In Jackson Heights, Chef Sharmila Shines

Chef-owner Sharmila Sherchan outside her restauarant (Photo via Nepalaya News)

Chef-owner Sharmila Sherchan outside her restauarant (Photo via Nepalaya News)

Mustang is located in the north of the Himalayas. The topographical feature of this district is unlike anywhere else in Nepal. The place is cold, but most of the land is like a desert. That’s why people even call this place a cold desert. Of the 3,573 square kilometers in Mustang, only 1 percent is arable. This is the only portion that offers greenery in the district. The small place with greenery surrounded by barren mountains reminds one of an oasis in a desert. Sharmila Sherchan of Mustang is like a flower that blossomed from the very oasis.

Despite the policies and speeches on gender equity, it’s difficult for women to move ahead in life, even in the developed countries. An example of this is clearly seen in the run-up to the current U.S. presidential election; Hillary Clinton is the first woman to run for president… Whereas Sherchan is from Nepal, where just recently women have made it to posts as high as president, speaker of the house of parliament, and chief justice. However, women’s stories of everyday struggle in Nepal give you chills down your spine.

The other feature of Mustang is, there is no cultivation of paddy here. Where no paddy grows and no rice is produced, in the same Mustang, one ethnolinguistic group located there, the Thakali, is considered to be the most skilled in cooking rice. Thakali khana, a Nepali meal with rice, lentil and curry, is popular as the national food in the country. Sherchan has taken this food to an international level. There are numerous restaurants which serve Thakali food in Nepal, and Sherchan has popularized that food here. Located at 74-14 37th Ave. in Jackson Heights, Queens, Mustang Thakali Kitchen is owned by Sherchan, who is also the chef. In Nepalese culture, women cook at home, whereas men cook in restaurants and are called chefs. In Sherchan’s case, she has stepped beyond this traditional practice and commands the restaurant as the chef.

Sherchan came to the United States in 2002, but she did not open the restaurant right away. Her husband Nabin worked at Subway. When they came to know of a store available for sale, the couple discussed the possibility and decided to open the business. Given the growing number of Nepalese in New York, they were confident that Nepalese customers would come for a Thakali meal. “People visiting New York from other states also started coming to the restaurant,” says Sherchan. “Gradually non-Nepalese customers also were attracted to the restaurant.”

According to her, more than half of the customers today are non-Nepalese. Beside the Nepali meal, the restaurant also offers Chowmein (a type of noodle) and Momo (a type of dumpling). Sherchan says, “In this journey of nearly 10 years since the start of my restaurant, I am personally satisfied.”

Compared to other groups in Nepal, Thakali women do not suffer as much discrimination; women are equally strong, in terms of rights and resources. Respect for women’s work has also helped Sherchan’s progress in this sector. This is why she has been able to taste success in life. But most of all, it’s her confidence and diligence that has led her to this achievement. She believes that just because one is a woman, she should not be left behind. She says, “Women are equally capable.” She also thinks women do not need quotas to obtain opportunities. Sherchan is socially active and she plans to continue social activities along with her business activities.

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