Kathmandu: In a place where local chillis are known for setting mouths on fire, a Naga restaurateur is raising the heat a few notches higher with her authentic Northeast recipes and mind-boggling Naga Viper chillis. Meet Naga restaurateur Karen Yepthomi, who’s cooking up a storm in Kathmandu in Nepal with her signature Dzukou Tribal Kitchen.
Scaling 12,00,000 on the Scoville heat scale, the Naga Viper was once the hottest in the world. The hybrid chilli pepper is 24 times hotter than Cayenne, and even featured in Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s hottest chilli in 2011. The viper chillis are a quintessential element at Yepthomi’s restaurant in Thamel.
A Naga by origin, Yepthomi has spent most of her life in Delhi. She visited Nepal in 2015, after raising funds for the Nepal earthquake victims through a series of concerts in her Delhi restaurant with her friend, Nepali singer Abhaya Subba.
On exploring the local market in Asan in central Kathmandu, she was surprised by the similarities — bamboo shoots, dry fish, timur (Sichuan pepper) and niguro (fern) — all of which reminded her of native state of Nagaland. Besides the parallels, she was intrigued by the fact that none of the local restaurants served ethnic Northeast cuisine. Eventually she was offered a terrace space in Thamel, which led to formation of Dzoukou Tribal Kitchen.
Yepthomi, who lived most of her life in Delhi, used to frequent Nagaland quite often. It was there where she was taught about the nitty-gritty of Naga cuisine by her mother. Without any formal education in hotel management, Yepthomi has another eatery by the same name — Dzukou Tribal Kitchen — in New Delhi.
Apart from serving traditional Naga cuisine, she serves delicacies from Manipur as well as Mizoram at her restaurant.
On entering her eatery, one can inhale the pungent aroma of the spicy viper awaiting to be relished. Yepthomi’s cooking is authentic and healthy, as there is hardly any use of oil. She procures several ingredients from Nagaland, including dry fish, much of the décor, tapestry and even the utensils.
Yepthomi landed in the culinary world by chance and Dzoukou Tribal Kitchen is purely a labour of her love.