How to Eat Healthy At Hawkers
Updated: Jul 13
Hawker centers are an integral part of our Asian culture and diet. For us, it's more than just a convenient place to get meals. It's also a meeting place for gatherings and late-night suppers. Many communities are actually built around popular hawker centers.
But what if you recently decided to improve your diet? Is it still possible to stick to your diet plan while enjoying life with friends, or do you have to kick your plans out the window for that 1 night out?
Let's find out!
Look for food that are minimally processed, using only 1-2 ingredients to make.
Soup and spices are your friends.
Be on the lookup for slightly ”better” options in every dish.
We've all been there. Walking circles around our local hawker centers, struggling to pin-point the store we would like to buy from despite the number of choices available to us. Finally, we settle on the store with the longest queue. Surely that's the best choice!
These difficult daily life choices are made even more complex when you're trying to get your diet under control and eat healthy. We all know that eating from the "Yong Tau Fu" store is probably the best for our diet plan, but that hardly satisfies our cravings on most days. Unless you really really love YTF.
So what do we do?
Here are some general guidelines for choosing better alternatives the next time you head out for supper with friends.
1. Look out for Whole Foods
By Whole Foods, we mean as minimally processed as possible. Generally, this means that you are able to easily identify the source of the dish in question.
By this definition, vegetables are a pretty safe bet, they generally look like, well, vegetables. Chicken rice is another good example. Stick with foods that take 1-2 ingredients to make, rather than tons of stabilisers, sweeteners, binders, chemical products, etc.
Avoid processed foods like sausages, burgers, nuggets, meatballs, etc. Things that look very different from the animal or plant they came from. Refer to our post on Junk Food to understand why it’s easier overeat on processed food and how to overcome them if you really MUST have them.
2. Soup is your friend
Soup dishes such as Ban Mian, ABC soup, mutton soup, etc, are generally better options at the hawker centres for several reasons.
The water base helps you to feel fuller quicker, while they also tend to be hotter, forcing you slow down your eating, reducing the likelihood for you to overeat. There are also usually made with better quality ingredients and less processed compared to other options.
3. Spice is life
Similar to soup dishes, spicy dishes can also be better options as they generally force you to slow down your eating, and the sensation of spices as it travels down to your stomach helps us to be more aware of our fullness and prevent overeating.
4. Choose better rather than perfect
Sometimes cravings need to be satisfied. In those situations where no “perfect” options exist, aim to do a little better than you would normally achieve.
What this means is to evaluate if you can make your choice even better. For example:
Ask for your prata with less oil;
Prata with curry instead of sugar;
Chicken rice with skin off;
Picking 2 veg and 1 meat instead of 2 meat and 1 veg at the Mixed Rice store.
When it comes to drinks, the rule of thumb is: less sugar is better.
That means Teh/ Kopi Kosong or at least less sugar. Avoid sugared canned drinks when possible. Choose the homemade variety with less sugar, such as soybean or barley. When possible, choose fruits over fruit juice.
While some of these “better” options seem small. When we make these choices consistently, and be on the lookout to aim for better every time, the progress might just surprise you.
These guidelines are definitely a non-exhausive list. There are tons of options. Different cuisines to suit different needs. There are Chinese, Indian Vegetarian, Muslim, Western, Desserts, and more.
Turn it into a challenge for yourself to identify the better options wherever you are. Remember, there is no success or failure when it comes to controlling our diet. Only BETTER or WORSE.