Dining at your door

Those pushed for time but not willing to eat at restaurants now have the option of having meals delivered by specialist food providers.

on October 05,2017 04:02 PM

Dining at your door

like to consider myself ‘judicial’ in how I spend my time. My girlfriend just laughs and tells me I’m lazy. Either way, finding time to buy, prepare, and cook food is a challenge for me, just as it is for many others. Of course, this is Vietnam; the land of astonishingly cheap and delicious restaurants, but if I were to eat out at the restaurant closest to my apartment whenever I was pressed for time, my girlfriend’s laughter might turn to something a bit more negative, as I suspect I would develop a lingering odour of mắm tôm (shrimp paste).

To avoid the shrimp paste-fuelled fate of being ‘forever alone’, I’ve been in search of something else to fit my needs. Turns out I’m not the only one to have such a jam-packed work schedule. Hanoi is a land of business and opportunity for many, which means working a lot and hectic schedules. Many have noticed the busy schedules some people have and decided to fill their need for food. Thus, a sudden crop of almost-restaurants providing ready-made meal plans. Different from simply ordering delivery from a restaurant, one sets their order for the week in advance, and then each noon their pre-ordered, pre-prepared meal is delivered, with pre-scheduled nutrients to keep one going.

Many individuals are starting up preparation and delivery businesses of their own. My first experience with a business where meals were delivered on a regular basis was with a university student who was working for herself. Let’s call her V. V is a very energetic and slightly ludicrous enterprising young woman who wished to fund her travel desires. To do so, she had made a habit of doing preparation work for a few people in Hanoi. I asked her to help me out and, sure enough, she would show up at my apartment and entrench herself in my kitchen to prepare my weeks’ worth of food while at the same time introducing me to far more hippy/stoner music than I could ever want to know about. Other days when scheduled, she would simply drop off the food, which she had prepared at her own home, and I was spared the 45-minute Phish improvisation …

V eventually moved on to other work, which once again left me with the question of how I was to find time to prepare food, let alone the travel time, shopping, and the headache of being at either an expensive shop like Lotte Mart or having to deal with the ‘white tax’ that comes with shopping at the local market. Luckily, there are other options, and one needs only consult the magic oracle of Google.

Dining at your door

Armed with a fresh list of ready-made meal providers, I asked a friend of mine and he directed me to a couple he found especially helpful and professional. I asked him why he started with the service, and his reasons were much the same as mine: ‘I don’t have time to cook healthy lunches every day and the cost isn’t significantly higher than what it would cost me to make the same thing myself,’ he said, adding ‘it let’s me actually relax over lunch instead of needing to cook, while still staying healthy.’

The service from these types of establishments can be hit or miss though, and one might not want to play Russian roulette with their eating routine. For example, one woman I ordered from demanded a suspiciously higher fee, ensuring that the food was high quality and safe, and that she was very professional. You might stop me now and tell me you know how this is about to go, or chastise me for being gullible. Both would be appropriate, I’m afraid. The result: the first delivery wasn’t even half the food I ordered, the bananas were, apparently, treated with unsafe chemicals (how people here know I’ll never understand - I guess it’s just a superpower that Vietnamese women have), and all the while the woman still demanded full payment. I would have put up with a full two hours of listening to Phish if it simply meant being able to get the food I order delivered on time. In short, hire with a reasonable degree of caution.

Following up with my friend, I asked him what his typical Plan B is in case he can’t get food properly delivered. ‘I would probably get delivery from a restaurant most days,’ he replied, which is reasonable backup, I suppose. All in all, this new breed of not home cooked but not typical restaurant providers seem to fill a niche need that many seem to have. I tend to find them a blessing between my crazy work schedule and how I truly need enough food each day to fuel my martial arts training in my off time. This is the other point of such providers, they tend to cater more to specific nutritional needs. My friend had the same impression I got from my first experience with such providers, saying ‘the ones I use have more of a focus on Western macronutrients, for e.g. higher protein, than most Vietnamese food, which tend to be more carb heavy. Also, the convenience and price is better than restaurants, because these services are built entirely around delivery, rather than delivery being an add-on to a bricks and mortar place.’

With a lower overall cost given there’s no seating area rental built into the food’s cost, more of a mindset towards nutrition, and enhanced convenience, it’s no wonder such ready-made meal establishments seem to be popping up all over Hanoi. One can find Vietnamese and foreign food of almost any variety. Simply put, there’s a way to take care of the hassle that eating can be, allowing one to make room in their schedule for more work or worrying about how to spend their free time in more enjoyable ways. Now if only I could find a way to outsource sleep as well …^

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