Showing posts with label Chef. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chef. Show all posts

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Empowering Palates and Communities: Nilza Wangmo The Woman Entrepreneur Behind a Local Cuisine Sensation

Sonia and me, with Nilza Wangmo Mam (centre) at Alchi Kitchen, Alchi Ladakh

Self discovery

Those who have read the book Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, would remember the profound realisation which draws upon Siddhartha after decades of life experiences that he didn't necessarily had to leave his home in search of spiritual enlightenment. Through his life experiences, Siddhartha understands that true enlightenment and spiritual fulfilment can be found in everyday life and in the present moment, rather than through external pursuits or ascetic practices. 

Drawing parallel from this quest for seeking enlightenment, we do see the quest for seeking success, also sets sail for so many Siddharthas (metaphor) pushing them far away from their roots into a lifetime spent in a distant world. 

Only a handful Siddharthas transform into Buddha, so does very few Siddharthas attain meaningful success at their roots, by breaking the norms of work related displacements in today's globalized world economy. 

I came across one such Siddhartha during a family holiday in Ladakh - her name is Nilza Wangmo a resident of Alchi.   

Life's journey

Alchi is a remote village on the banks of river Indus, surrounded by the mighty Himalayan mountains, about 70 kms to the west of Leh district. It's the home to one of the oldest monastery in Ladakh, build during the 11th century. 

Nilza had lost her father to a critical illness when her Mom was carrying her in her pregnancy days. She was raised by her mother in Aamei Khampa, her maternal grandparents residence. Financial struggle was a constant factor in her life, as her mother did her best to raise her with a meagre earning she made at a NGO. Nilza studied in a missionary school and then moved to Jammu city for pursuing a college degree. She was forced to quit her degree mid-way and to return home, due to financial crisis. Battling depression and overcoming it, Nilza went to Alchi (her father's village) asking for her equal rights on her father's home for sustaining herself. She and her mom, was turned away by her uncles without any help. 

Stranded in Alchi, no where to go, no money in pocket, her grandfather (maternal) stepped in to help and they managed to secure a small accommodation to live. 

Women Entrepreneur 

The twists and turns of life, forced Nilza to become an accidental entrepreneur. She took a loan of Rs 8 lakh, to start a home-stay business for tourists. This is when she stubbled upon an idea "Why not introduce tourists to the world of Ladakhi cuisine?" With her conviction in this idea, she changed her business plan of constructing a home-stay to building a kitchen (restaurant).

Through the year 2015, Nilza's mother and her aunt got into a relentless brainstorming session for curating the Ladhaki menu for her restaurant. They decided to curate a special tea - Apricot Tea (apricot fruits grows in abundance in Ladakh) and 'Tashi Tagye' tea. They experimented trying out different flavours and options for the beverage segment. Among food, they introduced the world to Khambir (local Ladhaki breads), Mok Mok (Dumplings), Chhutagi and Skyu (pasta stew) just to name a few. It was a project of culinary conservation of sitting together with the women of the local community and archiving their recipes in an era of fast food. Her restaurant Alchi Kitchen opened in the year 2016.

Nilza proudly says, she didn't go to any formal training school but self-taught herself by observing and learning from her mother passionately cooking food. Alchi Kitchen has even opened up new branch in Leh. Nilza employees women and trains them to cook, serve and manage restaurant. She encourages girls to become self-reliant by taking up a profession and making a career. 

Success and Community Impact

Fast forward to today, Alchi Kitchen is featured on National Geographic and Nilza Wangmo is recipient of Nari Shakti Puraskar from the President of India 2020 (highest civilian honour for women in India), recipient of Vogue Women of the Year Award 2020, Nilza is featured in various magazines like India Today and Vogue. Alchi Kitchen has turned out to become a must visit place for tourists visiting Ladakh. It draws international tourists from South East Asia, Europe among travelling Indians and celebrities.

Nilza Wangmo and her Alchi Kitchen is a shining example of one such Siddhartha who discovered her entrepreneurship, success and community impact by going back to one's roots, reviving the lost tradition, instead of uprooting oneself in search for success. 

Personal Anecdote

I had the privilege of meeting Nilza Mam, when we visited Alchi's Kitchen for lunch during our trip to Ladakh in May 2023. What struck me was her simplicity and hands-on approach. In spite of all the success and recognition, she was personally involved in taking orders and helping out the cooks in kitchen. During intermittent free time, we even struck a conversation with her. When I enquired about her mother, she shared her Mother, her life-long companion is no more in this world. I could feel the grief inside her as she choked while talking about her mom. Nilza - "These are all my mother's recipes, she taught us everything and she was a friend and constant support to me in this journey. I miss her a lot." As more customers poured in, she jumped into her duty of hospitality and introducing them to Ladhaki cuisines. After our heartfelt lunch, she obliged to our request for a photograph with her. We left Alchi Kitchen with special memories of local cuisine and of meeting a special person.         

Written by drawing upon my personal interaction with Nilza Wangmo and articles in India Today and Vogue.


Receiving Nari Shakti award from President of India:

Nilza Wangmo Vogue Women of the year 2020 Message to Women Entrepreneur: