Nadia Raza follows her passions — for fashion, Pakistani food, and helping after her homeland was flooded

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Nadia Raza is seated in her Pakistani restaurant, Curry Patta. She urges aid for “a country that’s bleeding.”


ALTAMONT — Nadia Raza was visiting family in Pakistan this summer when the floods came.

“We didn’t even know. I woke up one morning and I had text messages and Facebook messages from the entire Altamont community,” said Raza who owns a Pakistani restaurant in the village.

Heavier monsoon rains and melting glaciers combined to put a third of Pakistan under water, affecting 33 million people and causing losses of over $40 billion.

“We woke up watching the news and realizing that a third of the country was wiped away …,” Raza says in this week’s Enterprise podcast. “We were seeing millions, millions of people had become homeless, lost their homes, lost their lives.”

Raza’s family, living in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, were safe. But news videos brought the horror into their homes.

“Flocks of people just walking in these big bodies of water … and the one guy I remember saying, you know, we’ve been walking for ten, 12 hours … and one of the kids is bound to get tired,” said Raza, describing the news clips. “And I’m thinking in my head, ‘Oh, my God, how are they going to get through this? You know, if somebody gets tired and there’s water all the way to their knees, how are they going to sleep?’”

Raza contacted The Enterprise in hopes of raising public awareness about the need for aid. “I don’t think that it’s getting the amount of publicity and the amount of help that they should be getting,” she said.

“Of course we have our own problems in the U.S.,” she said. “I’m not saying that we should reach out to other countries and be a Band-Aid for everybody else around. But I mean this was probably one of the worst natural disasters in the history of disasters and I just don’t think that they’re receiving as much help as they possibly can.”

Raza and her family are donating through Sab Saath at A branch of the Zaman Foundation, Sab Saath, which started in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, describes itself as a platform that connects those who want to help with those who need it. “Moreover, we ensure all cases are thoroughly investigated and verified by our team of investigation officers,” its website says. “Sab Saath” means “all together.”

The Zaman Foundation, created after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, works with local community leaders to help those afflicted by natural disasters across Pakistan while also working with medical partners on disease prevention, on rehabilitation efforts such as building water filtration plants in communities where clean drinking water is not available, and providing access to vocational training and higher education.

While Raza said it will take a long time to rebuild, there are immediate needs that must be met. “These kids don’t have shoes and clothes and food,” she said, noting that families that were dependent on their livestock lost their animals. “Everything drowned; everything was gone,” she said.

“For the Capital District,” she said, “even a dollar per household wouldn’t affect us, you know, as much as it would actually help the people that need it there.”

Raza also said, “My friends and cousins back home are actually part of the relief group and helping with physically going in and trying to structure these homes.” She speaks to her friends and family in Pakistan daily, Raza said, and has learned “they’re just waiting for the finances to go in and help build.”

When she and her brother and her 15-year-old daughter were visiting in Pakistan this summer, they discussed staying longer than planned to help the relief efforts. “But because our jobs called us back, we had to come back,” she said.

Raza’s job — besides being the mother to two teenage girls and a 2-year-old boy — is running the Curry Patta restaurant in Altamont. She was born in Pakistan and came to the United States with her family when she was 3 years old.

Her aunt, who is a pediatrician in Tarrytown, “sent the paperwork to my dad and her other siblings and they all decided that this was in the best interest of all the kids and our futures.”

Her father is a businessman and her mother worked in dentistry for 25 years. 

“Although we’re American, I’m very, very in tune with my culture,” said Raza. “I like the kids to know the language and the food. I try to teach them as much as I can because we are in a melting pot here. Sometimes kids, especially teenagers, they tend to forget their culture and where they come from.”

After Raza graduated from the University at Albany with a degree in business, she moved to Pakistan and got married there. She has two children from her first marriage who are now teenagers.

“There’s not much of a workforce for women,” she said, noting jobs like working in a retail store or managing dental offices as she did for 18 years don’t exist for women.

“That’s just not the way the society there is,” Raza said. “So women started to open up their own small businesses.” She decided to become a fashion designer. “I was one of the first few women to do that in Pakistan,” Raza said.

Her idea with her fashion business was similar to her idea with her restaurant business: East meets West. Women coming from the United States didn’t want very traditional clothing, she said; wanting something “a little bit Western, they can come in and pick something out at my boutique,” she said.

After doing that for five years, Raza moved back to the United States with her two toddlers and worked as a regional manager for dentist offices. For a while, she still pursued her passion of fashion design but it became too much to juggle with motherhood and her career in dentistry.

Throughout her life, Raza has also had a passion for Pakistani food. “We come from a family of really amazing chefs just by passion, not profession,” she said. Both of her parents love to cook and her grandfather was an excellent cook.

“The men in our family, I think, are even better than the women, which is surprisingly funny,” Raza said. She and her kids would prepare Pakistani foods for fairs and other events.

“When the pandemic happened … I decided dentistry wasn’t the safest for the family …. The aerosols were all over the air in all of my dental offices,” she said. “So I decided to take a little bit longer of a maternity leave than was planned.”

Raza noticed the vacant storefront on Main Street in the village and her husband urged her to take a look and, ultimately, to follow her dream.

Although she had some doubts about people wanting to eat “out of their comfort zone,” Raza took the plunge. “We opened in the heart of a pandemic,” she said. “We introduced a brand new culture and cuisine to Altamont — and I think that things are going really well. We’re very popular. We’re very hospitable.”

Still, she has had to deal with prejudice. Just this week, one of her staff members picked up the phone at the restaurant and answered in the affirmative that Pakistani food was served there. She was then shaken to be told, in much cruder terms, “You don’t belong here.”

“I thought that we were bringing such positivity into the community. And this phone call was very disheartening,” said Raza, adding “You can’t take the ugly out of everybody. You can do so much to introduce kindness and make sure that people will do the right thing. But there’s always going to be someone out there that is displeased or prejudiced or racist.”

The decor in Raza’s restaurant is a tribute to her heritage. “Everything is imported — from paintings to the cutlery to the serving bowls,” she said. “I ordered everything from back home and had everything shipped over so that I could give it that ethnic feel … like you’re entering a whole new world.”

Her chef, who is 70, is also Pakistani. “During college, I would follow Chef wherever he worked. So, if he was in a tiny little hole-in-the-wall in downtown Albany, I would be there.” They became friends over the years.

Currently the Curry Patta menu, which is predominantly Pakistani, also has some creative fusion entrées.

Raza is expanding her space in keeping with her East-meets-West philosophy. The new portion will feature American cuisine.

“So two chefs, two menus, one restaurant, one kitchen,” she said, “but kind of like an East meets West.”

She concluded with a final plea for West to help East. 

“Any amount will help …,” Raza said. “This is actually like a country that’s bleeding. And, because it’s my country, I can be vocal about it. I would hope that the community would come together, even if they can contribute a very small, minimal amount, it’s going to go a long way.”


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