PETALING JAYA: For a migrant woman named Nazia, Biryani Wallahs is a string of hope that pulled her out of the darkest times.
The 41-year-old part-time teacher received a terrible shock when she found out that her husband was stranded in India after the country went into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Nazia was left to take care of their children by herself in Malaysia.
“I felt lost. My fifth child was due for delivery when the world was in total lockdown. It was very hard for me to cope,” Nazia told FMT.
It was by pure chance that she stumbled on human rights activist Mahi Ramakrishnan’s Facebook post looking for chefs to join Biryani Wallahs and decided to give a call.
Little did she know, her life was about to change for the better.
Biryani Wallahs is a business that aims to empower women from the refugee and migrant communities as well as B40 families, giving them a chance to be financially independent so that they are able to pay rent, cover their children’s tuition fees and maybe even put aside a little bit of savings.
Mahi, also the founder of Briyani Wallahs, said the business received incredible monetary support from NGOs and corporations, so much so that it was able to break even and start making a profit after operating for a year-and-a-half.
Right now, 100% of the sales go to the five female chefs at Biryani Wallahs, who are able to earn up to RM2,000 a month by cooking pots of delicious biryani from the comfort of their own homes.
“It’s a blessing. I feel very proud being able to provide for my family,” Nazia said.
“It is a lifeline for me and many other chefs.”
Her mornings are usually spent filling her biryani orders for the day.
After morning prayers, Nazia would chop up onions and red chillies, check on the marinating meat in the fridge and grind her homemade blend of biryani masala, which includes coriander, cumin, cardamoms and bay leaves.
Depending on the size of the order, she could spend up to two hours cooking in the kitchen. Just recently, Nazia had prepared and packed 50 servings of chicken biryani with chutney for students at the Somali Refugee Community Center – all paid for by a company fulfilling its corporate social responsibility.
“I enjoy cooking for Biryani Wallahs a lot. It’s like a routine for me. It might be difficult if you ask me to do other work, but cooking is something that’s already on my mind. I know what I have to do,” she said.
Now the head chef of Briyani Wallahs, she said Mahi had given her a “gift” to earn a living from home, and in return, she had given the business her unwavering loyalty.
“I’ll always be with Biryani Wallahs in some form, even if I can’t cook. I’ve been promoted to the level where I can teach and train people. I’ll be doing my part. My presence will be there,” she said.
The menu has expanded since 2020 to include not only chicken biryani but also mutton biryani sold at RM27.90, prawn biryani sold at RM25.90 and vegetarian biryani sold at RM16.
Moving forward, Mahi said she planned to secure more funding for Biryani Wallahs so that they could hire social media managers to help advertise their products online.
She also hoped to hire riders to deliver the biryani orders instead of relying on delivery companies with costly shipping fees.
“We also want to expand the business to include other women who have shown interest and also to pay Nazia to train them so that we can make sure the quality of the biryani is maintained,” Mahi said.