How to Love Your Food the Healthy Way

Malaysia has the highest obesity rate in Asia. Is this because cheap food is unhealthy?
Monday 19 March 2018
A burger from The Daily Grind (Photo: The Daily Grind)

Last year the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition presented a report containing a slew of statistics confirming our place at the top of the blubber heap. Malaysia was (again) the most obese country in Asia in 2017.

As a nation we are spending up to 19 percent of our healthcare budget on treating diabetes and other weight-related health issues. Is this because cheap food is unhealthy?

How does a country whose culture is largely built around eating handle such a crisis?

Here are our picks to eating out healthily. Warning, whilst good for your waistline, it will also slim your wallet.

Fittie Sense is Victor Yap’s KL eatery after the hugely popular Tray at Plaza Damas in the Hartamas area. He took Tray’s shepherd’s pie, substituted the beef with lean lamb spiced up and cooked in a tagine and topped it off with a sweet potato and olive oil purée. Today it’s one of Fittie Sense’s most popular items.

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Fittie Sense sings about a healthy relationship with food (Photo: Fittie Sense)

This idea – reworking popular dishes with fresh, preferably local ingredients – may be the way to combat the steady infiltration of a fast food, nutritionally empty culture, Victor feels.

He mentions ikan sebelah (local sole), sardines and wild prawns from Pulau Ketam, and tries to use locally grown vegetables like turnips and pumpkins, and fruit such as guava, soursop and even durian. Kampung chicken and lamb aren’t really fatty enough to roast so he works them into stews and casseroles. He believes in an organic farm-to-table ideology.

So what are the realities we face in the calorie fields of KL restaurants beyond health food outlets? Darren Teoh, chef and creative force behind one of our most acclaimed restaurants, the beautifully monikered Dewakan (Dewa = god, Makan = food) serves up beautifully interpreted nostalgic but wholly modern Malaysian fare using local seasonal bounty.

He suspects that the vast majority of KLites will still choose gluttony over nourishment. Greed over nutrition.

“We aren’t like the French or the Japanese, who are rigid about the authenticity of their cuisine, where their raw materials come from and how it is cooked. For instance we love the idea of nasi lemak as our national dish. But the truth is we only love the idea of eating said nasi lemak but don’t ever really ask where any of its component ingredients come from. The only thing we ever know for certain is where the newspaper it is wrapped in comes from. And that is just how we are.” Darren T postulates that healthy eating in KL may perhaps always be a Bangsar niche.

Restaurants at the end of the day have to be run as a business and what customers want, what they really really want is value for money. We apparently see hospitality as status and those concerned with this will always want the bigger, the most expensive and the imported. The healthiest? That’s expendable.

Way Cheng Yeoh, a partner at both the posh Malay restaurant Bijan and the posh burger joint The Daily Grind agrees with Darren T that most restaurants just run themselves as a business.

“So many eateries especially the fast-food outlets just use fillers and additives. There is very little real food,” she says.

As a mother who cooks daily for her family she accepts that she has to be discerning about what they eat at home. So she balances out any indulgences with regular vegan days.

“One can always start small with being a conscious eater at home,” she adds. “Grow vegetables in urban spaces and be aware of what and how we consume. Let’s get back to basics at least on a personal level. At the end of the day perhaps it really is time to press the reset button.”

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Bijan serves a pretty platter of small bites for appetiser (Photo: Bijan)

Here’s our pick of healthy places to eat in Kuala Lumpur.

Fittie Sense
23A Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru, 59100 Kuala Lumpur.
+603 2858 4023
Opens daily except Tuesdays, 10am – 10pm

La Juiceria Superfoods Signature
Unit No. Retail 1, Ground Level, Pangsapuri Servis Nadi Bangsar,
No. 16, Jalan Tandok, Bangsar Baru.
+603 22019923
Opens daily, 8am – 10pm

The Good Co.
Bon Estates Gallery (Ground Floor)
184, Jalan Maarof, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.
+603 2202 6536
Opens daily, 9am – 6pm

Salad Atelier
The Weld, Lot G-09A, Ground Floor,
76 Jalan Raja Chulan, 50200 Kuala Lumpur.
+6017 4156 269
Opens Mondays – Fridays, 7.30am – 9pm, Saturdays, 10am – 4pm, closed on Sundays

This article first appeared in the April 2018 issue of UNRESERVED.

Related: The Living Café is a Hidden Gem for Healthy Eats