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Malaysia going on a health binge

Chefs in food-mad Malaysia, are reinventing local cuisine due to a sharp jump in cases of obesity, diabetes and strokes.

by: Liau Y-Sing | 18 Dec 2007

Fattening coconut milk, an essential ingredient in Malaysia's spicy curries, is being shunted aside for nutritious soy milk. White rice is being replaced by brown rice and greens are playing a more dominant role on the menus of local restaurants.

Malaysian celebrity chef Ismail Ahmad has changed the menu of his restaurant Rebung in an old bungalow in Kuala Lumpur to include more vegetables and less meat.

"People want to look good, they want to look healthy," said the 47-year old who has added braised tofu, ferns and beansprouts in chili paste to his menu.

"Before, 70 percent of my buffet dishes were meat. Now I use more roots and vegetables," added Ismail, who said he cut sugar and rice from his diet after a battle with gout.

From fine dining lobster veloute to rice flour noodles fried in lard from street hawkers, food in Malaysia is often high in cholesterol and fat, with copious amounts of sugar and salt.

In a country where eating is a national pastime, Malaysians routinely drive miles in search of deep-fried dim sum in the northern town of Ipoh or curried offal rice in the island state of Penang.

But healthy eating is catching on.

Diets to lose weight and get healthy are popular, ranging from the classic low-carbohydrates, high-protein diets to fad diets of eating certain foods or adding herbal medicines to dishes.

Food: A national pastime

Food is plentiful, cheap and easily available in Malaysia. Night markets and hawkers on bicycles serve fast-food meals, while 24-hour eateries offer Indian chapati bread and ginger tea for anyone feeling peckish at three in the morning.

To deter the consumption of unhealthy foods, the government has banned fast food eateries from advertising during children's television programmes. Fast food chains are also required to detail the cholesterol, fat and sugar content of their items.

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