Back Home Again: The Return of the Famous

Features Issue 33 Aug, 2010
Text by Baishali Bomjan / Photo: ECS Media

There's good news for the  “La Marmite” patrons. Gladys and Jaya Thapa are  back in town after 17 years. Remember the delicious creamy chocolate mousse you relished when they were at Durbar Marg? That was 20 years ago. The Thapas are now at Bhatbhateni with a new restaurant/café/bakery (opposite the supermarket) called “Delicias Gourmet”. Expatriates like Jan Salter, Christopher and Keith Leslie probably missed their concoctions for over 20 years. They had been in Chile during that period working in various restaurants and clubs until they opened Shangri-la, their own venture. Here’s how ECS came to know about their return.

Dear ECS,
I just wanted to mention to you a possible story for your wonderful magazine.  For many of us who lived here in the early/mid 80s, there was one very special restaurant, where we would go to savor our dinners and chocolate mousse, “La Marmite”.  This restaurant on Durbar Marg was run by a Nepali chef, Jaya Thapa, and his Chilean wife, Gladys.  They were only open for dinner, but it was definitely worth the wait.

 Unfortunately (for us...), Jaya and Gladys decided to move to Chile in the late 80s to raise their daughters there and take their culinary delights to South America.  For many of us, Jaya and Gladys simply disappeared off our horizons, never to be seen again...

 So, you can imagine our surprise when we saw them recently around Bhatbatini!!  To our GREAT fortune, they have returned, with both of their grown-up daughters, to start their lives again among us in Kathmandu.  At a time, when so many are trying to leave Nepal, what a joy to see some people come home.

Presently, Jaya and Gladys have opened a small restaurant/café across the street from the Bhatbatini Supermarket, called, “Delicias Gourmet” serving sandwiches, quiche and, of course, their favorite, chocolate mousse.

It could be a delightful story for ECS readers to hear about the Thapas personal history, their life in Chile, their daughters return to Nepal and their dreams for a new restaurant in Kathmandu, once again.

I just wanted to mention this to you, in case you were interested in this very Kathmandu story of trying to leave this Valley, but of course, always coming home again...

Keith Leslie

A story about good food, cross cultural marriage, love and above all destiny- let’s delve into what makes Gladys and Jaya Thapa perfect partners in life and in business and what made them come home to Nepal.

Jaya Thapa was born to Chutra Bahadur Thapa and Mina Laxmi Thapa in Naxal, Kathmandu in 1953. Around the same time a baby girl, Gladys Burgos was born to Luis Antonio Burgos and Paulina Varas in Osorno, Chile. While the former was getting his formal education in St Xavier’s, Kathmandu, the latter was in Liceo de Ninas in Osorno.  Although Jaya always knew that he would one day go to France, Gladys had never in her dreams imagined living in Nepal, leave alone getting married to a Nepali. But fate brought them together for the first time in 1979 in the beautiful and romantic setting of France. “I met my wife for the first time in a party organized by the Chilean community in France,” says Jaya who got lucky in love and met her once again in Bordeaux (University) in France where he had received a full scholarship from HMG of Nepal. Luckily for Jaya, Gladys too was studying biology in the same university. Enamored by each other, cultural differences set aside, their love blossomed. They soon moved to Chile in 1980 where Jaya started working in the French restaurant of the Holiday Inn in Santiago. “At that time people in Chile didn’t even know where Nepal was. Despite that, my in-laws welcomed me with open arms and embraced me like I was one of them,” says Jaya. He adds, “I waited for over a year for  Gladys to complete her studies in Bordeaux and decided to tie the knot after reaching Chile.”  And so they did in the spring of 1981 promising to be soul mates for life with a willingness to embark together on a journey of unforeseen realities of the future. From there on there was no looking back for this couple. “We have been working together in the same places in various capabilities ever since we got married,” says Gladys with a touch of humor. But did coming from two parts of the globe with different backgrounds, cultures, religions and way of life matter initially? “Certainly not, it’s not about whether you are marrying a person from this or that country. Marriage is about how he or she is and what the two of you make of it,” says Gladys with conviction. “Both of us have been very flexible with our ways right from the start. We have accompanied each other to the church or the temple, performed the necessary rituals during Dasain and Tihar together and have somehow managed to merge our cultures quite well,” says Jaya. Gladys adds, “We have made even the smallest of decisions in life together because we’ve always believed that two heads are  better than one.”

Differences aside what do they like about each other’s cultures the most? Gladys says, “The philosophy of life itself apart from Nepal’s rich and diverse cultures, mysticism and awesome natural beauty. I really appreciate how people here value relationships and families.” Jaya on the other hand feels that unlike the Nepalese, the Chileans are very expressive of their emotions and feelings. He says, “People are very friendly and like to enjoy themselves. They hug you, embrace you and make you feel at ease at once. Even in the smallest of gatherings there’s a lot of laughter, singing, dancing and merriment.”

But although life in Chile was getting as good as it gets, Jaya’s longing for his hometown and his deep-rooted desire to bring his family (wife and first daughter, Edna Thapa) to Nepal soon overshadowed all other desires in life. Jaya then came home to Nepal in 1982 with his wife and a three-month-old daughter. “My parents were very excited about us coming home and even had an apartment ready for us. They were very open-minded and knew that we would have preferred to live separately unlike other parents at that time,” says Jaya.

A new home, a new life…
Starting a new life all over again in Nepal the couple did the one thing both were good at- open “La Marmite” a restaurant at Durbar Marg serving perhaps one of the valley’s best continental culinary delights. Opened only for dinner, La Marmite soon gained popularity not only amongst tourists and expatriates but also with the locals. Here too, while Jaya was busy in the kitchen, Gladys was the one handling the cash counter, attending to the customers and keeping the entire place intact. “My wife has been my greatest support and I really appreciate the sacrifices she has made for me. She left all her luxury and family behind, gave up her career in teaching without any qualms just so that she could be with me in every step of my life,” says Jaya with a warm glance at his wife- a love so apparent between the two. While Gladys rose to attend to her customers (I met them at Delicias Gourmet), I asked Jaya to describe his wife. “She is the most beautiful woman for me. And like the saying goes, behind every successful man is a strong woman; she has been that woman for me. Her support has been instrumental in where I am or where we are today. She’s the best!” he exclaims.

Just when La Marmite had become a name synonymous with good food and fantastic ambience, Jaya and Gladys had decided to go back to Chile. They returned to Osorno in south Chile in 1987, where Jaya got lucky once again. He was immediately appointed as the manager of a club called Artesanos  where he and his wife worked for some 10 years.  By then he had gathered ample knowledge and experience in the kitchen as well as on the management aspect of a restaurant. Like always the couple, enthusiastic to experiment with new ideas wanted to explore higher grounds and decided to start something of their own. And that was how Shangri-la, their restaurant in Osorno was born in 1997. They merged their cultures and served an eclectic blend of Chilean and Nepali foods at Shangri-la. Gladys also did all the interiors in the Nepali style besides managing the entire place while Jaya as usual, was busy in the kitchen. “Shangri-la was very popular and like a little Nepal in Chile. One of our main dishes, dal bhat tarkari was a hit there. I soon felt like the ambassador of Nepal to Chile,” says Jaya with hearty laughter. Gladys adds giving further specifications, “We always kept the menu interesting by alternating different dishes, and by then people in Chile got accustomed to Nepali food as well as with the Nepali way of life.”

The couple lived happily up until 1999, when they started rethinking about settling in Nepal. Now a father of two, Jaya had a difficult time explaining to his daughters what their roots were. And although they did celebrate Nepali festivals and performed all the rituals in Chile, it was nothing like being in Nepal witnessing every bit of it in person. “My daughters somehow didn’t quite identify themselves with Chile. I felt it was my duty as a father to show them where I came from, who I was and so who they were,” says Jaya, a proud father. But there is no greater excitement than to support an intellectual wife and have her support you and so Gladys, like always stood by her husband, understood his concern and agreed to move back to Nepal once again. She says, “My husband is a man of many good qualities, and is very dedicated both to his family as well as his work.”

Delicias Gourmet- new beginnings….
Jaya, Gladys, and their two daughters, Edna and Carina came back to Nepal in November 2003. At a time when all the rest in the country wanted to go abroad why did they want to come back to Nepal? “Mother and motherland are dearer than heaven itself,” says Jaya with strong conviction. Gladys adds, “Unlike Chile, Nepal is still a place where there’s no stress. You don’t have to work for long hours and get to spend ample time with your family. I feel that’s very important because if you don’t, you start losing contact with each other. We now have the time to get together during weekends and this family union has become a big part of our lives today.”  Soon after getting back to Nepal, the couple opened Delicias Gourmet, a restaurant where each member of the family is actively involved. According to Gladys, they received a hearty welcome from their old customers of  20 years ago, who now come to Delicias Gourmet to savor what they missed for so many years.

Today their eldest daughter Edna is studying environmental management in Kathmandu but still finds ample time to help her parents with their chores at the restaurant. Likewise their second daughter, Carina is in her first year doing a dental hygiene course. Both are also volunteers at SAATHI, an organization working for street children. And proud parents, Jaya and Gladys are ready to serve you the best culinary delights at Delicias Gourmet. But do they plan to stay in Nepal for good? Only time can tell…