Com Thang (Monthly Rice)

My husband and I have been loyal subscribers of those meal-delivery services.  We subscribed to Plated for over two years, took a break, and then signed on with Sun Basket for another six months.  I loved the service and was willing to pay $10-$12 per person per meal if it meant all the ingredients were there, the food was healthy, and all I had to do was follow directions and cook.  Plated had great meal options.  The reason we switched to Sun Basket was because Sun Basket guaranteed that everything would be organic and they catered to our dietary needs…that is, until we started the ketosis diet.  From then on, I had to quit because we weren’t getting enough dietary fat to keep me full. At best, their meals were low carb and I’d have to add in the additional fat.

In the Vietnamese culture, there’s a similar delivery service called “com thang” or monthly rice. This topic has become popular in my Vietnamese moms groups lately because so many of us are busy working moms and we just don’t have the time to cook. With monthly rice, you generally subscribe for weeks or a full month.  Cooks make you 2-3 entrees and deliver it to your house daily. I don’t know if it’s a lost art, but it’s something that’s very hard to come by. Those who offer it only stay within a certain radius that makes it cost effective.  Otherwise, you’re limited to purchasing it from a hole-in-the-wall restaurant or supermarket.

Last year, my mom was laid off from her corporate job in the energy industry. It’s been tough for people to find jobs. I have more than several colleagues who have not had jobs in well over a year. Knowing she was getting bored, I casually approached her about doing monthly rice. I know it’s not a money maker but at least it’d keep her busy was my thinking. No one was serving the northwest part of Houston and I did a quick survey of my Vietnamese mom’s Facebook group to find that there were plenty of people interested. After figuring out what we’d do and how to do it, we took our first orders. My mom spent the better part of a entire day cooking and the next half day delivering.  When all was said and done, she’d barely made any money. She didn’t realize how expensive certain ingredients like seafood were and the time it took her to drive everywhere made it not worth it. We decided to tweak the offering.  We narrowed down the number of dishes, the delivery area and changed the way it was structured. Instead of doing a la carte, now customers would just pay for the number of people they need to feed and number of nights. She would decide what to cook. I guess people didn’t like that because she only received a few new orders for the second week.  It was unfortunate, but I had a feeling that would be the outcome.  At $10/entrée, we were competing with the big delivery services like Plates, Blue Apron and others, but she couldn’t compete with the local services and restaurants that offered it cheaper. In my mind, she should be able to offer it at $10/entrée because the meals come prepared already, and she’s delivering to a larger area that’s currently not being served. It’s the laws of supply and demand. Unfortunately, not everyone seemed willing to pay that much. For a lot of moms I spoke with, it seems they’d rather continue eating out for every meal than enjoy a home cooked meal delivered to their door.

There were some moms willing to travel to pick up their meals.  For those who were willing to travel, I’d heard about places offering 3 entrees for $21! I’m not sure where they were located or the portion sizes, but it’s crazy to think people make any money off of those rates. Most of those places are restaurants or Asian supermarkets. In my opinion, pricing them that low makes them a price loss leader meant to bring in customers. I’m also skeptical of the freshness of their ingredients. It’s quite possible they’re using yesterday’s kitchen leftovers and packing meals with them. I’ve been told my Chinese buffet owners that they do that with their meats. They’ll chop up leftovers to be used in the next day’s fried rice or some other entrée.

Anyway, I think it’s a great concept and wished there was a way to make it work for the masses. I’ve always dreamed about a creating an Asian meal delivery kit service like Blue Apron.  While many of these service do have Asian inspired dishes, they’re “Americanized.”  I’d love to see a meal delivery service that helps you cook like grandma did. I think that’s what inspired me to put this blog together. I feel the art of cooking Vietnamese food at home is gone because we’re all too busy to cook, but once you’re comfortable in the kitchen and you know the basics, it really doesn’t take much time. Heck, if I could make two entrees for my family of six at the tender age of 11, then it isn’t outside the realm of possibly for all of you! Hopefully, through my blog, recipes (and future cooking videos), you’ll be a pro in your kitchen on a no time.

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