It was 1pm on a Monday. A mass of people were queued in front of the old building of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce in the port city's Agrabad.
From a distance, it seemed like an ordinary scene with people waiting to purchase subsidised products from the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh. But this was different. The wait was not for goods, but rather for lunch.
For the last two months, MP's Kitchen, an eatery set up on the premises, has been selling lunch and dinner for only between Tk20 and Tk30.
Kamal Uddin, a rickshaw-puller, was eating in the kitchen of the restaurant. He said no hotel in the area could even think about selling entire meals for less than Tk100.
"I earn Tk500-600 per day. If two meals cost me Tk200, then how can my family survive? But here, I can now eat two meals for only Tk50."
In times of economic uncertainty and raging inflation, MP's Kitchen has come as a blessing for many.
The brainchild of local Member of Parliament and businessman MA Latif, the eatery has been serving low-cost meals to around 2,200 people every day.
At MP's Kitchen, a vegetable-dal-rice combo is priced at Tk20, egg-dal-rice at Tk25, egg khichuri at Tk25, chicken-dal-rice at Tk30 and fish-dal-rice combo at Tk30.
Azizul Haque, a security worker at a private company, was found in the queue waiting for his food.
"I have to struggle to pay house rent and family expenses such as food and children's education with my salary. Most afternoons, I would only eat bread, a bun and a banana, spending Tk25. But since this kitchen opened, I can now have a hearty meal for the same price," he said.
MP's Kitchen Manager Rajeev Das said the restaurant was opened in Agrabad in October. It serves 1,600-1,700 people in the afternoon and 500 people at night.
A total of 120 people can be seated at once and the demand has been steadily increasing.
Abdur Rahman, head chef of the kitchen, said the cooking process starts from 8am. Four cooks work till 3pm, with 12 others involved in the preparation, serving the food and washing dishes.
The entire process is repeated at night, ensuring that each meal is fresh with no leftovers used.
The idea behind the kitchen isn't a new one for Latif. He launched the first MP's Kitchen for garment workers at the Chittagong Export Processing Zone (CEPZ) gate, where around 1,600 people eat daily.
With added consideration for garment workers, the meal price there is even lower, between Tk15 and Tk25.
How it began
Speaking to The Business Standard, MA Latif explained that his parliamentary seat had a crucial role to play in the country's economy.
"Alongside those employed at the 23 Key Point Installations here, 200,000 workers serve at the two export processing zones. As a result, many low-income earners live in the area.
"It is difficult for them to meet their expenses and live comfortably as most of their money goes to rent, food and maintaining the family. They cannot always tell others of what they are going through. Thinking about these working people, we started the first kitchen at the CEPZ gate in 2013. Last month, we opened another in Agrabad."
The funding required for such a large undertaking comes from Latif's family business – mostly in the shipping line.
At least 10-12 sacks of rice, 1,000 pieces of eggs, 200 kilograms of chicken, 80kgs of raw fish and 60kgs of vegetables are required to feed about 4,000 people in the two kitchens of Agrabad and the CEPZ.
A total of Tk27,000 is spent on these every day. Besides, the use of gas cylinders costs another Tk9,000 per day. The monthly expenditure on the two kitchens, including employees' salaries and shop rent, is around Tk13 lakh.
MA Latif said the money is spent as part of social responsibility from the profit of the family business.
Latif has served as the president of the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce Industry. Since 2008, he has been elected three times as an MP from Chattogram 10 constituency.
Another branch in the works
Another branch of MP's Kitchen is being set up in the Old Railway Station area of Chattogram next January.
MA Latif said this kitchen is being opened for the convenience of commuters at the station, and workers of Reazuddin Bazar, Pholmondi and Kadmatoli bus stations.
Besides, a central kitchen is being established in the Fakir Haat area, where lunch and breakfast will be prepared every day.
These will be sold at half the price of other products in the market. A voluntary women's organisation, Swadhinata Nari Shakti, will look after the operations.
Earlier, from 2013 till the Covid-19 outbreak, MP's Kitchen used to sell subsidised lunch boxes by van in the populated areas of the city. However, this stopped during the pandemic.
Besides, MA Latif sells daily essential consumer goods at subsidised prices through pickups in 10 wards of the city.