Eat To Live

Do the sambal with nonya tacos

Try this local spin on Korean tacos, which is a craze in the US

Nonya Tacos.

The Koreans have invaded the food truck business in the United States.

Bulgogi, a Korean spiced grilled meat, and kimchi, fermented cabbage, now fill Mexican corn tortillas in food trucks around the country.

The craze started in Los Angeles with Kogi Korean BBQ. Its owner Mark Manguera decided to make Korean tacos after he failed to find carne asada (grilled meat) tacos in Koreatown there. It was a hit and now the craze is everywhere.

This made me think, why not nonya tacos? The nonyas, after all, have spicy satay, which is pork or chicken rubbed with a rempah or spice paste, then fried or grilled.

We could grill the pork rather than fry it, lessening the fat content and, instead of kimchi, add nonya rojak - pineapple and cucumber mixed with cut chilli or sambal belacan (chilli pounded with toasted shrimp paste).

It is essentially lean pork made flavourful with sambal and enlivened with rojak.

I like pork in this recipe though chicken could also be used. Pork is flavourful meat with several lean cuts.

Indeed, you do not have to forgo meat in a healthy diet. Aside from skinless chicken breast, you could choose pork tenderloin or fillet, sirloin or the loin chops.

But tenderloin is best. This is the cut we choose for toddlers because it is tender and tasty.

There is little fat and lots of nutrition as meat contains perfect proteins, unlike the incomplete proteins obtained from plant- based foods, which lack at least one of the amino acids the human body must get from food.

Pork is also a good source of B vitamins. According to The Pig Site, a serving of pork tenderloin includes thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B-6, as well as minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc.

With that in mind, I got to thinking about how to make nonya tacos.

To cut down on the hassle, I used a bottled sambal - the nonya sambal chilli produced by many brands - to rub over the pork before grilling it.

To add some creaminess, I added a dollop of low-fat mayonnaise, stirred through with that same sambal, to make a spicy mayo.

For greens, line the tacos with lettuce leaves before filling with the pork and there is also a huge bowl of nonya rojak on the side.

Besides being low on fat and huge on flavour, this makes for a good convivial meal with everyone helping themselves to assemble their own nonya-Mexican tacos.

•Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous Eat To Live recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.



500g pork in one piece

1 tbsp bottled nonya sambal chilli (look for shrimp paste, chilli and onions on the label)

2 tbsp oil

20 corn taco shells, available in boxes from the supermarket

1 head butterhead or local lettuce leaves, washed, dried and separated


1 tsp nonya sambal chilli

1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise


4 slices pineapple, cut into cubes

1 cucumber, cut into cubes

Light soya sauce to taste

1 to 2 red chillis, sliced

1 to 2 tsp white sugar or to taste


• Heat oven 200 deg C.

• Rub the pork with sambal and leave aside for 30 minutes.

• Roast the pork for 10 minutes on either side and cover with foil for 10 minutes. Slice.

• Switch off oven and place taco shells in the warm oven to crisp up.

• Make mayonnaise. Stir in sambal.

• Make the rojak. Add soya sauce and cut chilli to the pineapple and cucumber mixture. Add sugar to taste and stir well.

• Line taco shell with 1 to2 lettuce leaves to serve.

• Add a slice of pork, top with sambal mayonnaise and offer a dollop of nonya rojak.


Healthier with chicken breast and low-sodium taco shells


  • Per serving (200g)

    Energy: 317kcal

    Protein: 16g

    Total fat: 17.9g

    Saturated fat: 2.9g

    Dietary fibre: 2.5g

    Carbohydrate: 22.4g

    Cholesterol: 47.1mg

    Sodium: 278mg

Both pork and chicken are good sources of protein.

 Lean cuts of pork are high in protein, low in fat and contain more B vitamins than other types of meat. These vitamins are important for bodily functions.

Choose lean cuts of the pork and remove any visible fat and skin.

Both pork and chicken contain comparable amounts of calories and protein, but the fat and zinc content in pork about doubles that of chicken breast.

PORK (lean loin, per 100g raw)

Calories: 127kcal

Protein: 22g

Total fat: 6.9g

Zinc: 1.6g


Calories: 120kcal

Protein: 22.5g

Total fat: 2.6g

Zinc: 1g

Taco shells can be part of a healthy balanced meal when they are topped with a filling such as low- caloric fresh vegetables and a lean protein source like beans, lentils, peas or tuna, chicken breast and salmon, instead of ground beef or fatty cuts of pork.

Corn tacos are suitable for those allergic to wheat. Taco shells labelled low sodium and are baked instead of fried are healthier.

Pineapples are an excellent source of vitamin C - 100g gives 60 per cent of our daily vitamin C requirement. They contain a proteolytic enzyme - bromelain - that digests food by breaking down protein.

Bromelain is being studied for benefits such as anti-inflammation and fights infections.

Cucumber is one of the lowest caloric foods - 100g gives only 12 kcal, yet it is a great source of dietary fibre.

This recipe can be made healthier by using chicken breast to reduce the amount of saturated fat. and adding different coloured vegetables to give us different phytochemicals.

Bibi Chia

Principal dietitian, Raffles Diabetes and Endocrine Centre

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2016, with the headline 'Do the sambal with nonya tacos'. Print Edition | Subscribe