If you had the choice between having a cooked meal or a box of fresh produce and a recipe delivered to your door, which would you choose?
My guess is the cooked meal. It’s much easier.
But, in many cases that takeaway dish is unlikely to be healthy and anything decent is sure to cost more than the home cooked meal.
And traditional home cooking requires thinking of what to cook, buying the ingredients – often including some random spice or sauce that you need just one teaspoon of and will never use again – and then all the cutting and chopping before the pan is even heated up.
That’s the hurdle Dubai entrepreneur Rana Ismail is hoping to overcome with her new business, Cook-a-Box.
Customers can select a recipe from the company website and have the required ingredients – already measured out – delivered to their door.
It’s healthier and cheaper than take away but more convenient than standard home cooking, Ismail says.
“On the one hand, we aim to provide tasty and healthy food with large portions and at a lower cost than what you would buy from a reasonably good restaurant. You can also see the ingredients that go into your food and ensure that they are fresh,” Ismail says.
“On the other hand, if you are too busy or lazy to shop for and cook food, we offer the perfect solution for you. We do all the shopping on the same day, and deliver all the ingredients pre-measured along with an easy step-by-step recipe card to cook your favourite recipe.
“Most of our recipes can be cooked conveniently in 35 minutes or less.
“Customers soon realize that cooking is not difficult if you have all the pre-measured ingredients and an easy guide to follow. In fact, we believe our customers will start enjoying cooking much more than they ever have before.”
Arabian Business put Cook-a-Box to the test, trying three recipes: pan-seared hammour fillet with mixed citrus, mustard, coriander dressing and grapefruit green salad (AED90); Japanese beef teriyaki with bok choy, spring onions, ginger and basmati rice (AED60), and; Thai hakka noodles with green beans, baby corn, capsicum and pad Thai soy sauce (AED60).
As a new company there were few recipes to choose from but Ismail says that will grow over time.
The recipes were easy to follow and the small portions of unusual items such as mushroom sauce were a benefit and the price was certainly affordable and decent value considering it feeds two.
However, while everything is provided there is still a lot of chopping and preparation for some of the dishes. That inevitably meant the time-scale varied, probably according to the skills of the “chef”. The average was 30-40 minutes.
I’m not a nutritionist but I do know a lot about healthy food and I would not personally regard some of the ingredients as healthy, such as all the sauces in the Thai hakka noodles and beef teriyaki (full of sugar) and the tonne of oil the fish recipe suggests (I halved the 8 tablespoons of oil and still didn’t use all the dressing). If you were trying to lose weight, the noodle and cous cous dishes would not be ideal for dinner, either.
In regards to portion size, which is a key Cook-a-Box selling point, the fish dish left me hungry, the beef teriyaki was perfect, while the noodles could have fed a family of four or five, not the two it was supposed to serve.
There is also the environmental factor of all the plastic re-sealable bags, plastic containers, hygienic gloves and glad-wrap. In another part of the world the repercussions would not be so bad but in Dubai it’s incredibly difficult to find any recycling facilities, even for the cardboard box the delivery came in.
However, the company says if you order again it will pick up used boxes at the next delivery and recycle them.
Now for taste. As an avid seafood eater, I was not a fan of the fish dish, and I wouldn’t order the noodle recipe again but the beef teriyaki was a winner. It always comes down to personal taste, though.
Ismail says she is hoping to sell 1000 boxes in Dubai by the end of the year and is targeting “busy residents”, including working mothers and professionals.
Concepts similar to Cook-a-Box already exist in the US and Europe and it appears a great concept but Dubai’s love affair with restaurants and home delivered takeaway may make it a difficult market to break into.