For Noorjahan, becoming a member of Zaika-e-Nizamuddin — a woman collective preserving Delhi’s age old recipes — was not an easy choice.

She faced opposition from her family members who wondered how she would take care of her 3-year-old. Nonetheless, Noorjahan gathered strength and joined the collective.

She, along with the other women at ZeN, has been reviving 700-year-old Mughlai recipes to serve people across Delhi, earning Rs 10,000 per month.

These women, who live in Delhi’s Nizamuddin basti, have found confidence and financial stability with ZeN.

The collective was conceptualised and initiated under the Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in 2015.

AKTC helped them with strategising, quality control, capacity enhancement, and direct financial support to set up the kitchen.

As their popularity grew, AKTC helped them put up stalls in exhibitions and events, build a social media presence, and organise cuisine experiences.

Besides giving the women financial stability, ZeN has also increased their self confidence.

“At one point, I was so scared to visit the bank or talk to strangers. But now I can go anywhere, and talk to anyone without any fear. The best part is I have been able to change my family’s perspective. They are proud of me now,” says Saiba, a member of ZeN.

Noorjahan says, “Usually, it is the men you see around old Delhi selling and representing our culture. But we also want to give the customer an experience.”

“We use traditional techniques to make kheer, phirni, kebabs, haleem, soup, biryani, pickles and korma. We do not add colours.”

All the members of the collective get a chance to perform leadership roles by being the deputy leader on a rotational basis for six months.

What started as a small initiative earning about Rs 200 a month has grown exponentially, earning a turnover of Rs 29,50,000 in 2020.

They have catered for weddings, social gatherings, kitty parties at five star hotels such as Park Hyatt and JW Marriott. and even at the Australian High Commission.