Meals in minutes
Reheat and eat. That's the hot idea behind a new breed of instant local meals
By Teo Pau Lin, 15 May 2005
FIRST, there was instant noodles. But you'd need vegetables and the odd crack of an egg to make it a proper meal.
FROM TOP: Laksa; Hokkien mee; Hainanese chicken rice; Dry mee pok with fishball; Beef rendang with rice; Bee hoon soup with fishball; Chilli crab; Satay
Then, there were food pastes and pre-mixes. But you'd need rice, meat and sweaty bouts of stir-frying before you could tuck in. Now, too-busy-to-cook urbanites can say 'Thank you' to a new breed of instant meals.
They require no extra ingredients or slaving over the wok to prepare - all you need is a microwave oven.
And we're not talking about Western pizzas, lasagne or shepherd's pie.
We're talking about everyday Singapore staples like Hainanese chicken rice, laksa, mee pok with fishballs, mee siam, satay and - get this - chilli crab.
Over the past two years, Singapore food companies have developed ready-to-eat meals that range in price from $2 for Dodo's fishball soup with beehoon, to $8.80 for Eat's chilli crab.
There are now about seven brands which are available in most supermarkets and 7-Eleven outlets.
Their products boast long shelf-lives as they are mostly frozen or vacuum-sealed. Chilled products like Dodo's five varieties of noodles can be kept in a fridge for up to a week.
In addition, many of these products are made without preservatives or MSG, and some are halal-certified.
Prima Taste, which launched its range of Ready Meals in 2003, offers seven dishes including mee siam, mee rebus, assam fish with rice and beef rendang with rice. The most popular are laksa and curry with rice.
Even without preservatives, the packs can be kept fresh in a refrigerator for up to four weeks because the food is pasteurised.
Prima's group marketing manager Alicia Tan says monthly sales have doubled this year compared to last year, although she declines to give figures.
Such frozen instant meals could be Singapore's food ambassadors as they can be readily exported abroad.
Already, the one-year-old Eat brand, which offers eight products including frozen Hainanese chicken rice, chilli crab and curry chicken rice, is promoting its products in India and Hong Kong.
The companies are assured of at least one segment of consumers abroad - food-mad Singaporeans hungry for anything that reminds them of home.
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Food a touch away
Prima Taste, $3.50
Pasteurised, no preservatives, no lard, to be heated in microwave oven for three minutes.
Delicious. Except for the noodles, which taste a little spongy, it has all the goods of a bowl of laksa. It boasts a tasty gravy, fishcake slices, taupok, shrimps and beansprouts - everything except laksa leaves and cockles.
Asian a la Carte, $4.25
Frozen, no MSG, no preservatives, to be heated in microwave oven for five minutes.
Strange that this is labelled Hokkien mee since it neither looks nor tastes like it. The noodles, made of thick white noodles and bee hoon, have a spongy texture. It is served dry with no gravy and comes with a few small shrimps. It is tasty, though, in a fried noodles sort of way.
HAINANESE CHICKEN RICE
Vacuum-packed and frozen, no preservatives, to be heated in microwave oven for three to four minutes, or in boiling water for 12 to 15 minutes.
The rice is amazingly fragrant and has a good, fluffy consistency. The chicken meat looks a bit drab and tastes a little tough (maybe because it was overcooked in the microwave). But the chilli sauce is spicy and authentic. There are no cucumbers or black soy sauce though.
DRY MEE POK WITH FISHBALL
Chilled, halal-certified, to be heated in microwave oven for one to two minutes.
Except for the slightly soggy noodles, this product is as good as pre-cooked gets. The fishballs and fishcake slices are bouncy, the beansprouts are crunchy, and the dollop of chilli paste tastes authentic.
BEEF RENDANG WITH RICE
Prima Taste, $3.80
Pasteurised, no preservatives, no pork or lard, to be heated in microwave oven for 3 1/2 minutes.
Excellent. The beef is tender and juicy, and the gravy is as good as any restaurant's. If heated well, the rice is soft and fluffy. The only gripe is that the meat portion is too small for most single diners.
BEE HOON SOUP WITH FISHBALL
Chilled, halal-certified, to be heated by pouring in boiling water and putting in microwave oven for two minutes.
Very tasty. The fishballs are bouncy and the beehoon is firm and springy. The freeze-dried condiments of spring onions and fried shallots add to the flavour.
Vacuumed-packed and frozen, no preservatives, to be heated in microwave oven for five to seven minutes.
Good for one person, the small-sized crab is cut only in half, so you'd need a shell-cracker to get to the meat. While the gravy is very tasty, it is too watery, and the meat is stringy. But for desperate Singaporeans abroad, this would suffice.
City Satay, $4.95 for 10 sticks
The chicken meat is well marinated, although it is a little on the sweet side. But the winner is the peanut gravy, which has chunky bits, is just the right consistency and tastes wonderful. If it also comes with ketupat and cucumber, it will easily score a five.