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The Happy Call Pan-omenon

Elizabeth Soh
Singapore Showbiz
9 May 2012

What has got thousands of mothers and housewives here raving on the Internet and social media about how their evenings will never be the same again?

Not the latest weepy Korean drama to hit prime-time television, but also hailing from the land of Kimchi, something called the Happy Call Pan.

Happy Call Pan (Photo courtesy of Munch Ministry)
Happy Call Pan (Photo courtesy of Munch Ministry)

Despite its humble appearance (what? no flashing lights? no beeping buttons?), the pan has been cooking up a storm here in Singapore and is rapidly becoming a kitchen must have.

It is only available on Lejel, a home shopping channel, or bought directly from Korean sellers on popular shopping portal Gmarket.com.sg, but thousands of these pans have been snapped up here as word of the pan has spread on Facebook as well as forums.

Happy Call touts itself as a "miracle" pan that minimizes cooking smells and reduces the amount of oil needed to make fried chicken crispy and food fragrant. The manufacturers also claim that its pressure-cooking technology works to keep vegetables green and crunchy with less cooking time.

"Singaporean customers form almost 90 per cent of my sales," said a Gmarket Korean Happy Call Pan seller who only wanted to be known as B Kim, "Over the past few months the number of pans I can sell have been increasing every month, from about 20 pans a month when I started last September to at  least 150 pans a month now."

With so many other cooking devices from more established brands on the market today, what is the appeal of the Happy Call, and will it soon become just another flash in the pan?

Yahoo! Singapore finds out from the two ladies behind Munch Ministry, an online portal and community of almost 9,000 home cooks who share hundreds of Happy Call recipes with each other every day and have transformed from reluctant cooks to domestic goddesses to be.

Their Happy Call community has become so popular that when they posted a recipe for "Muah Chee" (sticky steamed dough with peanuts), glutinous rice flour and peanut powder was sold out at most Giant and NTUC supermarkets for the next few days.

Pauline and Louisa, the two behind the Happy Call community (Photo courtesy of Bene Tan, Cause & Effect Studio)
Pauline and Louisa, the two behind the Happy Call community (Photo courtesy of Bene Tan, Cause & Effect Studio)

On the appeal of the Happy Call Pan

Good friends Pauline Wong and Louisa Loh told Yahoo! Singapore that the secret to Happy Call's huge popularity lies in its ability to get around the inconveniences of cooking at home.

"I used to only cook at home two times a week because the idea of doing the washing up and all the cooking smells would turn me off," said Wong, who is a housewife. "The pan minimizes the smells of frying fish because its closed, and the non-stick coating can be cleaned with just a paper towel."

The pair also said that cooking vegetables in the pan only required a "ten-cent coin" sized drop of oil to cook and appealed to many mothers who wanted to start eating healthily.

"When I cooked a full meal for my family on the pan, my husband and kids were amazed and I found that I really enjoyed making home cooked food for dinner." said Wong, who has two young children.

But the biggest reason why the pan is such a hit, according to them, is that it makes cooking look so simple.

"For soy-sauce chicken, you just put in the chicken, the marinade, and the sauce, close it, and half an hour later, you have your main dish for dinner. That kind of easy success really encourages mothers to try harder." explained Loh.

A friend of theirs persuaded to try the pan has since transformed from someone who only ate 'tingkat' (catered) dinners everyday to a dedicated home cook.

On how Munch Ministry - Happy Call Chefs was born ..

"We decided to create an archive after people started posting on photos of food Pauline had made with her Happy Call pan," said Loh. "Then we created a Facebook page and all these people were liking the recipes and eager to share their own."

Before they knew it, they had formed a community of almost 9,000 Happy Call-armed home cooks, with more adding to the number every day. Their Munch Ministry website, conceived in December last year, now has over 150 original recipes from home cook contributors.

Their demographic also revealed some surprises. While the bulk of their fans were women aged between 24-39, 10 per cent of them were male.

"They lurk around, check out our recipes, but some of them do speak up. One of them in his 50s frequently shares planting tips on the page." said Loh.

"The Happy Call pan did get us started, but later on, its the joy of cooking plus the fun of creating something by yourself - the satisfaction is there," said Wong, who manages the community full-time. "The group is very vibrant and they find Munch Ministry very addictive, checking it every day."

Some members of the group have also connected online and organized bake ware shopping trips to Malaysia as well as Happy Call potluck dinners.

On making cooking fun ..

The two feel that the Happy Call community has also provided a platform for home cooks to share recipes with complete strangers and has encouraged them to cook more creatively.

A Munch Ministry member makes Tuna Tataki with Butter Soya Sauce Pasta using the pan (Photo courtesy of W M Soh)
A Munch Ministry member makes Tuna Tataki with Butter Soya Sauce Pasta using the pan (Photo courtesy of W M Soh)

For example, Wong and Loh have used the pan to cook local favourites like Muah Chee, Bak Kwa (pork jerky), and Char Siew (roasted meat) - food that few cooks would bother to try out at home.

One reader even decided to use her pan to bake 1,000 pineapple tarts at home on her stove during Chinese New Year this year - a process Wong caught on video and shared with members, sparking a Happy Call baking obsession with everything from muffins to cream cakes and cookies.

Happy Call Pan - good but not perfect ..

Both Loh and Wong feel that the pan has improved their meals, but also say that learning to cook with the pan is a learning process and aspiring cooks should not be discouraged if they fail in the beginning.

Firstly, the pan is heavy - weighing between 1.5 to 1.9 kg, making storage in a small kitchen inconvenient and difficult to move around for first-time cooks. Flipping fried fish in the pan when you're not an expert can result in the fish breaking apart.

Secondly, the pan does not work on induction stoves, and reacts differently to different stoves.

"When I first got my pan, I tried making some salmon. I charred it on the outside because the heat was too high, " said Wong. "Some of the Munch Ministry members have written in to say that even at their stove's lowest heat, their food would still burn."

"Using the pan is really a trial and error process, but once you taste success, you would want to keep trying." said Loh.

When asked how long they intend to continue Munch, the two said that they were looking into it as a long term venture with potential partnerships with kitchen appliance and cookware companies.

"Starting the community really added fulfillment to our lives, so we'd like to do it as long as we can." said Wong.

Getting started

For those looking to buy their first pans, Wong and Loh recommend buying off Gmarket, which, at $62.90 before shipping is the cheapest on the market.

Gmarket sellers also often throw in freebies like silicon gloves and mats.

They also suggested startingwith a simple recipe to get used to the pan, like Muah Chee.

Munch Ministry's Muah Chee recipe:

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