*Irfan Aziz spends an afternoon with Tabassum Mehzabin
Dhaka’s flourishing food scene is a topic of much talk, however, all the emphasis seems to lie in its blossoming restaurants. Little are we aware that there are certain individuals who are producing delectable authentic cuisines, the likes of which Dhaka has never seen before. These home chefs are setting social media alight with their art and we believe they are the true bedrock of this massive growth the food industry is experiencing. Tabassum Mehzabeen Mobarak is one such individual who has been turning heads with her passion for cooking. Apart from this, her initiative CooklyDhaka, has also been familiarizing Dhaka with authentic Thai cuisine.
A very common theme among great cooks is the fact that they start perfecting their craft from an early age. Such was also the case for Tabassum who was somewhat of a child prodigy. She explained how her mother would give her simple ingredients and ask her to make a dessert at the tender age of 10. “I was always helping my mother out whenever we had guests. I remember she would ask me to make desserts and people would simply be amazed with the end product. This really encouraged me to be more passionate about cooking”, exclaimed Tabassum. Eventually her passion lead her to obtain training from places in Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Rajasthan and in October 2016 she started catering via Cookups.
Whether it is spicy crab, biriyani, or the plethora of Thai and Indian dishes she can prepare, her cooking captivates whoever has the good fortune of tasting it. Pretty soon friends and family started requesting her to teach them how to master the art of cooking and this is how her next venture started. Tabassum decided to teach people the art of perfecting Thai Cuisine. “The reason that I chose Thai over the other cuisine is due to its refreshing nature. It also offers a burst of flavours which makes it even more exciting”, elaborated Tabassum. According to her, there are a lot of great Thai food places in Dhaka but most of them tend to adapt a more fusion approach which can deprive customers of certain flavours. “I love how Thai cuisine uses plenty of fresh herbs like red chillies, lemon leaf, pandan leaf etc. These add a lot of dynamism to the food and missing out on either one will change the whole complexion of the dish”, she added.
Now Tabassum’s cooking classes are unlike any class you have ever seen or heard of before. It is generally a one day course comprised of three items and a maximum of six learners. The thing that sets it apart is the fact that her entire house is transformed into a mini version of Thailand. Her pupils are greeted with a glass of ginger juice and the smell of lavender (which was very prevalent during our rendezvous). They sit on the floor (a popular tradition in Thailand), talk to each other for a bit and then she proceeds with the class. “Providing a nice ambience and a soothing environment is pivotal to a successful cooking session”, she added. The secret to preparing Thai food is that it must be prepared very fast and served fresh. Tabassum arranges all of the ingredients in separate dishes for her students so that they can learn to associate them to separate dishes and not get confused in the process. Her teaching methods are simple yet very effective and this is why people come back to her to learn more.
Tabassum eventually wants to introduce Japanese and Indian cuisine to her classes and also aspires to publish cookbooks. She wants to pass on her talents so that more people can polish their skills and prepare world class dishes. Her pursuit is a noble one and will hopefully help to preserve the somewhat dying practice of cooking at home.