Food Facts: From the East to the West


Travelling could  be a could death sentence for some people trying to watch their weight as quoted by some of my patients or a simple break from the strict dietary routine many may follow. Whether you are trying to watch your weight or not, travelling is an opportunity for everyone to experience new and exciting cultures. Before getting into the topic of food facts from random destinations, here are some tips for the ‘travelling -weight conscious’:

  • If a dish you really want to try is not prepared in a suitable way (i.e. lots of added cream/butter, deep fried…) then order an entrée serving, or share it.
  • If you would like to include several courses, order 2 entrée sized meals rather than an entrée and a main. Ask for some fruit for dessert.
  • Now, if you indulge at a particular meal, balance it at the next meal e.g. after a 3 course lunch, order a salad with minimal dressing in the evening.

Choosing the following destinations was based on how history, food and culture intertwined to produce some great dishes. So buckle up for some random bits of international yumminess…

Destination: Australia

Starting your day with a random “G’day Mate!” shout out is typical in the land down under. Australian cuisine has come a long way from the beginnings of European colonisation to the massive influx of other cultures such as Asian, North American, Italian and Greek. I find that defining Australian cuisine is not bound to one culture, which makes it exciting and unbelievably delicious. An ingredient often used in Australian cuisine is kangaroo. Some may find it disturbing to have those fluffy, adorable, hopping creatures right on your plate, however, take note of the following:

  • Kangaroo meat is one of the leanest meats out there (i.e. about 98% fat free)
  • It is extremely low in saturated fats, which are responsible for raising your bad cholesterol levels.
  • It is a great source of high quality protein, iron, zinc and B-vitamins such as vitamin B12 and niacin.

And no, it does not taste like chicken! I can’t really describe what ‘Roo’ tastes like apart from saying it tastes like a lean cut of beef with an after-kick. Perhaps a mix between venison and beef for those who have tasted wild game before. Next up is the ‘Aussie’ favourite: VEGEMITE!

Vegemite is a dark spread made from yeast extract and let me say, it definitely has a kick! Vegemite is an acquired taste and has been part of the Aussie diet for many years. It is quite similar to Marmite, which is the British equivalent. It is an excellent source of the B-vitamins: niacin, riboflavin, thiamine and folic acid but it also very high in salt. Should you wish to get ‘Aussiefied’, spread some margarine onto some warm toast, then add a thin scrape of vegemite and voila! Behold the salty, bitter kick!

Destination: Japan

For centuries, Japan has undergone both social and political changes, which in turn, influenced the evolution of Japanese cuisine. Two dishes you will probably never miss to try are Ramen noodles and Sushi. Originally, Ramen is believed to be of Chinese origin where the simple definition of the word has created multiple theories as to what it really is. Ramen dishes vary widely depending on the broth used, soup flavours, toppings and noodle texture and are also known for being cheap and convenient. Unfortunately, Ramen noodles could be quite high in calories, fat and salt. The flavourings and broth do contain fatty chunks of pork or beef, miso and/ or soy, which are all a combination of not so healthy ingredients. However, that does not imply that you should never try a bit of Ramen! One thing I would say though is, do stay away from the ‘Instant’ kind, which is known as college food. Instant noodles are always a recipe for calories, salt and fat, hence, a not so healthy option to include as part of your daily diet! Moving on to Sushi … Two popular food components of sushi are the Shari (vinegared rice) and Nori (seaweed wrappers).  Sushi is probably a single word that produces a number of branches which include: Chirashizushi, Inarizushi, Makizushi, Narezushi, Nigirizushi and Oshizushi. For all sushi fanatics, you may know the laymen terms: Maki, Nigiri and Oshi which are different ways of serving sushi using different ingredients such as raw fish, tempura, vegetables and so on. Sushi can be considered a low calorie meal depending on what the filling is. Since rice is a major component of sushi, it is not considered a low carbohydrate meal unless you consume a little sushi and more sashimi (raw ingredient minus the rice).

Destination: Egypt

So we’ve got the pyramids, the Nile, the pharaohs, history worth thousands of years, have I mentioned the pyramids?! Egypt is a country that has witnessed endless transformations going back to the ancient pharaohs and dynasties lasting hundreds of years to the Ottoman times and most recently, a revolution. With it, came the many dishes that Egyptian culture is known for. Many would argue about what the ‘national’ dish would be but it’s fair to say that ‘Kushari’ would definitely be a contender. Kushari is a hearty dish consisting of rice, lentils, pasta, and chickpeas. If that’s not enough, it is then draped by a thick tomato based sauce, which is infused with caramelized onions, garlic, vinegar and other spices. Kushari is a common lunch choice for many locals as it keeps them fuller for a long period of time, which may help them endure long hours of labour. Or simply, it’s just a hearty meal that tastes good for a low cost! A maybe not so good choice for the ‘weight and carb-‘ conscious but definitely a dish I would highly recommend to try! Next up, introducing Foul Medames; a dish consisting of slow cooked fava beans mixed with oil, garlic and lemon juice. It can be served in a number of ways which in turn affect its nutritional content. Many would add butter or egg which increases the calorie content. However, by adding a little oil and some seasoning, foul medames can be an excellent source of low GI carbohydrates, protein and iron. And as Egyptians would say “Bil hana wil shifa” which is Bon Appétit!

Destination: Europe

Now, I couldn’t really pick just one country on this continent so why not highlight some ‘must-try’ top dishes! Starting with the Seafood Paella from Spain. One of my ultimate favourites with 3 essential rules: Use a paella pan, cook with medium- grain rice and cook over an open fire (or just head to the closest Spanish Restaurant!). Also called ‘Paella de Marisco’, this dish is a colourful and delicious combination of seafood and rice ranging from prawns, clams, fish, mussels and even chicken! Paella is very high in protein, carbohydrates and endless vitamins and minerals so I would definitely suggest to share this one. Moving on to yes, Italy! And as cliché as it may sound, Italian pizza is a must. Using a thin- crust base, freshly-made tomato paste, prosciutto, ruccola and funghi (mushrooms) and chunks of melted fresh mozzarella, you are simply headed to a mouthful of bliss! The history of today’s pizza starts off in 1889, in Naples. Pizza was actually a meal consumed by the poor for centuries in Italy and now has taken on many forms and toppings happily welcomed by all. A word of warning though: pizza may not be so ‘waist-friendly’ if consumed regularly so control your portions and frequency! As I will need to wrap things up at some point, Greek cuisine is a good way to end! A food culture rich in grains, vegetables, fish, healthy oils and legumes, Greek food can be considered healthy if we look at the big picture and bypass ‘baklava’ and fried ‘saganaki’! The top ingredient used in Greek cuisine is good ol’ Olive Oil. Rich in monounsaturated fats (i.e. healthy fats) and antioxidants such as vitamin E, olive oil has gained a massive following of researchers exploring its health benefits in preventing heart disease and strokes. Given that it is a type of fat, it is still high in calories so moderation is a must here. Some Greek dishes to try include Avgolemono which is a refreshing soup made with egg, rice and lemon, Dolmades which is similar to the Arabic dish ‘Waraq Enab’ and ‘Hortopita’, the famous spinach and feta pie.

Given all the travelling and food tasting, I would only ask of this: Savour every bite and keep walking and exploring as means to burn those calories! Happy Travelling!

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