Hawker centres maintain a ubiquitous presence in Asia’s food culture. Far from being a mere dining convenience, hawker centres stand as a cultural symbol whose history stretches back all the way to the 1920s. However, the fare typical of hawker centres can be questionable in terms of nutrition. Since cost and convenience come as major concerns for hawkers, the focus tends to be more on minimising the resource demand of maintain an F&B operation. If your aim is to avoid empty calories or to keep your meal a slim affair, try incorporating some of these tips.
- Go for the soups
Dishes like ginseng chicken soup and bak kut teh are simple recipes in the sense that there’s little to no unnecessary additives in them. Aside from a dash of salt for flavour, all these soups use for ingredients are mainly a mix of herbs and spices. Some of these soups also come a fair helping of vegetables, so it’s like getting two dishes in one!
- Pick your own dishes
Cai peng (or “economical rice”) stores allow you to customise your meal by selecting from a variety of meat and vegetable dishes to complement your serving of rice. The food is displayed in the open, so you’ll know for certain what you’re getting into. Also, yong tau foo vendors sell a wide variety of fresh food that you can pick and choose, which is then cooked on the spot via blanching in a clear broth. A great choice for vegetarians and vegans!
- Avoid fried food
It seems pretty obvious, but it bears repeating nonetheless. Deep-frying food is a very common practice in hawker centres because it prolongs the food’s longevity while increasing the food palatability. The oils used for frying purposes are often either soybean, corn or sunflower oil, all of which are high in polyunsaturated fat and can easily cause a bloat in calories.
- Go easy on the sauce
One thing that is truly unique about Singapore’s food culture is the ardent love for sauces. Be it chilli crab, salted egg or nacho cheese, Singaporeans just can’t get enough of sauces! However, sauces are considerably dense in calories and can easily be overconsumed if one isn’t mindful. You don’t have to abstain completely if you don’t want to, but it will be far more prudent to treat sauces as a condiment instead of a dish in itself.
- Stick with plain teas and coffees
Every hawker centre has a drink store, sometimes even two! When it comes to ordering drinks however, it’s always tempting to order something sweet to accompany your savoury meal. Aside from your usual sodas, other canned or “homemade” drinks can be found guilty of using copious amounts of sugar as well. You can minimise your sugar intake by going with non-sweetened alternatives like oolong tea, plain green tea, black tea and coffee.
Healthy dining at a neighbourhood hawker centre can be challenging, but it isn’t impossible. Going in with a clear mind will allow you to make better choices, as opposed to being tempted by the swell of options. Of course, you might come across a joint or two where the lack of options makes such a venture prohibitive, but it shouldn’t pose too big of a problem. That’s the beauty of hawker centres; you won’t have to walk very far to find another location!