Not exactly shining beacons of health food, hawker centres can still provide a nutritious meal, if you know where to look.
Hawker centres are a mainstay in our local environments, and with our busy schedules, we tend to seek them out for our meals. And the best/worst part? They’re delicious. Deliciously oily, fatty and high in sodium and sugars too.
But there’s always a workaround. Not all dishes at the hawker centre are artery clogging. Here are some of the healthier options to pick so you don’t fall off that diet train.
1. Sliced Fish Soup
This is the dish that everyone makes a beeline for when you want a healthier and lighter meal, and rightly so. The process of making this dish involves very little oil, as it brings out the natural flavours of the ingredients to make a very tasty broth. The tomatoes add a sweetness but also plenty of nutrition, and there’s also crunchy fibre coming from the other vegetables.
It’s only 180 calories but it’ll go up a little when you add in the carbs like rice or bee hoon, so keep portions smaller if you’re watching your weight. Just make sure that you don’t pick the fried fish option to avoid the fat and slurp a little lesser on the soup to keep sodium levels healthy.
2. Yong Tau Foo
Disclaimer here: You are what you pick. Yong Tau Foo is a hakka dish that lets you pick out items from a buffet, before cooking them in the style you like. The options are what determine how healthy this dish is so, skip the fried morsels and thick soup bases like laksa. Better yet, skip the carbs by opting out of the rice and noodles that come with it. But if you must, bee hoon is the leanest.
Focus instead on the choice ingredients with the most nutrition. Don’t go looking at the processed sausages and chicken rolls. Featuring vegetables and tofu, these healthiest items are often stuffed with fish to add protein and sweetness. Pick them over the fatty minced meat, and pair it with okra, bitter gourd or eggplants for that fibre boost. If you’re having the soup, don’t finish it all as there’s too much sodium there. And when going dry, dip the sauces sparingly.
3. Teochew Porridge
Much like Yong Tau Foo, your health is in your hands with this congee buffet pairing. You’ve got a nice watery bowl of porridge waiting to be flavoured up with some side dishes. Stacked usually in tin containers and lit by overhead lamps, we understand that feeling when you say you wish you could have a little of each.
From steamed fish to lightly stir-fried vegetables, it’s easy to pick out the more nutritious options. Another great thing is you can often request for smaller portions. Just remember to stay away from the fried, battered and saucy options, as delicious as they seem — they are glistening for a fatty reason! If you really must, punch up the flavour with a small side of chilli paste shrimp or stewed peanuts, but sparingly!
4. Herbal Soup
They are not as common as some of the other options listed here, but if you have one of these stalls in your neighbourhood, you’re in luck!
Herbal soup stalls usually have a menu of brewed tonics that focus on the nutritional benefits. Their traditional recipes range from watercress soup and black chicken soup, to the more pared down lotus root soup and ABC soup (that has pork ribs, carrots, potatoes and tomatoes). You’ll find invigorating ingredients like red dates, goji berries and the occasional medicinal root fortifying the brew, but just the fact that it is slow-cooked is already a win. The method draws out the natural goodness and every sip is a health-booster.
5. Thunder Tea Rice
Without a doubt, this is as healthy as you can get. Another traditional recipe, you’ll find various diced vegetables dressed on top of your rice. This usually includes cabbage, leek, spinach, long beans, and chye sim (Chinese cabbage). Think of it like a hakka bibimbap.
Before you think it too boring, there’re lively flavours coming from the chye po (preserved radish), tofu, peanuts and fried ikan bilis (anchovies). There’s also a fragrant soup made of basil, mint, green tea (thus the name), mugwort and coriander to accompany the main bowl.
There’s enough fibre to complete a third of your required intake, but you can add to that with brown rice options, which also brings in antioxidants and vitamins.
By Morgan Awyong