If you think that a chef’s life is full of cooking day in and day out, you may be surprised to learn what a typical day for a chef is actually like. The far town TV and cooking programs beat the hunger of our tummies.
The efforts of one woman in Alchi sets the Ladakhi cuisine on hot stage and world platform. A determined struggle and beyond personal loss, her passion stood by her side and took her anchors.
In a small village, Alchi!
Nilza Wangmo runs a restaurant in Alchi, 66 kilometres away from Leh town. Surrounded by mountains in a quiet neighbourhood of ancient Alchi monastery, is the Alchi Kitchen.
The very Nilza Wangmo in her own words,
“During the creation of the 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,”
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.
“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,”.
“That is only four ingredients. What are the remaining ones?” I ask.
“Let that be a secret,” she smiled and evaded the question.
This chef’s efforts are nameless!
Efforts to customize a tea is reflective of innovations that Wangmo has to bring in daily life. The long pause before she recollects and iterates those circumstances revealed the journey of long loss.
“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,”
How did Wangmo start her business?
Wangmo took a loan of Rs 8 lakh to start a business, a home-stay in tourist Ladakh.
“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,”
Wangmo is now opening a teaching school for Ladakhi cuisine to encourage more woman chefs.
She got meticulous during the candid conversation…
“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,”
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.
Women in Charge!
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 keener than boys to learn patiently.”
Wangmo’s family life!
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.”
We wish you all the very best for the future endeavors, May you continue to inspire everyone as you go ahead in your journey!