What if I were to tell you that you could get a hot, authentic Thai meal – starter, salad, rice, curry, and noodles (all non-vegetarian) – delivered to your doorstep on a nice tray, by a guy who didn’t look like a bedraggled penguin, for Rs.600? Oh, and did I mention – that’d be a meal for three? I know. I laughed too.
Gautam Krishnankutty, the man who gave us Tai Tai, has a mind as sharp as the blades on some of the very expensive kitchen knives he uses. Making a graceful exit from Tai Tai – and thereby leaving ardent fans like me stranded – he recently began contemplating quantum physics and came up with his very own theorem:
(Bangalore’s traffic problems + limited parking space + diner expectations 2)
X rising operating costs = diminishing returns for fine dining establishments.
His solution: get fine food to diners, instead of attempting to get diners to the food. Thus was born Asia in a Box.
How does it work? It’s not rocket science. Look up their menu online. Pick up the phone and call them to place your order, or send it in by email. Simple. Oh, and when your order arrives, they give you a printed menu too – presumably so you can even order by candlelight, when there’s no electricity or when your modem’s down.
I’ve ordered from them three times, once anonymously, getting someone else to order from their phone, in their name instead of mine. Ironically, that meal turned out to be flawless, while I was able to find fault with the meal I ordered in my own name.
So let’s start with the Web site. It’s red. Um, yeah, well, I can’t help it, that is the first thing you notice about it. Does that make it hard to read? No, but it sure as hell hurts the eye. My advice: wear sunglasses. It loads quickly, and the menu section is easy to navigate. No glaring spelling errors, and every item is numbered and priced for easy reference.
The phone is answered promptly, by a human who enunciates each word clearly. In my book – a big, big plus. I’m sick of hearing things like “hallomamthisizdomnopizahomaihelpyu?”
When I had someone else order on my behalf, I had them ask specific questions about the items we ordered – how many prawns do you get? which is less spicy, the red or green curry? is one portion of rice enough for two people? – and listened to the responses on a speakerphone (just call me Bond). The answers were swift and sure – and, as it turned out when the food arrived, accurate too.
Delivery time was my only problem. The food took 45 minutes to arrive. Then again, that is exactly what we were promised on the phone, and it arrived on the dot, steaming hot (hey – is that a potential tagline?).
Actual delivery and packaging are a treat. The delivery boy shows up at your door smartly dressed in a red and black outfit and proffers a tray on which several red and black boxes are neatly arranged. Not a plastic bag in sight. Er, no, sorry, you don’t get to keep the tray. The cartons contain silver thermal pouches that retain heat for quite a while. The first time I ordered, we didn’t get to eat until almost 20 minutes after the food arrived, and it was still hot.
…is excellent. In a restaurant environment, I would neither expect nor accept anything less from Gautam’s kitchen. However, to achieve the same quality standards on home-delivered food is a challenge that can only be met by a skilled culinary artiste with a sound understanding of food science as well as kitchen and distribution logistics.
My first order consisted of just three items: Roast Pork with Char Siu BBQ Sauce; Malaysian Laksa; and Stir-fried Seasonal Vegetables with Oyster Sauce. The pork was delicious, and seemed as if it had been slow-cooked in its sauce; if I’m wrong about that, Gautam, please teach me how to achieve that flavor and texture in under an hour.
The laksa… well, I’m a laksa aficionado with a strong preference for Sarawak laksa over laksa lemak, so I’ll refrain from deep critical analysis and just say that it tasted very good and didn’t seem to contain cornflour as a thickening agent. It did, however, contain the meal’s only disappointment: tough, stringy beef. The veggie dish was far superior to most of its ilk, in that the vegetables were crisp instead of limp; however, I didn’t feel that it was anything to write home about.
The second order – the one I like to think of as the ‘covert op’ order – comprised Fried Prawn with Basil and Garlic as a starter (we got six large prawns); Minced Chicken, Mint and Baby Onion Salad; Red Lamb Curry (Kaeng Phet, more usually made with beef in Thailand); and one portion of steamed rice.
The prawns were exquisite, crisp and spicy on the outside and buttery within. The basil leaves were fried crisp, so they provided crunch as well as aroma, and the merest whiff of garlic rounded out the whole very nicely indeed.
I couldn’t get enough of the salad, which was loaded with green beans that, I’m happy to report, remained perfectly erect when held, and didn’t go all limp and pathetic on me. Just the way I like ’em daahling. In terms of flavor, the salad managed to achieve the kind of sweet-sour-spicy-salty balance that is the hallmark of Thai cuisine.
The Kaeng Phet was perfect. I was pleased to find that the lamb was melting in my mouth – and that there was enough of it that I wasn’t left fishing fruitlessly in the curry on my second helping. Another thing: there was no evidence of cornflour having been used as a thickening agent – a low-down dirty shortcut that too many so-called Thai restaurants in this city resort to as a cost-cutting measure.
I want to take a minute to talk about portion size. Both orders were consumed by two people. On the first order we polished everything off. On the second, we couldn’t – despite the fact that my dining companion was my 13 year-old son, who has unaccountably turned into a Giant Vacuum Cleaner this year. Would the order have been enough for three? Just short. Had we also ordered a noodle dish (Rs.100) it would have been a filling meal for three. Our bill was Rs. 500; add the noodles, and that makes it Rs. 600. I don’t know about you, but that’s a fine dining experience I can live with.
I wish more restaurateurs would see the light: home-delivered food doesn’t have to be sub-standard. In fact, it can be pretty darn good. The bar has just been raised. Is there anyone else brave (or knowledgeable) enough to match it? Bring it on, Bangalore.
Asia In A Box
Delivery: 080 25482233/25483344
Delivery timings: 12 noon to 3.30 pm and 7 pm to 11 pm
As of now, Asia in a Box delivers only to the Frazer Town, Cooke Town, Lingarajpuram, Cox Town, Kamanahalli, Richards Town, Jalvayu Vihar, Maruti Seva Nagar, and HBR Layout areas. STOP PRESS: I am just informed that Asia in a Box will be delivering to Koramangala from March 1st onwards. Yayyy! On second thoughts, I will soon be broke 😦