By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
How do I depict the Lunar New Year? Superabundance.
It is probably not the ideal time to eat healthy — just count the number of rich meals on my calendar. Some are splendid dinners, while some I would rather not discuss.
Too many parties, countless tempting snacks, excessive goodies…If I count the calories of each meal, it would be scary and explosive (for my body).
Fortunately, I have developed an effective plan to counter the number of meals I have to consume.
Ask for hot water first
Hot water aids digestion, according to health reports. If you cleanse your body with water first and keep your stomach full, you don’t tend to overeat.
At any event, the first thing I do is ask the wait staff to bring me hot water. Since I am busy networking with other guests at events, I tend to forget that I should keep myself hydrated.
Whenever I get a chance to sit down, I train myself to drink water. Now, my family members and friends are good at taking care of me — asking restaurants or hotel staff to serve me hot water in advance.
Share, share, share
I hate wasting food. It makes no sense to me when people order individual dishes when dining out together. Go with family-style. If you have four friends eating together, why not order three entrees for sharing instead of four? You end up not wasting food, you get to try a variety of food, and pay a lesser bill. The chances of you overeating is much smaller.
Dealing with oily food
There are certain dishes I can’t say “no” to, such as Beijing duck. So I ask for paper napkins to soak up the duck fat from the skin. You say, why not de-skin the duck, and avoid eating the skin? But that’s the best part. I love the crispy duck skin.
Generally, I resist deep-fried food. Funny enough, my resistance paid off. Now, I don’t really care for deep-fried stuff.
Choose good fats
Did you know that you don’t have to eat butter with your bread? Whenever I dine in American restaurants, I ask for olive oil, the good fat. We do need fat in our body. Never ask for margarine, it consists of more trans fat, which is bad for your heart. Whereas, butter has less trans fat and more saturated fat.
If you shop for groceries, read labels to educate yourself on the amount of trans or saturated fats in the items you buy.
Beware of sauces/dressing
Some sauces not only contain abundant calories, they are high in sodium — bad news for your body. For instance, Chinese restaurants usually serve Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce.
“Put the sauce on the side,” I’ll request of the waiter. The same goes for salad dressing, I choose the dressing and the amount I want. In that case, you control the amount of intake in your body. If you have friends who like oyster sauce, they won’t mind having it on a separate plate. But they might be mad if you eliminate the sauce completely.
However, there are dishes where the sauces are mixed with the food. What to do? I rinse it out, especially the spicy sauces from meats or veggies. That’s why you need an extra cup or bowl.
Hold the sugar
Are you aware that many drinks are filled with tons of sugar? One time, a waiter was trying to put syrup into the watermelon juice I ordered.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Syrup,” he said.
“No, no, no,” I responded.
“It won’t taste good without the syrup,” he explained.
“When I said no, I mean no,” I said. Reluctantly, he followed my instructions, and worried that it wouldn’t taste good. I reassured them that it would be fine. And it was actually perfect without the additional sugar.
Whenever I order hot chocolate or bubble tea, I tell the barista to decrease the amount of sugar. It’s music to my ears when she says, “You can have whatever you want.”
Hold the MSG
When I dine in Asian restaurants, I request that the food be MSG free. Some restaurants say, “We already marinated the meat.”
Although I still order the food, the wait staff would alert the kitchen that no additional sodium should be added.
Several International District restaurants are aware of my preference, without me saying too much. Sometimes, I even tell the chef to give me the good fat for my order, not the old deep-fried oil, which has been reused many times.
No extra bites
Anytime people dine out, they tend to eat more. For me, I’d rather have leftovers to take home than overeat. When I am full, I stop. Several times, I would take one bite of the dessert and take the rest of it home.
When you attend a banquet, most waiters refuse to give you to-go boxes for leftovers, for fear that you might get sick after the food has been sitting out so long. What to do? At the Bellevue Westin Hotel, they will ask you to sign something that says you won’t sue them if something bad happens afterwards. I always agree to sign. Other hotels have no such procedure. They simply throw away the food.
Several restaurants have a 1/2 sandwich or smaller entree with soup for people who don’t want to eat that much. I welcome those choices. The price is also cheaper than a full-sized plate.
No French fries
I never like restaurants that just give you French fries with the food you order. Those fries are damaging to your health. All you get is additional calories. Of course, they charge you even without eating the fries. I don’t like to waste food. It’s wise to ask for a substitute, such as mashed or baked potato. And if they can substitute it with a small salad or veggies side order, go for it. I don’t even mind paying more.
Insist on serving yourself
Many Chinese community members who sit with me like to serve me with big portions. I discourage them from serving me, period. I chopstick what I like, usually a smaller amount. I stay away from the more greasy items and pick more veggies.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.