Keeping in mind that the McSpicy contains 528 calories, hawker dishes such as seafood fried rice (907 kcal) and char kway teow (744 kcal) give a bad rap to all the other hawker dishes out there.
But not all hawker dishes are that calorific or threatening to your diet. In fact, there are plenty of healthy options, if you know where to look.
Here, we’ve picked healthier hawker dishes that are lower in calories, fat, sugar and sodium, as well as ordering and eating tips to keep the food waistline-friendly.
That said, a low-calorie diet isn’t always the healthiest – what’s more important is making sure that you get the right balance of nutrients instead. As recommended by the Health Promotion Board, we should strive for 25 per cent whole grains, 25 per cent good-quality protein and 50 per cent fruits and vegetables in our daily meals.
Also, remember that ignoring your food cravings isn’t healthy either. Go by the 80-20 rule (that is, eat healthy 80 per cent of the time), and know that it’s perfectly fine to indulge occasionally. You can always have a smaller portion or share the food!
For diet-friendly hawker food choices, read on.
A typical kaya toast set at Ya Kun contains 448 calories. Switch that up with a chicken pau (215 kcal) and teh c kosong (26 kcal) to shave off 207 calories.
But know that not all paus are equal. Pork paus can carry up to 300 calories or more a piece, depending on the size as well as type and amount of filling.
Nothing says “choose healthy” more than the famous Yong Tau Foo, a dish where you’re in charge of everything that goes into your plate when you get to pick the ingredients.
To cut the calories, opt for more vegetables (leafy greens and broccoli are good choices) and less deep fried and processed items (artificial crabmeat, fishballs, sausages etc) in your bowl. Choose plain soup over laksa, and go easy on the sauces – the sodium and sugar content can easily add up! You might also want to leave some soup behind to reduce your sodium intake.
Mee goreng is such a great comfort food, with starchy spicy noodles, sliced fish cake, and the occasional bit of stir-fried greens. But one serving of mee goreng packs more than 600 calories, thanks to the starchy noodles, oil and sauces used.
A more saintly option would be economic beehoon. Sure it can be a calorie bomb too, but if you opt for just plain fried beehoon (294 kcal) and only throw in a fried chicken wing (163 cal) and perhaps a fried egg, it’s a total of 457 calories, saving you 143 calories.
Surprisingly, dry fishball noodles (474 kcal) have fewer calories than when served in soup (with thick yellow noodles) at 523 calories. It’s good news for those who prefer their noodles dry, as they can save on about 50 calories easily this way.
Skip the lard and chilli, to trim the fat, sodium and calories even more.
The addition of fried fish slices and evaporated milk places this otherwise healthy dish alongside other calorie-dense dishes like chicken rice, with easily 642 calories per bowl. Ask for steamed fish slices and forgo the milk, and it’s only about 375 calories.
Don’t slurp up all the soup though – it’s still laden with sodium.
Prata looks innocent. It’s so flat and thin you’d almost think it’d have around the same number of calories as buttered toast, but no. One plain roti prata costs you 163 calories. Have a plain prata and an egg prata (320 kcal), and it becomes 483 calories, and that’s not even including the curry.
A better option is prata’s cousin, thosai or dosa (97 kcal), which is made from a batter of various fermented pulses and rice flour. It has a crepe-like consistency and is great with some coconut chutney (86 kcal). If that’s not filling enough, get the masala thosai (362 kcal) which is stuffed with potatoes. That will still save you about 120 calories.
Make a popiah (187 kcal) your mid-afternoon snack instead of fried spring rolls, which are super addictive and calorie-laden (396 kcal per serving of two), and that’s 209 calories saved.
Sure, economy rice can be great for diets, especially if you steer clear of the deep fried items, and order vegetables and steamed options. But you can slash the calories even more by having wholesome porridge.
Porridge usually ranges from 200 to 400 calories per bowl. Chicken porridge has 181 calories while pork and peanut porridge has 398 calories.
Porridge is really filling too, due to its high water content. But if you think you’ll still be hungry, consider adding an egg, which is a nutrient powerhouse of high-quality protein, vitamins and healthy fats.
Hankering for chicken cutlet or pork chop at your closest western food stall?
Get chicken, mutton, or duck soup (all under 390 kcal), or maybe some bak kut teh (323 cal). It may not hit the spot 100 per cent, especially if you’re craving for grilled or roasted meats, but it’s a good compromise for those on a diet.
Depending on the ingredients, claypot rice can contain anywhere from 500 to a whopping 896 calories and plenty of sodium.
For an alternative your waistline will thank you for, consider thunder tea rice (check out this recipe to make it at home) instead. A serving of thunder tea rice contains 642 calories, but it’s also low in fat and high in fibre. This Hakka dish has surged in popularity with more hawker centres and neighbourhood coffee shops offering it.
You can opt for white or brown rice (brown rice has a lower glycemic index), which is topped with stir-fried chopped veggies, cubed tau kwa, ikan bilis, toasted peanuts, and accompanied by a broth made from green tea and a blend of herbs.
With so many tummy-filling ingredients, a serving of thunder tea rice can be shared between two.
We’re sure you’re not surprised to hear that traditional desserts like chendol (386 kcal) and ice kacang (252 kcal) are full of sugar and fat that accelerates weight gain.
Well, it’s hard to avoid them completely especially when the craving hits, but you can halve your usual portion, or swap them with beverages like iced grass jelly or coconut water (55 kcal each).
Nutrient info is obtained from the Health Promotion Board.