I just finished eating breakfast, a whole new concept for me. Usually I have coffee until my stomach rebels around 11 am and then I eat whatever might be in my refrigerator. Since that is rarely well stocked, my first food of the day could never be called a meal--plain yogurt or a chunk of lean roasted pork--just something to calm my overly caffeinated digestive system.
On New Year's Eve, I was wandering down an aisle of my neighborhood supermarket, which is highly Japanese with dashes of other Asian countries, staring listlessly at the shelves. Suddenly some brightly colored boxes caught my eye, bearing names like Bisibele Bhath and Sambar. Ready to Eat, the boxes promised, no artificial ingredients, no preparation required; whole dried red chilis were prominently displayed in photos of many of the dishes. I bought one, feeling skeptical. After eating the Bisibele Bhath for my first meal of the year, I went back and bought fifteen of those boxes. Yes, these meals really are that good.
It's January 3rd and so far I've eaten five of the fifteen meals. Each comes in a foil pouch which I heat in boiling water for five minutes. They contain no preservatives. They have flavor; the use of chili is judicious but clearly present as is coriander and tamarind and ginger. They are vegetarian and the most highly caloric of the bunch weighs in at around 350 calories. Dal Fry, Sambar, Khadi Pakora are household staples for me now.
I've always hated prepared food, be it canned, frozen, or in a box. Why was I captured by these boxes? Because they contain satisfying, appetizing, real meals--no freeze-dried chunks of unidentifiable origins or ingredients that I can't pronounce, let alone recognize. Whoever manufactures these dishes in a box clearly cares about eating.
MTR Foods PVT. LTD. is imported from Bangalore, India by a New York firm called AMTRADE. By the time the boxes reach me in Seattle, their carbon footprint is large. But these flat little boxes are less environmentally intrusive than cans from Taiwan and garlic from China--and their contents tastes much better than their equivalent made in my own country. Why?
I've bought organic soups in boxes that are made in my part of the world. They taste a lot like baby food--sugar, salt, organic vegetables--no flavor that lingers happily on my tongue. The Indian packaged food does--while it doesn't measure up to subcontinental dishes that I've enjoyed in Bangkok or Hong Kong, they taste every bit as good as similar dishes that I've eaten in stalls and restaurants at Chungking Mansions. And they are reasonably priced--each is well under three dollars.