One of the blessings of living in a food paradise? The eclectic local foods that you can find in hawker centres all across Singapore. Priced at a fraction of what you would pay for in a restaurant, it’s no surprise that hawker fare is the main go-to for the average local.

The downside is that hawker recipes are often far from nutritious. Common favourites such as char kway teow, ayam penyet and rojak are calorie bombs that are prepared with too much grease and little to no vegetables.

You’ll be shocked to know that many local foods aren’t much healthier than a 300-calorie McDonald’s cheeseburger with 12g of fat.

What’s more worrying is that the 2018 National Nutrition Survey showed that Singaporeans are overeating more than before. Six in 10 Singaporeans are consuming more calories than they require, which can lead to obesity and open a whole can of worms that include heart disease and high blood pressure.

In fact, according to the Health Promotion Board, Singaporeans’ ballooning weight is the largest contributor to the climb of diabetes cases.

Time to rethink our food choices! If you want to be a more conscious eater, here are 8 local favourites that are more fattening than a fast food burger.


1. Braised Duck Rice (642 calories, 28g fat)

This humble herbal-braised duck rice is a calorie bomb in plain sight. Its 640 calories exclude the hardboiled egg and beancurd toppings that it’s normally served with. What gives? Apparently, duck is surprisingly sinful as far as poultry goes. Every 100g of duck packs about 336 calories as compared to 223 calories for every 100g of chicken.

Healthier local food option: Load up on more greens (cucumbers and tomatoes count) and less of the fatty skin and starchy sauce if you can. You may also substitute white rice with soy sauce chicken noodles since it has a similar flavour profile. With 442 calories and 20g fat, it’s heavier than a cheeseburger but still 200 calories less than the original version. We’ll take that as a win.


2. Ban Mian (475 calories, 22g fat)

Ban mian, or handmade egg noodles paired with minced pork, chye sim and eggs, is perfect for rainy days. Unfortunately, the meat is on the fatty side and usually comes slathered in soy sauce. The high carbohydrate to low fibre ratio doesn’t help, either.

Healthier local food option: Half your noodle serving size and blanket your soup with more leafy greens – this alone can strike off 140 calories from your intake. Also, asking for less fried onions and anchovies goes a long way in lowering your ban mian’s fat content.


3. Rojak (517 calories, 22g fat)

The fruit and vegetable combo in your rojak isn’t nearly waistline-friendly enough to be an everyday salad. Even though it looks deceptively harmless, the calories in its sweet-and-sour drizzle (which is mostly prawn paste and a whole lot of sugar) equate to two servings of ice kacang. That’s overkill!

Healthier local food option: Instead of asking to have your sauce and dough fritters on the side (awkward), you’ll be better off heading for the fruit stall. Order yourself chopped apples, dragonfruit and watermelon to enjoy the same sugar rush at a fraction of the calories.


4. Masala Dosa (362 calories, 13g fat)

To be fair, this savoury pancake with spiced potato stuffing is one of the more nutritious choices on this list. It’s 100% vegetarian and just as satisfying as a full meal. But be mindful of the chutneys, or the dipping sauces served on the side! Those can pack a sugary punch.

Healthier local food option: If your dosai is overstuffed with filling, ask for less of the potato mix. Otherwise, try to exercise some restraint with your side of dahl and coconut chutney.


5. Mee Siam (694 calories, 24g fat)

Rice vermicelli seems innocent enough. But when you smother it in mee siam gravy, it can amount to 694 calories and 24g of fat. The culprit is the sheer amount of salt and sugar that goes into the rich gravy. It’s a lot of tangy goodness, but doesn’t bode well for your diet.

Healthier local food option: Go for the more filling mee goreng instead. It may seem counterintuitive, but mee goreng only has 281.6 calories and 9g of fat per serving. If you’re craving for your mee siam fix, go easy on the gravy and chili paste to shave about 130 calories off your meal. Don’t pass up on the hardboiled egg and beansprout though – these are valuable sources of protein that can help to silence your hunger pangs.


6. Mee Rebus (555 calories, 19g fat)

This Indonesian noodle cuisine doesn’t typically come with enough vegetables and meats to count as a balanced meal. And as with mee siam, the sweet potato-thickened gravy is the largest calorie source.

Healthier local food option: A healthier swap would be Penang laksa, another moreish noodle dish that has more vegetables and fish for extra nutrients. It has 380 calories and 4.5g of fat, but again you’ll save yourself a lot of calories if you forgo the soup.


7. Mee Soto (433 calories, 13g fat)

This twist on chicken noodle soup topped with coriander, tomatoes and eggs is the ultimate comfort food. It’s lighter than mee siam and mee rebus, but we’re not complaining.

Healthier local food option: Switch it out for soto ayam instead, which is essentially the same dish with rice cubes instead of noodles. At just 219 calories and 8g of fat, you’re getting a major calorie discount. If you want to retain the heartiness of the original dish, replace the yellow noodles with vermicelli and you’ll still save about 80 calories. Remember to skip the begedil (fried potato patty) and chicken skin!


8. Tauhu Goreng (770 calories, 44g fat)

The deep-fried battered tofu here isn’t the worst offender. It’s the sweet peanut sauce that contains about 5.5 teaspoons of sugar per serving!

Healthier local food option: Downsize your calorie and fat intake by 70% by ordering the soup version of yong tau foo instead. You can pair it with lean proteins and vegetables without deep-fried items like crabskin and beancurd skin. Averaging less than 300 calories, it is hands down more satisfying than tauhu goreng.


Want to worry less about calories and enjoy your food?

There’s no harm in eating unhealthy local food in moderation, but calorie counting may not help if the source of your weight problems is a sluggish metabolism. As our metabolism slows down age, keeping lean becomes an uphill battle no matter how rigorously you watch your diet.

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*Nutritional calculations from the Health Promotion Board, myfitnesspal and the U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central.