A Woman’s Place: Group of underprivileged women in Hyderabad find their calling, livelihood in  cloud kitchen

A group of underprivileged women in Hyderabad find their calling––and livelihood––in a cloud kitchen that serves authentic Nizami meals

Manju Latha Kalanidhi Published :  16th October 2022 05:09 PM   |   Published :   |  16th October 2022 05:09 PM
Team Luqma

Team Luqma

Handling the Greek gyro broilers, conveyor fryers, heat-resistant nylon meat and potato mashers is not what Razia Begum would call ‘all in a day’s work’. On any other day, the 22-year-old Hyderabadi girl can flatten, roll, flip and fold Rotis with a flourish at Luqman, a cloud kitchen in Hyderabad run by SAFA, a non-profit to empower underprivileged women in the city.

That monsoon evening though, a few weeks ago, Begum was nervous as she treaded new ground. She 
was one of the five women handpicked to work in an upscale kitchen alongside professional chefs at Novotel Hyderabad Airport Hotel for their 10-day food festival, Rediscovering the Lost Recipes of Hyderabad.  

September also saw her at the industrial kitchen of Food Exchange, the 24-hour-diner at the Accor hotel in Hyderabad, where her work involved discussing the delicacies to be created as part of the cyclic menu and sharing kitchen hacks with hotel chefs while stirring a ladle here and tossing a roti there.


Begum was 19 when she got married to an unemployed man in Dar-ul-Shifa in Old Hyderabad. Beaten up repeatedly for expressing her desire to pursue college, she came back to her maternal home, only to be told that she was a financial burden. 

“That’s when I heard about SAFA through one of the girls in my locality, who suffered the same fate as I did. I got inducted into their upskilling programme in 2020,” says Begum. Today she can rustle up Nizami delicacies effortlessly. “These are family recipes that my ammi and badi ammi taught me. There may be no written document of these dishes,” she says. 

Begum and her friend Rafiqa from Luqma say cooking is their passion and they look forward to reporting to work every day. How much do they make a month? “Three of us bought our own two-wheelers last year. That is a big deal for women like us,” says Rafiqa.  

Luqma (morsel in Urdu) is popular for its authentic Hyderabadi specialities such as khichdi khatta, khubooli, talawa gosht, gil-e-firdaus and potli samosa, which go beyond the clichéd biryani and haleem. “Our ancestors did not use any additives or taste enhancers. Nor do we,” say the women.

SAFA has been working with underprivileged women from the Vattapally slums in Hyderabad. “In 2019, for a special livelihood project, we shortlisted 22 women. A majority of them had young children or were just out of abusive marriages. We wanted to empower them with stable jobs. The women, whose core competency was cooking, were taught how to wash vegetables in bulk, chop them fast and elegantly, food plating and other nitty-gritties that helped them match up to any other commercial food enterprise in the city,” says Rubina Nafees Fatima, founder of SAFA.

Razia Begum with a chef

In early 2020, when the nation was reeling under the lockdown, the women chefs at SAFA bagged bulk orders to cook for NGOs, which were supplying free food to many communities. “That helped the women hit the ground running. They were making hundreds of rotis and tonnes of dal-chawal to be packaged and sent across to various places in the city,” says Fatima. By the end of 2020, a city philanthropist spared a 1,700 sq feet space in Dar-ul-shifa area that became their new kitchen. “While Covid tapered off, there was no stopping the women or the cloud kitchen,” she says. 

Now, SAFA has launched a food app through which people can order home-style food such as Mutton dum ka kheema, bagara chawal and desserts such as gil-e-firdaus. Regardless of the orders they get, Luqma women continue to cook for 150 people for Rozi Roti, a non-profit in Hyderabad that distributes free food to the underprivileged.

What’s next for the ladies at Luqma? “We are going to go big on selling our homemade products such as biriyani masala, chai masala, khatta masala, sukhey kebab and potli masala under the same brand. When women support each other, incredible things happen,” says Fatima.