When you are working day in and out in the same office with the same people – it is easy to get bogged down in day to day matters. The greatest innovations come through in environments of organized chaos, where you feel re-energized and truly connected to the things that matter. What matters at Cookups is food of course – a lot of it. Not just to our team who get to taste hundreds of dishes each week, but to our Diners who are relying on us to provide a taste of home and of course to our Cooks who are relying on us to earn an income.
For a team that worked throughout the pandemic and works consistently on public holidays and weekends, a day that the whole team takes off is unimaginable. Yet, that is exactly what we decided to do. “Sometimes you need to turn things on its head and take a step back to remember what we are here for”, says Namira Hossain, Founder and CEO of Cookups. To create an environment of organized chaos, we planned a trip to Old Dhaka, to explore some of the culinary traditions of the place, learn about history and perhaps even about ourselves.
The itinerary was jam packed as the team assembled outside the main entrance of TSC on a slightly chilly morning of the 2nd of February, 2021. Wearing our trademark green, everyone was excited about what to expect. First on the agenda was to walk through the campus of Dhaka University and Curzon Hall and stop at the famous Nirob Hotel for breakfast. On the way there, we bought some bakorkhani from a tiny shop that is supposedly the best kept secret in Old Dhaka according to our guide, Mr Jewel.
Nirob Hotel had the typical breakfasts of paratha, luchi, daal bhai etc. Our Inspection Executive, Mithila sampled the famous chicken soup with paratha. “It was the perfect light dish to awaken my taste buds in the morning”, she said. The flaky bakorkhani we had bought on the way served as the perfect accompaniment to the milky sweet tea served in tiny cups. After finishing a quick breakfast we set off again to head to the famous Lalbagh Fort.
We traipsed through the narrow alleyways of Old Dhaka – the sights, sounds and smells assaulting our senses. There were people going about their daily activities, hawkers on every path, rickshaws churning through the streets and some occasional “pagol manush” yelling out profanities. Upon entering the fort, we were taken aback by the beautiful sprawling gardens. After some posing with giant sunflowers, climbing the wall and browsing through the museum, we were ready for our next stop – Ananda Confectionery, home of the much loved Ovaltine cake.
The bakery itself is very modern looking, a strange sight in Old Town. It is in a building of its own with a gold sign and glass doors. Upon entering one can see a smorgasbord of baked goods being gleaming glass counters. The team eagerly tried the Ovaltine cake – a slightly chewy concoction with morobbbas and raisins of which the star ingredient is the powdered drink many of us enjoyed in our childhoods.
One of course cannot visit Ananda Confectionery without trying the famous Shutli Kabab. If a bideshi meatloaf married a sheek kabab – you would get the Shutli. What makes this kabab very distinctive is the cooking process – marinating small pieces of beef with secret herbs and spices and then wrapping it around skewers using a cotton thread. This process of wrapping the cotton thread takes years to master. It smells similar to a sheekh kabab – rich with the smells of different spices and a slight smokey undertone.
“The pieces of beef are unbelievably tender and melt in your mouth, with a beautiful char – this gives it both a mushy but slightly crunchy texture which is unique”, says Namira. Fully satisfied, we were off on our next adventure.
The walk through Bongshal, a neighborhood in old Dhaka can seem like a culture shock to even the most hardened Dhaka denizens. Buildings are packed like sardines, leaving mere inches in between to somehow squeeze through. Our guide informed us that some houses are so small, they do not have kitchens, so the communities often get together and cook on the streetside.
From Bongshal, we went to the Armenian Church which is a historically significant architectural monument in Armanitola. The graveyards outside serve as an interesting chronicle of the life of Armenian traders in Bangladesh. What was really striking about the church are the two beautiful paintings by Charles Port from the 1700s – one depicting the crucifixion and another one similar to the last supper.
We discovered a tiny perfume/attar shop right outside the church where they were selling beautiful and heady smelling attars with names like Queen of the Night and Cobra in tiny glass vials. Quite a few members of the team took back a few perfumes as souvenirs.
Next on the agenda was the coup de grace of the trip – lunch at Emran’s Heritage House, where the lovely Mr Emran hosted our team and regaled us with his stories. Lunch was a veritable feast of Zafrani Polao, Egg Korma, Beef Kata Moshla, Fulkopir Dalna, Aloo Keema Chop and with a special Borhani and Jorda and a fresh salad consisting of vegetables grown on the rooftop. “The fulkopir dalna was my favourite food of the day – it was so rich, and I have never had anything like this before,” said Nahid, our Senior Customer Service Executive. Others enjoyed the experience of dining in a jomidar’s abode – “everything was kept and stored so beautifully. The royal vibes were fascinating for me”, said Mithila.
A stone’s throw away from the Heritage Home was our next location – the Tara Moshjid. A remnant of the early 19th century, the mosque is decorated with beautiful ornate designs, including the striking blue stars from which it gets its’ name. The trip was nearing its’ completion and we had left the best for last. We made our way down to Shadarghat for an unforgettable boat journey down the Buriganga. “It was really refreshing,” said Adib, our Quality Assurance Officer. Finally, we got down from the boat and continued walking to Beauty Lassi to end our day with lassis and faloodas. “It was an amazing experience with this fresh and energetic bunch of people – I am sure this is going to lead the way for a great year at Cookups”, said Asma Sadia, our Human Resources Executive. We couldn’t agree more!