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"Eating-Out The Healthier Way: 'The Mamak' "
Written by Syaidatun Yahya, Dietitian, National Kidney Foundation of Malaysia

Eating-out has been a part of our culture. Most of us do it and nowadays we do it more often than ever before - during festive season, celebration or during social gatherings. Choosing healthy food while eating-out is a challenge; especially in Malaysia where we have endless access to food!

Of course, we have restaurants that operate for 24 hours, such as fast food chains as well as every Malaysian’s favorite hangout – “The Mamak.”

Mamak restaurants are very unique for Malaysian because we can find all types of people there; the young ones, the not-so young ones, and a mix of all races. Other than that, people gather in mamak restaurants to socialize, watch football games or just to watch other people! So, here comes the question: How do we apply the concept of ‘healthy eating’ at this frequent hangout?

Too much of a good thing can be bad for our health – or so we have been told. Therefore, we need to keep in mind that variety, moderation and balance are the key considerations when choosing what to eat at mamak restaurants.

Here are some tips that we can follow: -

The Food (General rule is to control portion size!)

Choose thosai, chapatti or naan instead of roti canai (1 piece is enough!) Roti canai is made out of white flour and ghee, which is basically saturated fat that will increase cholesterol in our body. Consequently, it may clog our arteries over the years. Imagine what will happen after years of eating roti canai! So, choose sensibly! Only eat them if you have really strong cravings! (Still, no more than one piece in a week!)

Choose dhall curry, and ask for vegetables in it (brinjal/eggplant, carrot, long bean)Dhall is a legume, which is high in protein so it is good to incorporate them in your meal.

Choose tandoori chickenTandoori means cooked in a tandoor, a traditional clay oven and is similar to the grill. This is a better option as opposed to deep-fried chicken; provided that we remove the chicken skin before eating!

Choose mix rice – Mix rice is better than fried rice because - well, it is not fried! Just go easy with the selection of dishes. Another thing you can do is control the rice portion, whereas fried rice, it is usually more of a one-plate meal. Ask for ‘half rice’ or even less than that and load up your plate with vegetables. Cabbage and bean sprouts (taugeh) are the two most common vegetables in mamak restaurants and eating them is better than not eating any vegetables at all. For protein option, try curry chicken or fish than fried chicken or fish. Gentle reminder: Go easy on the gravies!

Maggi/mee/kueyteow/all fried items – Avoid all these if possible! If you have strong cravings; ask the cook to include more veggies in the dish and separate it in half so that you can share the portion. Cravings do not mean having them every day!

The Drinks (General rule is to order kurang manis!)

Teh tarik (and also any other drink that is added with condensed milk) – Well, obviously we can choose the ‘O’ version without milk but if we still want a bit of the creamy taste, we can order ‘teh-C’ - which is teh tarik made with evaporated milk. In this way, we can reduce our intake of sweetened condensed milk.

Choose less sweet drinks like ‘limau’ or barley – Lime or ‘limau’ contains vitamin C and barley has soluble fibre that can help lower blood cholesterol. Just make sure to eat the barley pearls as well because the fibre is in the pearls.

Stop at one drink, and continue with plain water afterwards – This is especially good for people who spend hours after hours at the mamak restaurants. Just order one sweet drink and once it is finished, order plain water if you still need a drink.

These tips are very basic and easy to apply. Healthy eating should be an integral part of our lifestyle and we should not feel burdened by it. So, let us celebrate our life by taking good care of our health. Happy dining!

Infographic by HealthWorks: 9 Ways to Eat Healthier At A Mamak Stall
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