When you think about the Asian continent, one thing that would sure comes to mind is Asian food. Known to be a lot healthier than Western cuisine, the cuisines in Asia leave out much of the dairy, fat and additives, while emphasizing on flavours, textures and fresh ingredients. While it is fairly easy to find healthy options on any Asian menu, as the food experts of Asia, we take it upon ourselves to guide you on the healthiest dishes or foods you should try if you’re ever in the continent.
1. Vegetable Fried Rice
This may not be the mostexciting feature of Asian cuisine, but vegetable fried rice can be a filling meal by itself and contains nothing more than vegetables, rice, and various other spices or sauces depending on the region. While this ‘almost vegan’ dish is mostly associated as an accompaniment to Chinese dishes, vegetable fried rice is also very common in other Asian countries.
As opposed to wheat for western countries, rice is the main source of carbohydrate in Asia and each country would have their very own twist on vegetable fried rice. If rice and vegetables doesn’t sound particularly tempting, flavours such as soy sauce, sesame oil or masala paste can add a bit of a flavor trip.
2. Vietnamese Pho
You can find this dish in every street in Vietnam. Pho is essentially a noodle soup, made up of a usually meat-based broth with vegetables, herbs and spices. Although the meat used in Pho is usually lean beef or chicken, tofu is a common vegetarian replacement, available in any stall. The dish is heavy on protein and low in fat, making it a great source of energy, with the vegetables added provide extra nutrition. Often in Vietnam it is eaten for breakfast, making it a great meal with which to start the day. Depending on the restaurant or area of Vietnam, Pho can be made with different varieties or mixes of herbs, giving each a slightly different flavour.
3. Thai Green Curry
Although the green curry can be quite creamy and rich in Thai shops of other countries, the authentic version of this popular dish is far more spicy, and healthy. The main ingredients are a protein, either meats or tofu, vegetables, green curry paste (chillis, lemongrass, coriander, among other herbs and spices), and coconut milk. When served with rice or rice noodles, the dish can be filling without having to eat too much, with the lean meat or fish adding protein and energy. The coconut milk adds a touch of sweetness without adding too much fat to the dish.
4. Condiments and Snacks
Traditionally, Asian condiments, side dishes and snacks are far healthier than their Western counterparts. While Westerners typically choose sugary, packaged products such as ketchup or fatty options such as mayonnaise, condiments in Asian cuisine will typically be more natural. Soy sauce, tamari (similar to soy) or sambal (ground chilli paste) are examples of condiments made with natural products and are therefore far healthier. For snacking, Asians generally go for nuts or dried fruits instead of crisps or biscuits. Without a diet filled with unnecessary additives, fat and sugar, Asian food will on the whole be healthier than Western food.
5. Japanese or Korean Sushi
While some varieties of sushi can be deep fried, much of it is actually very healthy. The key ingredient in sushi is rice, which can be brown or white, and much if it comes with raw seafood (although much sushi is simply rice and vegetables). Since the seafood is raw, all the nutrients are preserved and not lost through the cooking process; vegetable alternatives are also clearly as nutritious. Of course, strong flavours such as ginger, soy sauce or wasabi add some spice and additional flavour.
6. Stir Fry
A common dish in many east Asian countries (but primarily China), stir fry is a healthy and delicious method of cooking vegetables, since it involves minimal cooking time which retains the vitamins and nutrients, as well as the crunch. The sauce, vegetables and protein can vary, but most stir fries will include ingredients such as ginger, chilli, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. The quick frying also maintains the colour of the ingredients, making it an attractive and appealing dish.
7. Grilled Fish
It is very normal in Asia for fish to be prepared on the grill, which is one of the healthiest ways to eat it. Grilling avoids too much grease or batter, and can take any extra fat away from the protein. Additionally, grilling allows for the fish to be cooked quickly which maintains a fresh flavour. Grilled fish can be served with noodles, rice, in a broth, or with a simple salad, and is often coated in savoury and fresh flavours including soy sauce, lemongrass or ginger. Fish that are common in east Asian cooking include salmon, tuna, tilapia, or sea bass.
8. Japanese or Korean Barbecue Skewers
Japanese and Korean cuisine share barbecuing traditions, and a common style of barbecuing in both countries is fixing various meats on a skewer and placing them on the grill. This can be healthy as grilling allows the fat to drain away from the meat, and a large skewer of meat and vegetables can be very filling while being full of protein and vitamins. The meat can vary from basic beef or chicken to tongue, tripe and seafood. The meat is accompanied by vegetables such as shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts and cabbage, all of which are common in both Japanese and Korean cooking. The healthy, protein-rich skewers are served commonly as street food.
Asian cuisine is far more famous for its appetisers and main courses which are packed with strong flavours rather than its desserts. In general, dessert is not a course that many Asians will indulge in ; if they do, it will normally be fruit. But when we do enjoy a slightly more extravagant dessert, it will not be nearly as rich in fat or sugar as Western palates are used to. Some examples include red bean soup (a surprisingly sweet soup enjoyed in east Asia), mochi (Japanese sweet rice balls), or mango sticky rice (popular in Thailand). If dessert still seems necessary after a filling main course, Asian options tend to be far healthier.