The proposition from Daily Dish and UCook is simple: three to four meals a week sorted, with all the ingredients and instructions you need delivered to your door.
Actually achieving that is hard – but both these services are superb. In our testing we found that both deliver meal kits of excellent-quality ingredients with clear and simple recipes – at pretty decent value. The service from both was flawless. And there is simply no comparison between their service and tediously planning meals and shopping for them.
But when we tested them head-to-head, we found UCook to be superior because of its flexibility, and because of one inconvenience with the Daily Dish offering.
Here is how they stacked up.
UCook charges R630 for a box with three meals for two people; Daily Dish's "classic" box for two people holds four meals for R870. On per-head per-meal basis, that means UCook comes in at R105 – while Daily Dish costs R109.
Their weekly schedule is also indistinguishable. Both bill your credit card on Wednesday for delivery the next Monday.
Both deliver throughout most of Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, and each has a couple of outliers too, such as Port Elizabeth for Daily Dish.
Both UCook and Daily Dish use sturdy cardboard boxes (of the same size) lined with styrofoam inserts and stuffed with icepacks to keep the perishables cool. Side-by-side it is immediately noticeable that UCook has a different packing philosophy, though the outsized importance of that only became obvious later on.
In our testing the icepacks used by both companies (roughly equivalent in size, though UCook uses bigger, branded icepacks) remained frozen until well after 7PM on the delivery Monday, after an entire day at ambient temperatures. We wouldn't let either of the boxes sit in a car in the sun, but you can safely have them delivered to the office.
When we let them fully defrost overnight it turned out that on ice brick from each Daily Dish and UCook had sprung a leak, but both were minor, and neither had any chance of compromising the food.
Unpacking the UCook box takes moments: grab each of the brown paper bags and put them in the fridge.
Unpacking the Daily Dish box is an exercise in frustration, with something like a million little plastic packets to dig out.
That turns out to be a mere foreshadowing of the frustration to come when you start cooking. On the first day in particular, rummaging through the fridge to find the right little packet among its million peers takes forever. And is entirely unnecessary, as UCook proves with its genius brown-paper-bags approach.
If there had been no other difference between the two, the convenience of UCook's all-the-ingredients-in-a-bag approach would have won it the showdown.
With all the ingredients individually packed, the amount of plastic used is a little overwhelming. UCook drops cloves of garlic and carrots straight into those awesome brown paper bags, so its plastic load is slightly less – but still not pretty.
There is an argument to be made that the environmental impact of having food delivered efficiently is smaller than going to the shops yourself a couple of times. But be prepared for the guilt when you see a single bay leaf packaged for your convenience.
We made the mistake of counting. The Daily Dish box included 27 different pieces of plastic wrapping for various items – not including the plastic wrapper for the menu notes.
The "I packed your dinner" card Daily Dish includes is strangely reassuring when your food arrives in a box from a company that, from your perspective, exists only online.
UCook, on the other hand, thinks that a blender is a standard piece of equipment in every kitchen – which may come as a surprise to some.
To be fair, both companies really do provide everything you need for every meal other than a couple of pots and salt, butter, olive oil, and milk. Even small amounts of vinegar and mustard is included in the boxes. In plastic, of course.
Never prepared trout? Not a problem. Both Daily Dish and UCook offer clear and simple instructions every step of the way, including whether or not you should peel potatoes for mash. (Sometimes yes, sometimes no.)
UCook has a slight advantage because its recipes are better organised, but that is nit-picking. If you can boil water, you can make the recipes.
If you have the patience you can actually recreate the menu images pretty closely. If you don't, you can still prepare something that tastes great and looks decent.
Both UCook and Daily Dish shipped excellent ingredients. The chicken is free range, the vegetables fresh, and the results delicious. There was nothing to choose between the two offerings in the week of our tests.
On UCook you can edit your box until the Wednesday before delivery, replacing any of the standard meals. In the case of our box selection there are nine options to choose from. So if, say, you have a soy allergy, you can replace a glazed-pork dish that relies on soy sauce with a vegetarian option.
The system could do with a bit more automation, like registering allergies (or just the ingredients fussy eaters hate) so that they are automatically flagged. But even if you have to check the ingredients manually, editing is a great boon.
By contrast to UCook's three meal options ("Health Nut", "Easy Peasy", and "Vegetarian"), Daily Dish seems to have more options available, including vegan and pork-free.
But once you have selected your box, what you get is what you get – no substitutions.
That gives UCook a big advantage, and combined with its brown paper bags makes it Business Insider South Africa's preferred meal-kit-plus-recipe provider.
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