1. Rou Chuan
Roasted over charcoal or electric heat, this Chinese kebab is traditionally made from lamb, and serves up around the same amount of protein per stick as satay. The upside: The flavour profile is unique, thanks to a generous dose of dried pepper flakes, sesame and cumin seeds – the latter is an excellent source of antioxidants (half a teaspoon of cumin has twice the antioxidants in a half cup of tomatoes). The downside: Lamb fat gets skewered on as well, completely missing the point of cooking meat on stick to let excess fat melt and drip away.
Unlike Chinese sticks of meat, Korean kebab is mostly lean meat and contains similar amounts of protein as Japanese kushiyaki. Dakkochi is the Korean equivalent of yakitori, and bulgogi beef on stick makes for a royal snack (seriously, it was a thing during the Joseon Dynasty). This all sounds great until you consider the seasonings. While the bulgogi marinade and sweet red sauce are what make this street food a delight, they also send sodium levels soaring to as high as 1,000mg per 100g.
The numbers look good: 10 sticks of chicken satay (100g in total) give you 27g of protein with 5g of fat. Beef and mutton offer around the same amount of protein but with higher amounts of fat (7g and 12g respectively). And you have the option of not dipping into peanut sauce, which adds 3g of fat and 69mg of sodium per stick. However, the oil used for satay is usually blended vegetable oil, which dieticians have noted contains a high proportion of saturated fat. So this remains a guilty pleasure.
This may be the healthiest on the menu. “Traditionally, Japanese skewered foods are not seasoned beforehand, so that the flavours of the ingredients aren’t lost,” says Chef Roy Chee of Chotto Matte restaurant. “During grilling, we season the meat with a touch of sea salt and pepper to bring out those flavours.” You may already be familiar with yakitori, which refers to grilled chicken on a stick. It contains 32.3g of protein, with only 3.7g of saturated fat (out of 11.5g of fat) per 100g (two sticks) – an ideal post-gym snack.
5. Shish Kebab
This backyard barbecue staple has one key advantage over other meat on sticks: vegetables are usually threaded on the skewer as well. Peppers are commonly used, which gives you vitamin C to help absorb more performance-enhancing iron found in lamb. Coupled with salads, this makes for a healthy fast-food meal. Each kebab gets you 145 calories and 16.3g of protein, with only 7.3g of fat (0.8g saturated fat).