The restaurants are full for the 15 days of Chinese New Year, you have run out of auspicious ingredients to whip up a meal for last-minute visitors and festive fatigue is starting to set in.
Enter ready-to-eat meals. At least four food and beverage companies have rolled out convenient packages that go beyond soup packets for a flavourful steamboat. Think proper dishes that can be fairly laborious to make, such as pencai, herbal chicken and braised sea cucumber with vegetables.
Simply order the items online or buy them at supermarkets. Defrost, heat up in the microwave or steam and plate the dishes with the flourish of extra garnish.
Noting the demand for quick eats during the festive period, Ms Jocelyn Chng, 51, chief executive of JR Group, which operates the vending machine chain of Chef-in-Box Vendcafe, decided to roll out Chinese New Year dishes this year.
She says: "We noticed an increase in customers heading to Vendcafe at Anchorvale during the first few days of Chinese New Year last year as some wanted a quick bite before or after their visiting. The range we have launched is perfect for small families who do not want to head out to restaurants."
The research and development (R&D) process to roll out Chinese New Year dishes is not always smoothsailing though.
House Of Seafood restaurant's chief executive Francis Ng, 45, tried to come up with vegetable-based ready meals, in addition to its staple of ready-to-eat crab items. "That did not work out as the vegetables turned very soggy, but our R&D on that will continue," he says.
While housewife Gillian Tan, 48, was initially not keen on offering ready-to-eat items for Chinese New Year, she now sees them as a suitable and hassle-free alternative. "I'd rather serve my guests food that is freshly cooked, but I'm the only one cooking for a gathering next Saturday and I don't think I can manage. I have tried House Of Seafood's crab items and the quality is pretty good. So I will buy the crab as an additional dish and try to cook the rest."
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What: If you prefer to dine at home, the restaurant group not only offers catering for Chinese New Year, but also ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook frozen meals.
Defrost the items before pouring out the contents to either steam or heat up in the microwave. Info: Order online at www.homefiesta.tunglok.com. Self-collection available at selected TungLok outlets and free delivery for orders of $80 and above.
GRANDMA-STYLE BRAISED PORK
What: Chunky pieces of braised pork belly (above) come in a delicious sauce made with ingredients such as red yeast rice, Hua Tiao wine, star anise, bay leaves and beer. The sauce is on the salty side, so if necessary, you can dilute it. It goes well simply drizzled over rice. After defrosting, either steam for 10 to 15 minutes or microwave on high heat for two to four minutes.
Price: $14.50, 350g, good for three
HALF HERBAL CHICKEN
What: Once poured out of the bag, the fragrance of the herbs hits you immediately. The light and flavourful herbal broth includes wolfberries, red dates, dang gui (angelica sinensis) and chuan xiong (rhizoma ligustici). The chicken (above) is tender and has plenty of juicy meat. After defrosting, either steam for 15 to 20 minutes or microwave on high heat for five to eight minutes.
Price: $10.70, 650g, good for two
FISH MAW SOUP
What: This version of fish maw soup (above) is a premium version of the canned ones at supermarkets - while remaining hassle-free. It includes pieces of fish maw, sliced mushroom and bamboo shoots in a thick soup. After defrosting, either steam for 15 to 20 minutes or microwave on high heat for four to six minutes. Serve hot and garnish with coriander. To add more flavour to the soup, stir in black vinegar and pepper to taste.
Price: $16, 500g, good for three
Taste Asia by Select Group
What: The chilled, halal-certified items are good for four people and require five to six minutes in the microwave. It is best to re-plate the dishes instead of microwaving them in their plastic containers. Where: Selected FairPrice, FairPrice Finest and Giant supermarkets Info: www.tasteasia.com.sg
EIGHT TREASURES VEGETABLE
What: For a vegetable-based dish, opt for Eight Treasures Vegetable (above), which has ingredients such as Chinese cabbage, chestnuts, carrots, mushrooms (shiitake, straw and button mushrooms), wolfberries and mock abalone. It is topped with a clump of black moss (fatt choy) - an auspicious ingredient. The sauce has a light flavour of chicken stock and is not overly salty.
Price: $18.80, 900g, good for four