The winning formula
It was the year 2010, when flash floods struck Kargil district of Ladakh, and among the many affected was Nilza Angmo, the first woman of the region...
It was the year 2010, when flash floods struck Kargil district of Ladakh, and among the many affected was Nilza Angmo, the first woman of the region to be running a tourist camp, Wakha. Born in 1979 and having grown up with a single parent, a spirit of entrepreneurship urged the young Nilza to run a tourist camp in 2008, which was unfortunately washed away during the flash floods. Unfazed, she began organic farming and was growing barley, fresh vegetables, apricots and Naksran (local black bean), and was also selling homemade apricot jam.
Soon, her growing years spent helping her mother and grandmother with cooking and enjoying the aromas of kitchen served as inspiration to open a restaurant, Alchi Kitchen in the scenic monastery town of Alchi. For a restaurant that began not long ago, by an entrepreneur without prior knowledge of the economics of running an eatery, Alchi Kitchen has gained much name with tourists and began finding mention in travel magazines and sites.
“It is a traditional kitchen with a clay oven, and we use the authentic method to prepare Ladakhi bread, khambir, and the pasta typical to the region, skyu and chhutagi are hand-moulded as they should be. We dry green leafy vegetables like spinach that we use in the food through the year. We use homemade apricot jam. The restaurant is simple and has open area too and guests can sit at tables or opt for the low seating, the local style.
We make everything fresh,” explains Nilza, who is usually busy in her kitchen along with her mother, when the season is right between April and September. This October, she was in Hyderabad at the ITC Kakatiya hotel giving a taste of Ladakhi cuisine, the Alchi Kitchen way. “We serve traditional food, but I also give a twist to the recipes to make it exciting for the guests,” she shares during a tasting session organised by the hotel and Arjun Nair, the founder of ‘Discovering India’.
After tasting the food that she patiently prepared – be it the khambir bread that comes with filling of shred chicken and cheese or the chugati pasta that is a robust curry that uses red chillies for the fiery touch - one wonders why the cuisine is perceived bland in flavours. Locally grown spices like chives, cloves, ginger garlic etc, go into the Ladakhi dishes. But, of course, Chef Nilza does add her unique touch based on guests’ preferences.
While the momos, known as mok moks are the most popular fast food in the region, Nilza adds her touch if ingenuity and makes the sweeter version of them; chocolate and sweet paneer filled mok moks, and she also uses apricot jam to create diversity to the otherwise not so expansive Ladakhi dessert menu.
You must try our teas, she says. There is the southern Ladakh version with the warm tea accosted with crushed almonds and apricots floating around, then there is the butter tea – the gur gur chai that has butter and salt and is very popular locally. It is yak butter that is used in the tea, but from where Nilza comes cow’s butter is more popular. Butter tea is supposed to be good at the high altitude and is consumed several times in a day by the locals. Then there is the Qahwa – the saffron and cinnamon tea.
At Ladakhi homes menu is quite simple – there is the skyu, which is popular, the thukpa (the Tibetan clear soup with a healthy portion of vegetables tossed in), or sometimes just barley porridge or bread dipped in butter. By combining the goodness of traditional recipes with innovation to appeal to the guests in this touristy destination – Nilza Angmo has a winner at hand with her Alchi Kitchen. “My guests can try their hand at cooking as well, at the restaurant,” she offers.