Apply 140 milliliters of hot water on the brown rectangular block, then stir for 60 seconds and voila, a steaming plate of chicken cutlet curry — that quintessential Japanese comfort food — is resurrected from its mummified state, offering instant gratification with minimal preparation.

This is one of the latest inventions of Masato Shimamura, the freeze-drying guru at Amano Foods, the nation's dominant manufacturer of the shrunken grub often associated with space and military rations.

The 60-year-old and his team at Amano Foods, now a brand under Asahi Group Foods Ltd., have taken the art of freeze-drying to a new level through exhaustive trial and error, offering everyday meals that appeal to the Japanese palate while venturing into more complex dishes, such as coleslaw and nabe hot pots.