CHILLI Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Meet Bhutan’s first female entrepreneur

Tshewang Dema was one of Bhutan’s first female entrepreneurs. A title she’s still not entirely comfortable with.

You can’t spend a day in Bhutan without coming across ezay. A varying mix of fresh chilli, tomatoes and onions, it’s Bhutan’s answer to salad. And every family has their own closely guarded recipe. Which is why, before Tshewang launched her now-famous brand ‘Tshejor's Ayzey', there was nothing like it on the market. What made her take this leap of faith?

“I was eating in a Chinese restaurant in Austria, where I was studying hotel management. Each table had a fried chilli paste on every table. It reminded me of the ezay back home. I began to wonder if I could preserve ezay in the same way so that Bhutanese people travelling abroad could take it with them.”

That was in 1996. It took Tshewang another four years to start making preserved ezay. “Everybody makes ezay fresh at home,” she explains. “It’s prepared in the morning for breakfast and lasts for the day. Because of that people didn’t know whether to trust my product or not. Nothing else existed like it. I fry my ezay then bottle it so that it stays fresh for longer. It was a new concept to the Bhutanese.”

This wasn’t the only challenge Tshewang faced. Twenty years ago, the only business women in Bhutan were found in the trading of goods. It was unheard of to have a female owner of a manufacturing business. In fact, there were very few manufacturing businesses in the country at all. And certainly no commercial food industries.

Undeterred by what would have been good reasons to give up, Tshewang kept her job at the Bhutan Tourism Corporation Limited (BTCL) and worked on perfecting her recipe and bottling process for Tshejor's Ayzey at weekends, all while raising a young family.

The turning point was when close friends bought jars for others, to take with them when they went outside of the country. She began to make sales. Still, this was never a get rich quick scheme for Tshewang, but a passion. It wasn’t until 2010 that she finally felt her recipe was ready for wider distribution.

Entrepreneur is a new word in Bhutan. When I applied for a load through the Loden Foundation (an organisation that supports education and new businesses in Bhutan) the term first came up. I was shocked to be told that it described me.” The patience and persistence of this female businesswoman is now used by the foundation to inspire to other budding Bhutanese entrepreneurs.

With appearances on TV and online, Tshewang’s ezay business is deservedly expanding. Right now, Tshejor's Ayzey is only available in Bhutan. “I never thought anyone else would eat it too,” laughs Tshewang, modestly. Having tried it, we would very much like to eat more. So we brought a few bottles home, in the hope that they’ll last until our next visit.

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