A Disappointing Trip to Vietnam with Kitchen Nomad

I really wanted to love Kitchen Nomad unreservedly.

I think the idea is excellent – each month they pick a cuisine, create recipe cards and pack a box full of speciality ingredients required to make the five recipes provided. Thus far, the countries they have covered are Greece, Vietnam, Lebanon, Pakistan and Mexico.

Boxes cost £22 plus £3 delivery and the retail value of the ingredients will be pretty much around that mark.

In London, I can actually find specialist ingredients for many international cuisines quite easily – especially if I’m willing to travel around the capital to the area(s) that focus best on the cuisine(s) in question – but I appreciate that many of these items are much harder to find across the rest of the UK, which is another reason I really like the idea.

KitchenNomad-0867 KitchenNomadVietnam-4137
Kitchen Nomad Greek box; Kitchen Nomad Vietnamese box

In practice, there are a few issues…

The first may not be a negative at all for many customers; indeed it’s probably a positive! On placing an order, customers don’t know the country that Kitchen Nomad will cover next, so the box they receive is a complete surprise. Of course, surprises can be wonderful but they can also backfire now and again. When I accepted Kitchen Nomad’s invitation to trial their new service, a few months ago, I was sent their very first box, full of Greek ingredients and recipes. Although I’m not a fussy eater, there are a handful of things I don’t like and a few Pete isn’t keen on. Between the two of us, the recipes within the Greek box featured five such ingredients – vine leaves, capers, olives, feta cheese and walnuts. Nothing wrong with any of those – just bad luck to find so many we dislike between us – but had I known in advance the theme was Greek, I could have suggested deferring delivery to the following month.

In my case, Kitchen Nomad kindly allowed me to pass the Greek Box on to a blogger friend who felt she might enjoy the dishes more than I would, and sent me a different box a few months later.

On a related note, it’d be nice to be able to order boxes from previous months as gifts for friends who might enjoy trying a particular cuisine, and that option isn’t (currently) available. I understand why on a practical level but from a consumer point-of-view, I think it would popular.

As the website makes clear, the box doesn’t include all the ingredients you need to make any of the recipes – indeed it doesn’t even contain most of them. Instead, it provides only the long life speciality ingredients, leaving you to buy fresh ingredients yourself. This isn’t a problem either, but it does mean that the cost of making the five recipes is far higher than the cost of the box. This is simply something I want to draw your attention to.

Then there are little things that make me cross. In that original Greek Box, one of the five recipe cards was for Prawn Saganaki, a dish of fresh prawns baked in a tomato sauce with feta cheese over the top. It calls for 300-400 grams of fresh prawns and 225 grams of feta cheese. And it contains a note that you can make it vegetarian by… not adding the prawns! This is sheer craziness – not only would this result in an unbalanced dish, the portions would no longer be suitable to serve the 4 people indicated! If you wish to suggest a vegetarian version, then make the effort to consider and propose suitable alternatives to the non-vegetarian main ingredient. Leaving out a couple of rashers of bacon where it’s a secondary ingredient used to add saltiness is one thing, but skipping the central ingredient completely is quite another!

A problem with containers that are too fragile and break open, spilling their contents, has already been resolved in the months since Kitchen Nomad launched. They have been receptive to feedback, which is good to see.

KitchenNomadVietnam-4152 KitchenNomadVietnam-4158

We first came a cropper when we made the Bánh Xeo (Crispy Crêpes) recipe provided in the Vietnam box. Having made our shopping list according to the instructions on the card, it was only when we came to make the batter that we realised there were no instructions given for that, and more alarmingly, the text printed on the back of the batter mix bag called for coconut milk and turmeric, neither of which had been mentioned at all. Cue a second trip out (on a cold and dark evening) to the shops for coconut milk, and we were finally able to get started. Sadly, we didn’t succeed at cooking crispy pancakes; though we tried different temperatures and cooking times, our pancakes remained fragile, and even when we got them to crisp up, they still collapsed to mush when touched. I am certain we got the batter mix wrong, for lack of any guidance.

We had similar problems with the recipe card for the Bo Kho (Beef Stew). A 60 gram tub of kho spice mix was included in the box but the recipe didn’t indicate how much to use, saying nothing more than “mix the kho spice mix into the meat”. Given how potent the mix was, we could see that the whole tub was obviously too much for the amount of meat, so we decided to use about 5-6 teaspoons – significantly less than half. The finished dish was robustly flavoured and pretty hot on the chilli front –  it would have been way too strong had we mixed in the entire amount. We had exactly the same issue with the annatto, used to flavour and colour the cooking oil. No amounts were given in the recipe, but the bag of annatto provided contained at least a couple of tablespoons worth. We Googled and discovered that a single teaspoon would be sufficient. And even with extra cooking time to try and reduce it, we found that the amount of liquid stipulated resulted in a very liquidy finished dish – so our dinner was (thankfully tasty) beef, carrots and potatoes in a lot of thin soup.

In both cases, what this suggests to me is that Kitchen Nomad don’t bother to test their recipe cards before sending them out to customers, and that’s hugely frustrating as it can result in unsuccessful dishes and wasted ingredients. The website lists the Vietnamese recipes as being written by my friend and Vietnamese food writer Uyen Luu, but I’ve since obtained a copy of her book, My Vietnamese Kitchen, and these recipes are definitely not sourced from that. Her book’s Bánh Xeo recipe provides full ingredients and instructions for the pancake batter and her Bo Kho recipe not only uses carefully measured individual spices, it also includes cornflour to thicken the sauce. Regardless of the original recipe source, customers are buying the recipes from Kitchen Nomad; I really think Kitchen Nomad should test the recipes themselves, enabling them to spot and correct omissions and mistakes.

It gives me absolutely no pleasure at all to criticise a new business, especially when I think the idea is such a good one. But having been invited to review and share my opinions, I am compelled to be honest about my experiences. As the boxes are good value for the ingredients included, perhaps the trick is to source (or at least sense check) the recipes yourself on the web, to avoid similar failures.

 

Kavey Eats was provided review samples by Kitchen Nomad.

Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!
20 Comments to "A Disappointing Trip to Vietnam with Kitchen Nomad"

  1. Helen @ Fuss Free Flavours

    The thing with the Greek box with the prawns struck me too and I mentioned it in the review. But I enjoyed the rest of the Greek box.

    I received the Vietnamese box (which I was not expecting), and have not done anything with it, but did receive an e-mail with the corrections for the Bánh Xeo a day or so later. I was under the impression that these were Uyen’s recipes straight from her book – and I hope it will not hurt her sales.

    I am surprised that you have found these problems as reviews of the same box elsewhere have been glowing and have not mentioned these problems.

    I love the idea of Kitchen Nomad, and really hope that they can iron all these problems out.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes I noticed you’d said the same on the prawns when I’d finished writing my review and then had a look on the web for other reviews.

    I didn’t receive any message with corrections to the Banh Xeo recipe, if all their customers did, that’s definitely an ameliorating factor, as long as it did get to all customers. Wish I’d been sent that too. Definitely not recipes straight from Uyen’s book, although that does seem to be the impression the website gives…

    I don’t know if other reviewers assume that any errors are their own fault rather than weaknesses with the recipe cards, or simply don’t like to mention negatives on their blog – but if you gloss over them, your readers get a false impression of the service and I don’t think that’s fair.

    I love the idea too, I really hope they improve on this, as I think it’s a novel, creative and fun new service!

    Reply
  2. Helen @ Fuss Free Flavours

    Given that I earn my living as a food writer, and by developing recipes for brands I would, quite rightly, expect to lose clients were I to publish a glowing review and not mention these obvious points and it got noticed.

    Maybe others thought that the recipes should be like that? I do not know.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    With the crepes, there were no instructions on how to make the batter (or those missing ingredients for it) or what consistency it should be (thin and runny, apparently). This meant we were literally unable to get ours to cook through even to be firm enough to get out of the pan let alone to fold in half in the pan first.

    With the beef, it was clearly different to the image on the recipe card, which shows no runny sauce. It tasted great but was clearly not quite right. And as I said, nothing at all in recipe cards o how much spice mix or annatto to use.

    I have no idea how others didn’t find these issues problematic.

    Reply
  3. Tina @ The Spicy Pear

    This is a really interesting review Kavita. I actually joined their service on the back of positive reviews that I had read on Twitter! And none of this was mentioned.

    I like the concept of receiving ingredients and recipe cards on a monthly basis, as I love exploring cuisines from other parts of the world. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to use the first three boxes I received (Lebanon, Pakistan and Mexico) – it is just my bad luck that I already cook a lot of food from these countries, so completely understand your point that it would be good to know what you are getting beforehand. That said, I also like the element of surprise and I did get super excited when I opened this month’s box to discover it was Korea. I am planning to cook the dishes on the recipe cards over the next few weeks so let’s see how I get on.

    On the customer service front, I have to say the team are very responsive. My very first box came damaged, with freekah scattered all over the place and no recipe cards inside. I sent them an email and they quickly sent me a new tub of freekah and cards. They also threw in some cassia bark and orzo, with a recipe card for Greek Lamb stew, as an apology.

    They are a new company and hopefully your feedback will help them improve what appears to be a very interesting concept. I use their Baharat spice powder from their Lebanon box in many dishes and it is good quality.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Tina
    Really good to hear from you and thank you for such a comprehensive comment.

    I understand what you are saying about surprises, but for me the preference to avoid cuisines I either already cook regularly or simply don’t enjoy is probably more important than the surprise element, fun though it is. As I said though, that’s not a problem with the service.

    It’s good to hear that they are so responsive. I am sure they will quickly learn to use more robust packaging and better quality assurance processes on the packing front to ensure cards or other items are not accidentally left out of any boxes.

    For me, the key improvement I propose is properly testing recipes (and amending the recipe cards accordingly) before finalising and then sending out the boxes to their customers.

    I hope they can move forward with this successfully, as it’s definitely a lovely idea.

    Reply
  4. Anna

    This reads as a fair and reasoned review to me. I would think that testing a recipe to ensure completeness & compatibility with the ingredients boxed would be fundamental. I can’t see how a business can grow if their customers don’t end up with a meal they enjoy, so your honest feedback can only help. I was also interested to read that you passed on the Greek box. Whilst normally quite adventurous there are some foods I don’t tolerate well & would be disappointed if I’d paid for a box of ingredients I couldn’t use. So it would be something I would have to consider before subscribing. I’ve tried other similar companies but they were ingredients for different recipes within one type of cuisine. As a novice blogger I struggle with what to post & what to leave out. It has been very interesting & informative to follow this post and the discussion it has raised.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Given the positive reviews for other boxes, perhaps there were less issues with recipe cards for these and therefore the dishes came out as expected? Or perhaps some users simply assume that any issues are down to their own mistakes rather than the recipes?

    I do think that, regardless of source, the actual recipe cards need to be properly tested before being sent out.

    There are many food and recipe delivery services launching here, but the ones I’ve seen have been quite a different concept, providing all ingredients including fresh ones and therefore including everything needed to make the meal (with the exception of staples such as oil, sugar, flour). I think what KN are doing is a very clever departure and one I think is fun and will have an audience.

    Reply
  5. Alicia (foodycat)

    It doesn’t really sound like a product that I would use, but I do appreciate the honest review! Having to go out for ingredients twice and not including all the ingredients sounds like a definite downside to me!

    Reply
    Kavey

    Yes, each box has completely different ingredients. I got the Greek box initially, but didn’t use it, I passed it on to another blogger to review, if they liked it.

    I’m not following your comment about my not getting any feta? The Greek box didn’t include feta – you have to buy the fresh ingredients yourself. The problem was that the recipe card for prawn saganaki suggested making it vegetarian by just missing out the prawns, which would have meant all that had been left was a small serving of feta.

    Reply
  6. Foodie Laura

    I was really excited to get my Korean box this week although I haven’t followed any of the recipes yet. I did already have three of the products in my store cupboard so I can relate on the mystery box bit. I might not have opted in for a Korean box but then I also think the it was the whole surprise element that added to my excitement.

    Reply
  7. kaveyeats

    Aah, I’ve just edited to make it clearer – the recipes within the box included those ingredients! Sorry!

    Pete doesn’t like vine leaves, olives or walnuts. I don’t like capers or feta cheese. 🙂

    Reply
  8. Kitchen Nomad

    Thanks for the honest review – we appreciate the feedback as it helps us improve our service. We are aware of some issues with the recipes from our early boxes and we have worked to address that in our more recent boxes. We have also worked on the vegetarian alternatives that we offer in our recipes too.

    Our concept is all about taking people on a culinary journey around the world. We understand that some people may want to know what they are getting before they order, but the element of surprise is one thing we want to offer as it brings excitement, and helps people discover – 2 key things that set us a apart from other services.

    Once again, thanks for the honest feedback – as a new business this helps us improve! We have taken previous feedback on board to improve our service month on month, and we will continue to do so.

    Kitchen Nomad

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Thanks for your comment (and the similar one via email).
    Really appreciate your openness to the feedback and your enthusiasm to take criticism on board in order to improve the product.
    I completely understand your point about the element of surprise and think it’s something most customers will appreciate. I realise I’m in the minority o that one!
    Thanks again for your comment.

    Reply
  9. get smart

    Today has been a cold, grey, drizzly day which would have been perfect as a duvet day. Unfortunately, I had appointments and errands to run so I had to go out several times and get rained on. Luckily, I had the perfect warming comfort food bubbling away in my slow cooker, making the whole downstairs of my house smell wonderful and putting a smile firmly back on my face ! I’d decided to adapt the Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew) recipe from my Kitchen Nomad box so that it would work in the slow cooker.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Tina @ The Spicy Pear Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *