While most Asian dishes are traditionally healthy, many westernised adaptations of these foods are calorie-laden with hidden fats and other nasties.
In the second in our series of dining out guides, we give you expert advice on how to enjoy Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese cuisine – the healthy way!
The traditional Chinese food is based on ingredients that are easily accessible (read: fresh). Like Vietnamese, Chinese food is traditionally quite healthy, based on fresh foods prepared by stir-frying, poaching and steaming.
Interesting bit of food trivia for you – in China, serving oily and fatty foods is a show of wealth and status. Knowing that might explain why oil is used so liberally within Chinese restaurants in Western countries. You’ve been warned!
While going out for Yum Cha is fun beware! Trolleys of dumplings, dim sum and other small plates rolling past for the choosing your night out can quickly turn into a case of portion distortion. A couple of dumplings, maybe some noodles and a spring roll or two… The amount of food you consume can very quickly blow up. Before you serve yourself, think about what you really want to eat and be sensible with your portions. Do you really need the salt and pepper squid? Order sides of steamed or stir-fried greens and bulk your meal out with stir-fried veggies.
A lot of Chinese restaurants specialise in fish, and for a good reason – they do it well. Fish is generally a healthier choice than meat or poultry, and it also carries strong flavours, like those used in Chinese cooking, well. Opt for poached, steamed or grilled options that have been infused with the amazing flavours of China – think chilli, garlic and ginger.
Better Chinese menu choices:
- Hot pot
- Boiled rice rather than fried rice
- Steamed greens with fresh mushrooms
- Poached fish with ginger and shallots
Remember, most restaurant mains are larger than we actually need. Then if you order a starter and dessert you end up consuming a huge amount of food. Ordering a couple of courses is a habit and one you should break. Go for one or two courses and you’ll still be satisfied at the end if you are smart about your choices.
Vietnamese is generally considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. However your local Vietnamese restaurant may have tweaked some more traditional Vietnamese techniques, adding fat and calories that may end up on your waistline. Here are some tips to keep those calories down.
When it comes to starters, choose rice paper rolls rather than spring rolls or other deep fried entrees. Rice paper rolls are usually packed full of veggies and herbs, so you get loads of flavour, without the fat and oil. Stick to dipping sauces that are light and thin and avoid thicker sauces that are usually made of peanut paste and coconut oil.
Take advantage of the many fresh flavours of Vietnamese cuisine – think ginger, lime, lemongrass, mint and coriander… yum! When it comes to protein, opt for steamed or poached seafood or meat with fresh herbs as they’ll be full of flavour AND lighter on calories.
Traditional Vietnamese soup, known as pho, is also a great healthy option. Eaten for breakfast by many Vietnamese, it’s a clear broth made fragrant by meat, noodles and herbs. It is a delicious, lighter choice but just watch your serving as there is often a generous serve of noodles in this dish.
Better Vietnamese menu choices:
- Vegetarian rice paper rolls
- Fresh Vietnamese salads
Also read: Supermarket superfoods
The Japanese diet is based on fish, soy, rice and vegetables – all healthy and nutritious ingredients! However, there are a few calorie traps found in Westernised Japanese restaurants. If in doubt, follow the Japanese way of eating where the emphasis is more on veggies than meats and fats.
Sushi and sashimi (the rice-less version of sushi) are great choices with lots of protein and Omega-3 fatty acids in the raw fish. You do need to be mindful of the amount of rice you’re consuming – all those little pieces of sushi do add up. A lot of sushi dishes also contain mayonnaise and deep-fried ingredients so if in doubt, ask! Most restaurants will usually be happy to make you up a dish to your requirements.
Japanese entrees like miso soup or seaweed salads are also good choices. Edamame, or green soybeans are fun to nibble on, with healthy proteins and fibre. Watch out for gyoza (dumplings) or agedashi tofu as they are often fried.
Most Japanese main meals are grilled, poached or steamed, like teriyaki chicken or salmon with a salad and a small amount of rice. Steer clear of tempura dishes that are battered and deep-fried. Chicken or pork katsu dishes are also crumbed and fried so avoid those also!
Better Japanese menu choices:
- Sashimi and sushi
- Miso soup or noodle soups
- Salmon or seaweed salads