The mother of all pickles

Preserving more than food, they're preserving generations-old recipes and want you to try it
Sikuma Rai
September 7, 2018

Like many Nepali housemothers, Bhimi Gurung spent her life preparing three meals a day and bringing up her children. Still, she felt she had not accomplished much, and one day confided as much to her daughter, Muna, who had just returned from the United States. 

The remark affected Muna Gurung deeply. Her mother sacrificed her whole life for her family, and now she needed something else to keep her busy doing what she was best at.

Bhimi Gurung’s pickles were famous among family and friends, so last year Muna started marketing varieties of organic pickles under the name Āmāko (which simply means Mother’s). In no time, the pickles started flying off the shelves, first at weekend organic markets, then in stores, and now online. 

Āmāko is now an intergenerational company, producing 10 varieties of handmade traditional Gurung pickles, with four more varieties in development.

“My mother’s cooking, especially her pickles, used to be admired by Nepalis and foreigners. So, I thought, why not turn it into a business?” Muna says.

It was not easy to persuade her mother to get involved, however. What finally clinched it was when Bhimi Gurung remembered that when foods are served to the Rinpoche in a Buddhist monastery, the name of the cook is often taken with reverence.

“The cooks are usually thanked and blessed for their kindness and culinary skills,” explains Bhimi Gurung, “I cannot compare myself with the great chefs of the past but the thought of bringing happiness and satisfaction to many people was what pulled me towards this idea.”

Pickles (achar in Nepali) are an integral part of Nepali cuisine, a spicy and/or sour condiment that complements the dal bhat tarkari staple. Historically, pickles in many societies were a way to preserve vitamin-rich food for the winter before refrigeration was invented. 

Read also: Could Nepali cuisine go global?, Thomas Heaton

Āmāko pickles before putting labels. All photos: MONIKA DEUPALA

Bhimi Gurung’s most popular Āmāko item is the khursani achar, a chilly pickle that is lip-smackingly hot. It is versatile and can spice up omelettes or meat dishes, can be mixed with soy sauce for easy snack dipping, and can even be sprinkled over dal.

“My mother experiments with different ingredients for new recipes. She takes charge of the creative department while I manage the marketing and money matters,” says Muna Gurung. 

Her easy-going father RB Gurung tends the organic garden, where the ingredients are grown, and does the outreach to the markets. He also strongly pushed his own favourite, the gundruk achar, which is another hot favourite among customers.

Read also: A Kiwis takes to Gundruk, Thomas Heaton

Āmāko team from left: Bhimi Gurung (mother), Pashupati Gurung (sister-in-law), RB Gurung (father) and Muna Gurung

Muna Gurung brought Bhusan Shilpakar to do the contemporary branding and packaging of the elegant glass jars which contributes to the exotic image Āmāko has built for itself within one year.

She looks at her mother affectionately, and says: “I now understand my mother better, not just as a mother but as a woman with her own needs and hopes.” 

With a sparkle in her eyes Bhimi Gurung also shares her gratitude: “At 69, my life has changed completely. Thanks to my daughter, I am living the happiest and most satisfying moments of my life.”

Āmāko pickles are available at: Maya Ko Chino, Jhamsikhel, One Tree Stop, Darbar Marg, Everfresh Café, Pani Pokhari, Le Sherpa’s Farmers’ Market, Pani Pokhari, Garden’s Café, Bouddha, Kar.ma Coffee, Thamel, daraz.com.np and smartdoko.com.

Watch the Gurung duo in action as they prepare one of their popular items, Mulako achar and talk about how her pickle-making skills started a successful inter-generational business.

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