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.
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.
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.