Text and images by Catherine Ling @ Makansutra
Be warned, they have arrived. So now, would you eat horfun from a vending machine?
That’s something we’re going to test today. The Japanese may be leading in the use of vending machines for all kinds of things, but our local National University of Singapore (NUS) has recently installed near the Central Library atrium this intriguing contraption that promises piping hot food like horfun, curry chicken, Yangzhou fried rice and spaghetti bolognaise. All at the mere touch of a few buttons.
This is the interactive touchscreen where you can scroll through the dishes available. Most of them are about S$4, which isn’t a lot, but then the canteens nearby offer food at half the price. The machine also indicates the food temperature – currently at minus 14.7 degrees C. So it’s basically frozen pre-packs.
After you slot in your money (notes accepted) and make your choice, the screen goes into a countdown. For the horfun, it’s about 180 seconds. Of course, the photo looks all dressed up, but you know better than to believe that picture. Still, you wonder what’s going to come out.
Your cutlery pops out first. A fork, spoon and paper napkin neatly packaged in sealed plastic and a paper box.
And then, at the end of three minutes, the food pops out. Oh it’s hot all right, they’re not kidding. Very hot. So it’s better to slide that packet of food onto a folder or surface other than to touch it with your hand. Or you can use the paper box the cutlery comes in.
Okay, this is what the sealed pack of food looks like. Seafood Chicken Hor Fun. Halal too. I’m not sure if the plastic warped from the heat or some other physical damage during its movement.
But the big question remains – how does it taste like? Is it edible? Is it yet another microwave food abomination?
Surprise, surprise…it’s actually not that bad (at least for when you are desperate for it at 3am in the morning).The flavour and seasoning is pretty spot on for horfun (maybe a tad more salty), and for the most part, the rice noodles are nicely slippery and tender but not soggy. The smoky charred parts are the best. There are a couple of spots where the noodles texture was off – rough and sandy, but those submerged in gravy did all right.
Unfortunately the fishcakes do suffer freezer burn – you can see it in the tiny pockmarks before you even eat it. The prawns are treated to resemble crystal prawns and the chicken is very lean. No squid to be found, unlike the picture.
Well, this turned out better than expected (although admittedly expectations were low to begin with). But you’d still have to harbour a certain amount of desperation to want to eat reheated food from a machine when real food choices are aplenty nearby. Then again, god knows what cravings might hit in the lonely wee hours during exam periods, so this could still be a godsend for some.