I had very low expectations when I headed to the Chef-in-Box Vendcafe at Ang Mo Kio on a hot Thursday afternoon. I was mentally preparing myself to chow on sub-par and moderately stale food, which is what many would expect of vending machine food; but boy, I had no idea what was in store.
You see, the food at Chef-in-Box is made by real chefs. That means the food is fresh and tasty, while the ingredients are of a reasonably good quality. This is pretty game-changing for the instant food industry.
Gone are the days when people had to choose between McDonald’s and 7-Eleven instant meals for dinner when they end work late. Chef-in-Box has over 40 outlets located islandwide, and this number is growing with its first Vendcafe at Sengkang.
What I liked about Chef-in-Box is its substantial variety of food, relatively good quality of ingredients, and (mostly) fuss-free ordering. All payments are cashless and you can choose to pay via NETS Flashpay, Visa Paywave, or your EZLink card.
Meals can be chosen quickly via a touch screen, and the system is fairly easy to figure out. The food is dispensed within seconds unless it is being heated by the machine, in which case it takes three to four minutes.
You can choose to heat your food in the microwave on the premises itself or save it for later and heat it yourself at home.
There’s also neat cutlery packages complete with napkins that you can just grab and go. With everything made so convenient, you can probably grab a meal and leave within five minutes.
Okay, enough about ordering, let’s talk about the food. As for the cooked meals, there are local, Thai, and Spanish cuisines which you can try,
The best dish we had at Chef-in-Box was the Paella With Salmon Patty & Black Pepper Sauce ($5.90). The paella was aromatic, well-spiced, and better than some paella I’ve had at actual restaurants.
And though you can’t expect much from the salmon, I actually enjoyed it as there was no fishy taste, and it was pleasantly savoury.
Another dish that was really good and is sure to warm you up is the Thai Choo Chee ($4). There were plenty of prawns and juicy eggplants that soaked up the yummy curry. The rice was also really good — firm and a little bit sticky, complementing the curry very well.
There’s also the Thai Green Curry Chicken ($4), which comes with a generous serving of chicken chunks. However, I preferred the Thai Choo Chee a lot more.
We also had the Fried Carrot Cake ($3.50), which was tender and came with a generous serving of spring onions and prawns. However, it would have tasted even better if only it came with sambal.
To end our meal, we had the Mango Sago ($2.50). I did not expect the sago to come with actual chunks of mango. The dessert was served chilled and the sweetness level was just right. $2.50 initially felt pricey but I think the portion was worth the price.
There are also a few vending machines in the Ang Mo Kio branch that carry unique Korean and Japanese snacks. Snacks like Nong Shim Mini Churros ($2.20), Lotte Crunchy Matcha ($2.20), and Mont Blanc Chips ($2.20), are usually pretty hard to find around Singapore.
We couldn’t resist but to bring some home. The chips are all very cheaply priced, considering that they are imported, but I would advise you stay away from the Mont Blanc Chips, as the chocolate taste is quite strange when coupled with potato.
The churros were good though, as they were dry, crispy, and had nice notes of cinnamon. You can also give the chocolates and various gummies a try for a mid-day pick me up.
The variety of drinks at Chef-in-Box is pretty substantial as well, with various Japanese and Korean canned drinks being included with the usual carbonated and non-fizzy drinks you’d find in a vending machine. Also, the Arizona teas ($2.50) were HUGE, way larger than the ones you see in supermarkets, with a hefty capacity of 680ml.
Chef-in-Box is a great place to go to when you need a meal in a rush. This is a much-needed food option for working people who need fresher and more wholesome food other than just the usual grab-and-go foods like instant noodles or packaged sandwiches.
Even if you’re not in a rush, try the food at least once anyway as the quality and taste are quite good, considering it all comes out of a vending machine.
Expected damage: $2.20 – $8 per person