Ladakhi cuisine is reaching the world due to the efforts of one woman in Alchi. But behind her success is a painful personal loss and a determined struggle. Nilza Wangmo runs a restaurant in Alchi, 66 kilometers away from Leh town. Surrounded by mountains in a quiet neighborhood of ancient Alchi monastery, is the Alchi Kitchen. Wangmo lost her father very early in life and had to drop out of college due to financial constraints. However, today she is attempting to enlighten taste buds about Ladakh.”During the creation of menu, I realized cuisine limitations. The tea was from Kashmir or too flower-based. I decided to curate a special tea made from apricots. The fruit is available in abundance in Ladakh and easily available. Apricot Tea is now our popular speciality,” she said. Another tea is called “Tashi Tagye” – a Buddhist synonym for auspicious eight symbols.”My mother and aunt spent one whole winter trying out different flavours and we settled with eight including apricot seeds, black pepper, cardamom and nuts,” she added.”That is only four ingredients. What are the remaining ones?” I ask.”Let that be a secret,” she smiled and evaded the question. Efforts to customize a tea is reflective of innovations that Wangmo has to bring in daily life.
“I lost my father even before I was born. My mother was pregnant when he died of a disease so I never got to even see my father. I have no siblings. Mom then returned to aamei khampa (maternal grandparents residence) in Stok village, where I grew up,” Wangmo said.”My mother started to work again to bring me up. She joined an NGO, earning little money for our livelihood. I studied in a missionary school and later joined a college course in Jammu.”During the college days, a fresh tragedy struck. I was informed about financial problems at home and had to drop out. I went into depression. Those were difficult days,” Wangmo sighed. To emerge out of distress, she and her mother decided to return from Leh to their paternal home in Alchi.”We thought of our equal right on my father’s home. Sadly, my uncles were rigid and did not even allow us to enter into the property,” she said. Stranded in Alchi without a home, they rented an economical accommodation.”Again, my maternal grandfather came to our rescue and helped build a house for us in Alchi. Today, the restaurant stands on top of the same house.”Wangmo’s maternal grandfather passed away in 2004, neither witnessing the success of Alchi Kitchen nor the entrepreneur skills of his granddaughter.
Wangmo took a loan of Rs 8 lakh to start a business, a home-stay in tourist Ladakh.”During construction, we changed it to the kitchen. Mom joined in to help, I brought an assistant and opened in May 2016. Initially, nobody was even aware of how to manage or publicise our business. I was shy to advertise. However, people started to visit and spread the word. Three years later, I can say I am successfully running this kitchen,” she said. Initially, the relatives were puzzled and asked if tourists would prefer Ladakhi food. Receiving positive reviews from tourists for comparison better than hotel food, the owner gained a boost.”I am asked by chefs about which training school did I learn from. None. I watched my mother passionately cook food and self-trained the art,” she mentioned. Wangmo is now opening a teaching school for Ladakhi cuisine to encourage more woman chefs.
Alchi Kitchen opened a new branch in Leh market, a thriving tourist location. Wangmo employed ten girls and trained them to cook, serve and manage.”I need to constantly encourage girls to work harder. I tell them the benefits of employment but Ladakhi residents can turn lazy soon. They do not realize the pitfalls. I wanted to deploy local women.”When asked why not men, Wangmo added, “Ladakhi cuisine needs patience and most girls here are good at cooking. I was not sure of men as chefs as that culture is not popular yet, in Ladakh. Girls seem more keen to learn.”Wangmo now lives with her husband and daughter. Her mother also resides with them.”I face no trouble managing family and business. My mother helps me out and my house is downstairs so I keep a check on my daughter. I have a supportive husband too. Today, my mother is happy for me and so I feel extremely proud of myself.”
(Text Source: Indiatoday)
Tags: Nilza Wangmo | Woman Chef | Alchi Kitchen | Ladakh | Ladakh Entrepreneur | Ladakhi Cuisine