If, for you, hitting the kitchen is nothing short of torture and your busy lifestyle hardly leaves time to plan out a wholesome meal, here is how eating out need no longer be a guilt-ridden exercise. Here’s exploring four of the most popular cuisines and what you can eat outside to stay healthy. And all this advice comes from the guys who prepare the finger-licking, yummilicious dishes:
Chef’s table: Govind Maji, Tamnak Thai, Mumbai
Authentic Thai cuisine is extremely healthy since it includes a lot of fresh,
medicinal and low-calorie condiments. For instance, there’s turmeric, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, galangal, which is beneficial for abdominal cramps and indigestion. There are also coriander, coconut milk and coconut oil and lemon grass—they are all beneficial.
Raw papaya salad. Photographs by Thinkstock
Starters: Papaya salad is a classic that’s tasty, low-fat and chock-full of nutrients, with shredded green papaya, chopped green beans, tomato, dried prawns, unsalted roasted peanuts, chillies, garlic and lime juice. Papaya contains enzymes that are healthy for the skin and stomach while being a good source of dietary fibre. Another great option for a starter is stir-fried vegetables with baby corn, mushrooms, bamboo shoot and carrots, all cooked with little oil. Tom yum soup is a clear soup which is light and helps clear the sinuses with its combination of lemon grass, lime leaves and galangal.
Mains: Thai Green Curry can be served with vegetables, chicken or seafood and it’s a tasty way to eat your greens. It contains galangal, lemon grass, coriander, green curry paste and fresh basil. Keep it light by combining it with a bowl of steamed rice. Thai noodles—Phat Thai—made of rice flour are healthier than the ones made out of refined wheat flour, along with bean-sprouts, unsalted peanuts, chicken and other Thai greens. You can also enjoy the popular dish, Stir-Fried Morning Glory, which is made out of morning glory or water spinach, a green that grows abundantly in Thailand and is packed with vitamins and minerals.
Desserts: The Thai dessert Woon Kathi is ideal for those with a sweet tooth. It’s a steamed coconut custard that, unlike other custards (made with eggs and heavy creams), is made with tender coconut water, cooked coconut cream and sugar.
Expert add-ons:Agarwal says raw papaya and raw mango salads are both great options, and the water chestnut in coconut milk preparation is better than any other dessert. Red and green curries have a lot of coconut, which can be high in nutrition but also high in calories, so reduce portion size. Shivdasani’s favourites include moong dal noodles (made of moong dal) and grilled chicken in pandora leaves.
Chef’s table: Ramesh Sharma, Punjabi By Nature, New Delhi
Indian cuisines use dry-heat cooking, aka tandoor, which requires less oil. Natural ingredients such as yogurt, turmeric, lime juice, ginger, mint and coriander are used in marinades instead of artificial additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Starters: If you’re looking for something healthy, go the kebab way.
Cooked in a tandoor with less oil or ghee than gravies use, kebabs are good sources of protein. Many Indian restaurants also grill vegetables in the tandoor these days, which makes them a better option than heavy gravy-laden dishes.
Mains: Fish in general is healthy, but when it comes to Indian food it should be avoided except for a grilled or tandoor format because it is fried before it’s put into the gravy. Chicken is a better choice. However, steer clear of butter chicken and go for a chicken masala instead. Most masala dishes avoid deep-frying the vegetables and meats since the spices are enough to add flavour. Even chicken do pyaaza is better than other gravy dishes since the onions and tomatoes are not deep-fried. Chole in themselves are healthy but become unhealthy when combined with puri or bhature. The strength of Indian cooking lies in the vast variety of healthy breads such as missi roti (made of gram flour), makki roti (whole cornflour) and khameeri roti (yeast and wholewheat flour). Opt for those rather than naans, which are made from refined flour.
Desserts: While Indian desserts are never fat-free, milk desserts are comparatively healthier since extra oil or ghee is not added for the purpose of roasting, as is done in, say, a gulab jamun or halwa. Phirni, made of milk and broken rice with pistachios and almonds added, is a good option. So is rasmalai.
Expert add-ons:Agarwal suggests that you steer clear of kaali dal—it is extremely fattening in a restaurant preparation. Half a cup of kaali dal can have as much as 5 tsp of oil and ghee. Opt for yellow dal with tadka instead. Order palak chole instead of palak paneer. Shivdasani suggests staying away from kebabs cooked in milk or yogurt, since they use full-fat milk in these marinades. For the same reason, avoid paneer because it could have been made from full-fat milk.
Chef’s table: Manu Chandra, Olive Bar & Kitchen, Mumbai
Continental food has healthier dishes than Indian gravies. And vegetables and greens are cooked delicately, so they retain their nutritional content.
Starters: Eating fried food is not always harmful, if it’s fried correctly. If you fry a batter-coated item in cold oil, it will soak up more oil, which makes it extremely unhealthy. Alternatively, if you fry it in hot oil, the batter forms a sealant, which means that the meat inside is getting steamed and cooking in its own juices, with little oil from outside. In summers, salads are great meal options too but ask the staff not to dress the salad at all. Ask for the dressing on the side so that you can control the fat that goes in it. Try to go for dips and crackers, and check if dips are using olive oils rather than hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Mains:Anything which is braised is always a good idea. This is
because it is cooked in a liquid and is covered, thereby preserving all the nutrients. It is also easier to digest because during this method of cooking the proteins, fats, etc., are all broken down, which means half your work is done. During summer avoid a heavy, meaty stew and go for grilled foods. Seafood is always a good choice. While prawns are high in cholesterol, eating them once in a while is not a bad idea, especially since they contain a trace mineral called selenium. Finally, if you’re eating bread go for wholemeal, multigrain bread instead of white and try not to butter it. Instead, moisten it with a few drops of olive oil.
Garden salad with feta cheese.
Desserts: Skip the creamy fondant or tiramisu and go for sorbet or a tiny scoop of ice cream with fresh fruits. Of course, sharing your dessert always cuts down the calories by half.
Expert add-ons:Agarwal suggests you avoid creamy soups—these preparations have too much heavy cream. Shivdasani advocates sticking to tomato-based sauces instead of creamy ones. In addition, opt for grilled and roasted meats. And don’t eat garlic bread.
Chef’s table: Nitin Pal, The Yum Yum Tree, New Delhi
In China, certain foods are thought to have yin or cooling properties, while others have warm, or yang, properties. The challenge is to consume a diet that contains a healthy balance between the two. For example, yin cooking methods are boiling, poaching and steaming, while yang qualities are deep-frying, roasting and stir-frying.
Starters:These days, some restaurants have started serving steamed
dumplings made with wholewheat, which are great if you’re into healthy eating. However, even dumplings made with refined flour are not that unhealthy since they are steamed, stuffed with meat and vegetables, and if done properly, have just a thin layer of flour on the outside. You can also take advantage of the many soups on offer, especially clear soups such as lemon and coriander that are made without any starches and cornflour.
Mains: The popular Chinese cooking techniques are sautéing, steaming, frying and roasting. Stir-frying is the most common method of cooking. It is similar to sautéing but it is done on intense heat. The heat seals the juices and preserves colour and texture. Therefore stir-fried dishes are packed with nutrition and you can choose any from the menu. Look for traditional Chinese ingredients such as tofu that’s made out of soy, black mushrooms and bok choy in soups, stir-fries and braised dishes. Skip the noodles and go for steamed rice instead. You will also find a huge variety of steamed and grilled dishes, especially fish, on the menu, which is always healthy. You can also go for a broth that combines meats, vegetables and some noodles cooked with hardly any oil for a dish that is filling and healthy.
Desserts: Traditionally, in Hong Kong, a meal is digested over a pot of jasmine tea and fresh watermelon. You can go for any fruit you like. Hot water is known to help digest food faster and better.
Expert add-ons:Agarwal considers steamed dim sums good with kimchi salad and clear soups. Avoid Manchurian, hakka noodles and fried rice. Shivdasani suggests you avoid Chinese cuisine if you have high blood pressure, asthma, are pregnant or suffer from migraines. Salt-ridden soya sauce is not good for hypertension while MSG, which is still widely used, triggers asthma and migraines.
The Street food face-off
Identify a hygienic vendor, then opt for the healthier street foods:
• Idli sambar’ over ‘medu vada’
• ‘Khaman dhokla’ over ‘samosa’
• ‘Chana chaat’ is better than ‘bhelpuri’
• Pani puri’ with ‘chana’ and ‘moong’ is better than ‘pani puri’ with ‘aloo’
• ‘Rasgullas’ are healthier than ‘gulab jamuns’
• ‘Gola’ or ‘chuski’ from a hygienic place is better than ice cream.