog, Samdrup Jongkhar District

Samdrup Jongkhar is located in the south-eastern part of the country sharing its border with the Indian state of Assam. The district has seen tremendous development activities since the 1900s with the construction of national highways connecting the southern borders with the other districts. The food system of this district is largely influenced not only by its humid and rainy weather but also by the neighboring Indian markets. We began our fieldwork on March 20th in one of the villages of Dewathang Gewog. Following the method of ethnography, we observed and participated in the activities of production and consumption of food.

The village is 2 hours away from Samdrup Jongkhar town on the border with India. There are a total of 15 households in the village. Although most people spend their time doing their chores during the day, both men and women like to enjoy a good match of Khuru (a kind of local darts) and seldom a volleyball match in the evening. There is one local shop in the village and it is the place where people gather after playing khuru and volleyball and enjoying a few rounds of drinks, including beer, energy drink, or soda.

In this village, the majority of the households raise cattle mainly for milk and cow dung which is mostly used in the fields as manure but recently it has also been used for bio-gas introduced by the government. Only a few households keep the milk to produce Bhutanese cheese (Chur) and butter. The majority of villagers have joined a milk society which is officially called Rekhay Milk Marketing Society, where the milk is collected every day and sent to their milk booth in Samdrup Jongkhar. From there, half of the milk is sold to the Indians across the border. This society earns each member a minimum of Nu. 12000 and a maximum of more than Nu. 25000 in a month depending on the amount of milk they give to the marketing group. Aside from the feeds found in and around their surroundings, they also feed their cattle Karmafeed which they claim helps in producing more milk. Other than cattle, very few houses have hens. A nearby village had a history of each household raising pigs for meat during festivals. However, it has been 10 years since it was discontinued after Venerable Dzongsar Jamyang KhentseRimpoche asked people not to rear pigs. Now, the people of the village mostly bring meat items from the Indian market across the border when required.

As for cultivation, the people here follow shifting cultivation where they clear certain areas of the forest and plant ginger and chilies together in one field. People also clear land for maize plantation but the same area will be used for about four years whereas, in the case of ginger and chilies, they will clear new areas, after every harvest. The only cash crop that is cultivated in large amounts is ginger which is mostly sold to the Indian markets. During our stay in the village, the price of ginger increased to almost Nu. 110 to 112 per Kg from just Nu.20 to 30 per kg in the previous years. Thus, the people in the village got busy digging ginger.

Other than ginger, people here also cultivate maize on a large scale. Although the main purpose of maize is to be used as cattle feed, it is also used for preparing roasted flattened maize (Tengma), grinded maize (Kharang), maize flour (ashom bokpi), production of local alcohol (ara, bangchang, singchang) and a few are kept as seed for the next cultivation which is done by the end of August.

When it comes to vegetable cultivation, it mostly consists of broccoli, cabbage, beans, cauliflowers, spinach, chilies, tomatoes, and onions. These are planted mostly with the aim of home consumption; however, few households take their vegetables to the Sunday Market in Dewathang to sell them. The Sunday Market in Dewathang allows only organic vegetables to be sold. People do not use chemical fertilizers and pesticides because they have agreed and signed documents not to do so. Several households also have a greenhouse which was earlier donated by a non-profit organization called the Samdrup Jongkhar Initiatives. This enabled the cultivation of vegetables, such as chilies and spinach, also during the summer since the cultivation of vegetables during summer is complicated due to heavy rainfalls in the monsoon season. Vegetable cultivation normally becomes possible starting from the month September. In addition to cultivation, people forage leafy plants called damburu and ferns during the summer from the forest alongside different mushrooms. They also make income by selling the mushrooms.


In terms of ritual food habits, people conduct a Dulang Tshechu twice a month on the 10th and the 25th day of the Bhutanese calendar. They collect Nu.300 from each household and conduct the Tshechu. Although in our four months of stay in the village, the village did not do their Dulang Tshechu. This is because the National Council elections were to happen and rituals were prohibited. Moreover, the Tshechu entirely depends on the contribution of every household and if one of the households refuses to contribute, the Tshechu does not happen. However, we did get to witness some of the personal Tshechus and Rimdros. During these rituals, they prepare tsho which is made up of different fruits and snacks. Most of the items in the preparation of tsho come from the locality itself such as litchis, mangos, peaches, jackfruits, cucumbers, and bananas. They also prepare khabzay, the day before the ritual. Khabzays are snacks prepared using flour such as ata and maida and sugar. Other than these they also offer factory-made snacks such as puffed rice and biscuits bought from the Indian markets. As for the ritual cakes, they use maize flour mixed with factory-made flour such as ata and maida.During these rituals, they serve food to the people who come to offer their prayers. It is their culture to attend such rituals with drinks such as ara, bangchang, beer, and carbonated drinks such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola.

During our four months of stay at the village, we participated in the field activities in the village such as sowing and guarding the tender maize plants in March and harvesting them in early July. We also participated in the planting of ginger in March to the digging of saga abi in June which lasted till the first week of July. We also got to witness and participate in public cooking and village gatherings during Tshechus and rimdros. We witnessed The Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative provided the people in the chiwog the opportunity to learn weaving and tailoring for two months. Most of the ladies from the community participated in the training so it allowed us to observe the different dishes people prepared and brought for lunch. It also allowed us to witness the type of curry they preferred and the in-between snacks they had which mostly included fruits and coffee, juice, tengma, and betel nut (doma).

According to the villagers, the village faces labor shortage and this has resulted in a decrease in maize cultivation. A lot of the youth end up going to the capital to look for jobs and the ones left here are old and not able to work intensely. Although people find it difficult to sell their vegetables due to the price competition, they face from the Indian markets across the border who sell vegetables at a cheaper rate, they are not deterred from growing their vegetables and are positive about Bhutanese preferring local products. The government also supports and encourages people to work by providing seeds and fruit trees for free. The lockdown caused by COVID-19 had provided them the opportunity to sell their products with the border gates closed, they do not wish for COVID to return but they remain hopeful that they will see better days of being able to sell their agricultural products and forest products they forage once again.


bottom of page