We pit 20 hawker favourites with similar taste profiles together, to see who comes up tops as the healthier choice. Will duck rice beat out chicken rice? And should you go for black fried carrot cake or char kway teow? I got the help of Clement Gan, nutritionist at nutrition consultancy Eat Right, to help me play judge.
Here is the battle of 20 Singapore’s hawker food. Which is healthier?
#1 WANTON MEE (330G) VS BAK CHOR MEE (311G)
Calorie count: 407 cal vs 511 cal
Winner: Wanton Mee
Both dishes are quite similar in nutritional content but bak chor mee has twice the amount of fat compared with wanton mee (23g vs 12g). You can thank the delicious globs of minced pork, which are usually high in fat, since it’s made up of different cuts of meat. Both of these noodle dishes could use more vegetables to up the fibre content though, so ask the hawker auntie or uncle for just that! Watch out for the sodium levels too, which are quite high – ask for less sauce and drink less of the soup.
#2 CHICKEN RICE (320G) VS DUCK RICE (410G)
Calorie count: 618 cal vs 673 cal
Winner: Neither – it’s a tie!
They both have similar a calorie count, are good sources of protein and are both fat-laden. Some ways to up the health factor on these delicious Singapore signatures would be to remove the skin from the poultry and order a side of steamed vegetables to get more fibre, vitamins and minerals. Also, go easy on the sauces! With the chicken rice, you can mix in white rice to tone down the fat content and enjoy the same savoury kick.
#3 INDIAN ROJAK (290G) VS CHINESE ROJAK (300G)
Calorie count: 752 cal vs 443 cal
Winner: Chinese Rojak
Both dishes comprise a medley of ingredients doused in a sweet, peanut-y sauce. However, the winner is clear because of the difference in preparation between the two dishes.
The food items in indian rojak are coated with flour, herbs and spices, then deep-fried. Chinese rojak uses fresh fruits and vegetables, and cooked ingredients tossed in a paste. The former therefore has a high fat, sodium and calorie count, and you should only treat yourself to it occasionally. The one up side? It often contains tempeh, which is a good source of gut-loving probiotics.
#4 CHENDOL (368G) VS ICE KACANG (500G)
Calorie count: 386 cal vs 255 cal
Winner: Ice Kacang
Both contain similar amounts of carbohydrates (59g vs 57g) but chendol contains significantly more fat than its fellow icy dessert (15g vs 1g), thanks to the coconut milk. While coconut milk does contain some good fat, too much can also raise your cholesterol levels. If you, like me, are a chendol fan, consider asking the hawker to mix the coconut milk with some low-fat milk – or just share a bowl with a friend to minimise the damage.
#5 CHAR KWAY TEOW (385G) VS BLACK FRIED CARROT CAKE (500G)
Calorie count: 742 cal vs 493 cal
Winner: Neither – it’s a tie!
When you are after that wokhei-heavy, sweet black sauce taste, these are the two dishes you’ll think of. While the calorie count for chye tao kuey is lower, it is also much lower in protein – it has 2g compared with 22.7g in char kway teow (which is cooked with a variety of seafood).
Protein is what makes you feel fuller and for a longer time, so you won’t be reaching out for a snack soon after your meal. Bear in mind that both dishes are high in fat and sodium, thanks to the liberal use of cooking oil and kecap manis – plus they both have little or no vegetables. Enjoy these babies once in a while!
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#6 GADO GADO (148G) VS MEE REBUS (515G)
Calorie count: 256 cal vs 571 cal
Winner: Gado Gado
Take note that a portion of gado gado is much smaller than a bowl of mee rebus. But even so, it’s a clear winner. Gado gado will give you more dietary fibre per serving (10g), than the latter (8g), since it’s made up of blanched vegetables and steamed potatoes. If you equalise the portion size, the malay salad dish wins over its noodle counterpart in terms of protein too. Finally, it’s chockfull of potassium (even more than a medium-sized banana!), which helps to regulate blood pressure. It’s one undoing? It can be rather high in carbohydrates (41.5g) for such a small serving, thanks to the potatoes.
#7 TAU SUAN (325G) VS PULUT HITAM (375G)
Calorie count: 293 cal vs 290 cal
Winner: Tau Suan
Both desserts are actually very similar in terms of calories and nutrients – they both have a high dietary fibre content and a considerable amount of carbohydrates. Tau suan beats out pulut hitam because it has a significant amount of calcium, contributing to almost 25% of your daily needs (based on a 2,000 cal diet). It also has a lower glycaemic index, which means it will not have that spike-and-crash effect on your blood sugar levels. Enjoy your pulut hitam if you must, but try to go easy on the coconut milk.
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#8 CHAPATI (1 PIECE, 40G) VS THOSAI (1 PIECE, 91G)
Calorie count: 165 cal vs 196 cal
Having either one would be making a healthier decision already – especially over something like high-fat roti prata. Chapati and thosai are both pan-fried with little or no cooking oil, so they’re lower in calories and fat. They both also have a low glycaemic index, with thosai rating a little higher since it contains white rice. The two indian staples are seldom eaten on its own so make the right choices with your side dishes – pick a vegetable one for more fibre, vitamins and minerals, and a meat one to fill up on protein. Remember to go easy on the sauces too!
#9 PRAWN MEE (574G) VS SLICED FISH NOODLE SOUP (686G)
Calorie count: 294 cal vs 500 cal
Winner: Prawn Mee
This result surprised even nutritionist Clement. After all, sliced fish noodle soup has often been touted as the healthier choice. Prawn mee wins because it has a lower glycaemic index, keeping you feeling fuller for longer. Otherwise, both dishes are actually very high in sodium, low in dietary fibre and consists of a good amount of protein from the seafood and meat sources. Hard as it is, try not to finish the prawn mee soup, and order a side of steamed vegetables to improve your meal.
#10 SEAFOOD FRIED RICE (428G) VS HOKKIEN MEE (400G)
Calorie count: 907 cal vs 522 cal
Winner: Hokkien Mee
This doesn’t mean you can have hokkien mee every day, okay? It’s still quite a sinful treat. While the noodle dish has less calories, it’s got more sodium (1,423mg) and less protein (18g) compared with the seafood fried rice (1,245mg and 28g respectively). On the other hand, seafood fried rice has almost double the amount of carbohydrates (125g vs 69g) and fat (33g vs 19g), leading to the high calorie count.
Both dishes also do not provide you with enough dietary fibre and have high cholesterol levels, thanks to the seafood and seafood broth used. Enjoy these dishes only occasionally, or share them. You can also order some extra steamed vegetables to up the health-factor of these local favourites.
About the writer:
Ruby Tan used to write for Her World, and is now a freelance writer with a dream to travel the world. She believes that the some of best things in life don’t have to be bought. If you want to make a friend, share travel tips and advice, or even to discuss deeply about life, write to her at email@example.com