Photograph: The Straits Times
Curious diners are queuing for more than an hour at VendCafe, a cluster of vending machines that serves hot meals, drinks and snacks at Block 320C Anchorvale Drive in Sengkang. The star attractions are the two Chef In Box vending machines that dispense 19 Asian and Western dishes such as seafood hor fun, chicken bolognese spaghetti and curry chicken with rice.
The Sunday Times does a taste test.
Mutton rendang with biryani
Verdict: My favourite part of this dish is the aromatic saffron- hued basmati rice, which is flecked with spices such as cloves, onions, cinnamon and mint leaves.
The chunks of mutton are also tender, though they have more fat than meat. If you are hankering for a serious dose of spiciness, you will be disappointed as the dish is mild.
The side of aloo gobi, spice-laden cauliflower and potatoes cooked in tomato sauce, is on the sweet side.
Grilled salmon with mixed vegetables
Verdict: This meal looks and tastes like an in-flight meal in economy class. The two pieces of salmon are tender, though most of the flavour comes from the sweet and citrusy brown sauce.
The salmon comes in a lighter shade of pink than the freshly cooked version. The side of mashed potato tastes like it comes from an instant mix. The broccoli, cauliflower and carrot slices are too wet as they are soaked in gravy from the mashed potato.
Seafood hor fun
Verdict: The pack comes piping-hot with stir-fried kway teow drenched in a starchy gravy. It is topped by two shrimps, slices of fish cake and chicken breast and chye sim.
The chicken breast is chewy and the shrimps are tougher than those found in freshly cooked hor fun.
As expected, the kway teow does not have wok hei (fragrance from the wok), but if you are willing to overlook that, the gravy has an umami flavour and tastes like the hor fun served in foodcourts.
A decent hor fun.
Salted egg yolk pasta with shrimps
Verdict: The sauce for the spaghetti smells vaguely like salted egg yolk, but tastes like a weak curry.
The four pieces of shrimps have a firmer bite than freshly cooked ones, as is typical of those found in a re-heated frozen meal.
When I toss the spaghetti with the sauce, the mixture looks grainy. The pasta, however, is springy and the amount of sauce is just right, but the recipe for the sauce needs some tweaking.
Claypot chicken rice
Verdict: When I lift the bento box from the machine, one side of the container is cold.
As expected then, some of the rice is cold and hard due to uneven heating. However, the rest of the rice, chicken, chicken sausage and mushrooms are warm.
The name is misleading – the rice has none of the smoky flavour of claypot rice and tastes like it has been mixed with soya sauce.
The thin slab of chicken is like those found in lor mai kai and I find the chicken sausage too soft. The saving grace are the dried shrimps in the rice, which give the dish much needed texture and flavour.
This story was originally published in The Straits Times.