What are the five main fruits in a Bhutanese fruit bowl 'thokay'?


There are usually five fruits that make it to the 'thokay' (fruit bowl) placed on the altars or in front of the King, Chief Abbot and Lamas.

While a small country in size nestled between two Asian giants, Bhutan has extremely diverse agro-climatic conditions due to dramatic variation in elevation. This climatic and altitudinal variability of the country allows the growth and cultivation of many crops and fruits. Since there is no documented evidence, little is known about what fruits are original to Bhutanese soil. 

However, fruits always occupied a prominent place on the altar as an offering in all religious ceremonies and as a fruit bowl (‘thokay’) on special occasions as part of the Bhutanese tradition and customs. One can see the presence of all types of deciduous fruits like apricot, peach, pear and persimmon near most monasteries and district administration buildings in Bhutan. These lend support to the assumption that fruit cultivation meant solely for offering and family consumption must have been part of Bhutanese history since time immemorial. 

With the beginning of the First Five-Year-Development Plan during the reign of the third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (known as the Father of Modern Bhutan), modern fruit cultivation has been identified as a potential source of income for the farmers. That was when commercial cultivation began and fruits grown in different parts of Bhutan became accessible in the market for local consumption and few for export. 

Given the limited to no use of chemicals especially in fruits as most of them are not grown at a large commercial scale, the limited supply of fruits from within the country are not only safe but tastes naturally delicious and remain a hot commodity in the local farmers' section at the Centenary Farmer’s market. 

So, what are some of these fruits that are popular and available that you can try on your next trip to Bhutan? As outlined above, there are many fruits grown locally and more imported from neighbouring countries that you could try. 

To make your fruit-tasting more culturally inclined and intriguing, here are five popular fruits in the Bhutanese fruit bowl 'thokay' you could consider trying:

1. Pineapples

On every special occasion, Bhutanese make a fruit bowl ‘thokay’ and place it in front of the guest of honour. Pineapple is usually the main fruit placed in the center with different fruits placed decoratively around it in a copper vase/bowl. Given the cultural significance the fruit has, you could start with pineapples.

2. Apples

Apple is considered to be the most important deciduous fruit crop introduced from India and grown on a commercial scale since commercial cultivation of fruits began in Bhutan. The majority of the apple orchards are confined to the Paro district. The most common varieties grown and sold in the market are Red Delicious, Royal Delicious and Golden Delicious. Locally grown apples are available in winter and can be seen sold by the roadsides, especially in Hongtsho on the Thimphu-Wangdue highway. One can easily pick up apples as a healthy snack en route while travelling across the country!

3. Oranges

Places in the southern part of Bhutan like Gelephu, Samtse and Tsirang supply the sweetest and most juicy oranges during the season. Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway sees a throng of people selling oranges by the roadside to commuters. If your entry point to Bhutan is from Phuenstholing, you are in luck. The same oranges of course are also available in market places of other districts. 

4. Bananas

If pineapple takes the center stage in the Bhutanese fruit bowl, then banana is like the artist closing the show – circling all the fruits in the bowl as four pillars of strength. Wild bananas grow in almost all of Bhutan’s sub-tropical and temperate regions at up to 1,800 metres. However, the most scrumptious ones are said to be from the Sarpang district which cultivates around 12 varieties of local bananas. Be sure to try the bananas when you are in Sarpang.

5. Pears 

It wouldn’t be wrong to assume that pear must have made it to the ‘thokey’ and often take up up major space because of its abundance. Naturally occurring local types of pears are found everywhere – from a family’s backyard to the wild forests. Its easy accessibility also makes them the most cost-effective but that doesn’t make them any less tasty — the opposite is true, thanks to it being near 100% organic! You can also find dried pears that make a delightful snack if your travel itinerary includes hiking. 

In addition to the above five main — not set in stone — fruits commonly used, ‘thokey’ can contain dried dates locally known as ‘guendum’, dried persimmon called ‘aanday kam’ and other imported fruits. 

Sophie, who was working as a music teacher in Bhutan once said to me, ‘We have carrots in London. But the ones in Bhutan taste so differently delicious.’ Hopefully, the fruits in Bhutan lives up to the same expectations for you. 

Find out what are the other popular agricultural products available in Bhutan.

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