Pet cafes: Where love for food and animals cohabit
Mingling with pets at a restaurant remains a foreign concept in Bangladesh. But pet cafes in Dhaka are beginning to break that stereotype
Cafes with cats lazing around, playing with visitors and diners, looking for the perfect spot to take their next nap - such spaces where animals and people perfectly co-exist are commonly associated with countries like Japan, Taiwan, etc.
Borrowing that idea, more and more spaces are being created in Bangladesh, combining people's love for food and a furry friend.
In this day and age, people are overburdened with the stress of work, home, and life in general. To an extent, these unique cafes counter this condition, easing the weight off our shoulders for some time.
"On the way home after a full day of work, you grab a cup of coffee and spend time with the cats. It is a way to relieve stress," said Raqibul Haque Emil, co-founder of Pat a Pet Cafe.
Diners at these cafes agree. Some have gradually become regulars because of the bond they have developed with the animals, often knowing the pets by name.
"For me, cats are a source of joy. After losing my own, having the opportunity to bond with other cats is hard, as stray cats can be skittish. But the cats at cafes are extremely friendly and make you feel at home," said a regular at Pat a Pet Cafe.
While the idea was borrowed from existing cafes throughout Asia, it is difficult to completely apply it to Bangladesh due to the overall perception of pets, especially rescued animals. For example, such cafes have to put more thought into food hygiene, animal safety, and finding a middle ground between pleasing customers and protecting their pets.
Taking all of these things into consideration, these cafes put in the extra effort to provide diners with exceptional food.
Capawcino Cat Cafe
Founded by Rahat Rahman and Sufy Sanwer Hossain, the cafe started in Mirpur, and then shifted to Bashundhara Residential Area.
The team's chef previously trained under a professional chef and was later recruited to work at Cold Stone Creamery. The owners and the chef put their heads together and developed a well-rounded menu of Mexican and European cuisine. You will be able to find Enchiladas, Tex-Mex Mexican Strips, Fajitas, and more. Their bestsellers include Nachos and Honey Grilled Chicken with Mexican Rice.
The Nachos (Tk370-Tk390) are the perfect sharable dish to snack on, before dedicating the rest of your time to the cat zone. The dish comes with generous beef or shredded chicken, with a bit of heat to it, topped with nacho chips, cheese and sour cream. Overall, the sharpness of the cheese, the cut of the sour cream, and the well-seasoned meat really work together.
However, there is a bit of an absence of heat in their food overall, which is commonly associated with Mexican cuisine.
For students, the Rahat recommends their Tex Mex Chicken Strips as the dish offers a generous portion of food for only Tk280.
To maintain hygiene, the cat zone is entirely separate from the dining area and kitchen. Hygiene and safety are extended to their cat zone as well, as visitors have to take their shoes off and sanitise before entering.
The cafe acts as a shelter for rescued cats, and a place where people can play with them freely, giving these cats the chance to find their forever home. One of Rahat's aims with the cafe was to help familiarise people with cats, especially those who are not used to being around animals.
The cafe had initially started with a snacks menu but began to focus more on its food after expanding, as the concept of the restaurant came with its own extra cost.
"Normally, abroad, the eating zones are not separated from the cat zone. But you can't do the same thing in the context of Bangladesh as some people find it hard to accept. Cats tend to follow the food, and some people might also be scared of cats. So, we had to create a separate zone with a larger staff, and that meant that we couldn't solely depend on the concept."
However, Capawcino Cat Cafe has been successful in reaching many of its goals, which include helping people feel more comfortable with cats. "Many people used to have a phobia of cats or animals, and they overcame it by interacting with the cats at our cafe," said Rahat.
The cafe has successfully helped 42 cats find their forever homes so far.
Pat a Pet Cafe
Pat a Pet Cafe was co-founded by Rakibul Haque Emil and Saria Saguaro, who are both die-hard animal lovers and have been active in animal rights. Both Rakibul and Saria wanted to create a space where people and animals co-exist. The cafe allows people to bring in their pets and lets the cat roam around the cafe, allowing the cats and diners to mingle freely.
"Since we work with animal rights, we wanted to create a space that creates a culture where people bring in their pets and interact with each other freely, and with an open mind," said Rakibul.
The cafe serves vegetarian food with a focus on snacks and drinks. Rakibul explains, "since we work on animal rights, we have to do our part as well. That is why we serve vegetarian food."
The menu is perfect for people on a budget as the most expensive item on the menu, besides whole cakes, is their Superburger Meal, which goes for Tk480, and the rest of the items range around Tk150 to Tk260.
The cafe takes pride in its selection of drinks and coffees. Being a vegetarian cafe, they offer a selection of vegan coffee drinks, like their vegan french vanilla latte (Tk230) made of soy milk. Surprisingly, you would not be able to tell the difference between this and a dairy beverage.
The cream cheese brownie came as a surprise; at just Tk90 they serve a delectable treat. The brownie itself leans towards cake territory, but is enriched by a cheesecake topping that balances it out with its creamy texture.
One of the stars was their Fried Rice Meal, which comes with a side of fried vegetables. The rice itself is heavy on seasoning and vegetables mixed in, and won't make you miss any meat.
In their endeavour to create a pet-friendly culture, they also have food items for pets so that you and your furry friend can bond over a meal. You can get Tuna Muffin (Tk120) to feed the cats or you can get their dog-friendly Pupcake (Tk180). If you are celebrating a special occasion with your pet, you can also get their pet-friendly birthday cake (Tk800).
There is a general perception about vegetarian food being bland, but Pat a Pet is one of the few restaurants that are able to break this misconception.
Rakibul believes that creating such a culture is an indicator of a civilised society, and helping these cats is another way people can help themselves to develop compassion.
Although the cafe allows pets to roam around freely, the pets are restricted from the dining area, and they don't usually leave the cafe, which is how they maintain hygiene.
One of the most endearing parts of the cafe is seeing how many of the patrons, young and old, return to the cafe regularly, calling the cats by their names, seamlessly creating a space where animals and people co-exist.