Kohima: From fiery pickled Naga king chillies (raja mircha) to fried aromatic axone (fermented soya bean), Naga chef and restaurateur Karen Yepthomi’s traditional cuisine stormed the recently concluded Naga food festival at Leela Palace in Bangalore.
The weeklong food festival, which concluded on Sunday, was a collaboration between The Leela Palace, Bangalore, and Yepthomi’s famed Dzukou Tribal Kitchen.
“It was an overwhelming and wonderful experience. I received so much love and respect. I enjoyed whatever I’ve come here to do, and that is cooking,” Karen told EastMojo.
She informed that nearly 200 kg of local spices and ingredients were outsourced from the organic air-conditioned market in Dimapur through the air cargo service for use during the food festival.
“The Naga menu served at the Dzukou Tribal Kitchen (in Delhi) was served here. I made sure that everything, including the sticky rice, smoked pork, yongchak (stinky beans), dried bamboo shoot, perilla seeds, and so on, were organically sourced from the Organic AC Market in Dimapur. Through the cargo service, the spices and ingredients from Nagaland were shipped here directly in a day. Everything is so authentic,” she said.
In-house guests of The Leela Palace, Bangalore, from across the world and outsiders got to try Naga cuisine during the Naga food festival, where the food was served as part of the dinner buffet at the Citrus restaurant.
“People experimented with the chillies and loved the food. Another interesting part was getting to meet many young Northeast people who work here. I had a one-hour session with them as per the request from one of the directors, as they were excited and proud that Naga food was served at the hotel,” she excitedly recalled.
Meeting with the young employees over high tea offered the hotel, Karen said it was very encouraging for her to learn about how the Northeasterners were well looked after, respected and differentiated as people from the region.
She informed that during the meeting, she shared about her culinary journey and the job she does. “I told them that I started with nothing but dedication and hard-work. It is important to think, focus and execute. During that beautiful session, I also challenged them to concentrate on learning something new, through workshops and conferences that could influence them in their jobs,” she said.
The top Naga chef also took the opportunity to encourage the young people to help each other in achieving their goals. Saying that the region is blessed with natural gifts, she added, “Our culture is beautiful and unique. We must show our worth”.
While she acknowledged the interactive session with the employees from the region, she also thanked The Leela Palace Hotel for creating a friendly working environment for people from the region.
“I’ve collaborated with other properties elsewhere, including Singapore, but the experience here is different. I’ve shared the kitchen with other chefs and we cooked together, and the fact that there are many people from the NE was so encouraging,” she added.
The Delhi-based Naga restaurateur was awarded the 13th National Women Excellence Award in 2020 by the Indo-European Chamber of Small & Medium Enterprises (IECSME) in Delhi.
As reported earlier, Yepthomi’s Dzukou Tribal Kitchen in Delhi has been grabbing the attention of Northeastern people living in Delhi, among others, for her Naga cuisine and the elegant look of her restaurant. Yepthomi has another eatery by the same name — Dzukou Tribal Kitchen — in Kathmandu, Nepal.
In 2019, a video uploaded by Yepthomi went viral on social media when few female members of the Delhi Police’s ‘Special Police Unit for North East Region (SPUNER)’ who had visited the Dzukou tribal kitchen urged the people of Northeast to seek their help in times of distress. These women police had also advocated for safety of women in Delhi.
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