Are unsightly and messy foods a passing fad?

Food that is messy to eat is all the rage now and people have no qualms posting photos of themselves getting dirty while eating it

Japanese undergraduate Aoi Yoshikawa looks immaculate most of the time, but she has no qualms eating Zang Zang Bao, or Dirty Bread, in public.

Never mind that eating the pastry leaves her face and hands smeared with chocolate. She even posted a selfie on her Instagram account.

The 23-year-old, who studies media and marketing, says: “The Dirty Bread is trendy and I want the experience of eating it.”

Ms Yoshikawa, who is in Singapore on an exchange programme, went to Keong Saik Bakery to try its Dirty Bread after seeing posts about it on social media.

The trend of eating Zang Zang Bao appears to have originated in China, with eaters posting pictures of their chocolate-smeared faces on social media.

Bakeries here have caught on to the trend. Keong Saik Bakery launched its Chocolate Dirty Bread ($4) and Matcha Dirty Bread ($4.50) last month. It now also has Chocolate Dirty Cake ($6) in its Dirty confections series.


Ms Aoi Yoshikawa (above) enjoying the Chocolate Dirty Bread at Keong Saik Bakery. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

BreadTalk introduced its Messy Buns on April 5 and they are available in four flavours: Ultimate Chocolate ($2.50), Lemon White Chocolate ($2.50), Green Tea ($2.20) and one with a local twist, the Dinosaur ($2.20), which is made using chocolate malt powder.

Co-owner and head chef of Keong Saik Bakery, Mr Ng Beng Soon, 29, says he came up with his version of Dirty Bread after he saw his baker friends in Taiwan and China posting pictures and discussing it online.

He used the bakery’s croissant dough as the base. The filling is made of custard while the exterior is topped with chocolate ganache and cocoa powder for the chocolate version.

He took two weeks to perfect his recipe. The initial response was not good, so the bakery organised a two-week contest last month to give away a $30 voucher for the “messiest” Dirty Bread eater.

Now the bakery sells, on average, 60 pieces of Dirty Bread daily on weekdays and 100 a day on weekends.

Mr Ng says: “The Dirty Bread is popular with customers and they like to take photos and pose for selfies with it.”

He, however, does not expect the trend of Zang Zang Bao to last beyond another two months.

Ms Angela Wang, 19, who visited the cafe with her mother, says: “This is not something I will eat on my own in public. But eating it together with friends is fun.”

Ms Yoshikawa says: “People want food that is not just pretty to photograph, but also fun to eat.”

Singapore Management University’s marketing professor Han Jin Kyung, 50, says ugly food is novel in a market where attractive products are the norm.

He says: “As long as the novelty is there, the ugly food trend should continue for a while, until too many jump on the bandwagon and consumers start to tire of it.”

Dirty food does not come only in the form of snacks. A seafood restaurant has come up with crab dishes that leave diners with their faces smeared with chocolate.

Restaurant owner Francis Ng had a hard time persuading his executive chef to create a new crab dish with Oreo cookies.

The 46-year-old chief executive of House Of Seafood, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, says: “When I first told our executive chef about my idea of using Oreo cookies in a crab dish, he reacted very strongly. He said there was no way he would do it and told me I was mad.”

It took him a week to convince the chef to create the dish and the restaurant started selling it as a special item on March 1.

One month later, the restaurant launched another new crab dish, the Milo Dinosaur Crab. Prices are at $65 for a kg of crab.

House Of Seafood has sold about 400 Oreo Crabs and 300 Milo Dinosaur Crabs, better than the 100 for each dish that Mr Ng expected.

He says: “The F&B industry is extremely competitive. If you do not innovate and challenge yourself to come up with new ideas, you will fall behind.

“Younger consumers don’t just want flavour. They want something out of the ordinary that they can take photographs of and post on social media.”

The Oreo Crab and Milo Dinosaur Crab dishes are aimed mainly at younger diners in their 20s and 30s.

Mr Ng hit upon the idea of using Oreo cookies and Milo as ingredients after observing how popular they are with younger consumers.

Estate executive James Koh, 28, who dined at the restaurant with his colleagues, says: “I thought Oreo Crab and Milo Dinosaur Crab would taste weird, but they turned out quite tasty.”

Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon, 56, of the National University of Singapore Business School says: “The incongruence of using Oreo cookies and Milo to cook crab can draw people to the restaurant.”

UGLY TO LOOK AT, GOOD TO EAT

Looking less than perfect can be a good thing.

Monnani Kwabaeggi, which in Korean means ugly pretzel, is now available in Singapore.

The first overseas outlet of Monnani opened last Tuesday in the basement of Hong Leong Building in Raffles Place.

In South Korea, the snack attracts queues and inspires social media posts of consumers celebrating its “ugliness”. Up to 500,000 ugly pretzels are sold in South Korea daily. 

South Korean entrepreneur Kim Dae Young, 58, founded the snack chain in 2015. There are currently more than 100 outlets in South Korea.

He originally did not mean for the pretzel to be ugly, but was unable to get the pretzel shaped the way he wanted because he did not have any formal culinary training.

He says: “I wanted it to look pretty, but no matter how I twisted the dough, after frying, it came out odd-shaped. My friends and family who tried it said it tasted good, but it looked ugly. I decided to name it Monnani Kwabaeggi because I want to focus on the flavour.”

The Singapore franchise outlet is operated by Mr Kevin Ong, 53, founder and managing director of pastry chain Chewy Junior.

He says: “The Ugly Pretzel is not so much a fad as just simple, honest food. It does not have to be flashy or fanciful to taste good.”

The Monnani is available in five flavours with prices ranging from $1.40 for the Original Pretzel to $3.00 for a Premium Sausage Pretzel.

Accountant Glen Tan, 28, who tried the snack, says: “It is like a Korean version of youtiao. In fact, I prefer this to youtiao because it is more moist, soft and chewy.”


Ugly food, good eating


ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

What: Dirty Breads

Where: Keong Saik Bakery, 41 Keong Saik Road, tel: 6909-3199

Open: 8am to 8pm daily. Dirty Breads are available from 10am


ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

What: Oreo Crab, Milo Dinosaur Crab

Where: House Of Seafood, The Punggol Settlement 01-01/02, 3 Punggol Point Road, tel: 6466-9000

Open: 11am to 2pm, 5 to 11pm (Mondays to Fridays); 11am to 11pm (Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays)


ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

What: Monnani Kwabaeggi (Ugly Pretzels)

Where: Monnani, B1-48 Hong Leong Building, 16 Raffles Quay, tel: 6224-1229

Open: 10.30am to 6.30pm (Mondays to Fridays); 10.30am to 2.30pm (Saturdays). Closed on Sundays

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 29, 2018, with the headline 'Getting down and dirty'. Print Edition | Subscribe