SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Dieting. We all do it, none of us really likes it and we're always looking for the least painful ways to do it. Hence the dizzying array of diet plans to choose from. There's paleo, which focuses on eating proteins and vegetables the way our ancestors did in prehistoric days; the whole foods diet, which means eating only natural and unprocessed foods; the gluten-free diet; and the good old vegan and high-protein-low-carb diets in their various forms.
According to a 2017 online survey by Nielsen, 79 per cent of Singaporeans are actively making dietary choices to help prevent health conditions, and 75 per cent are willing to pay more for foods with health benefits. Still, finding dining options that cater to specific eating plans makes it tough to stick to one, which is why some local eateries are stepping up to the plate to make their diet-conscious customers happy and slim.
Eateries that serve customisable grain bowls and protein bowls, such as The Daily Cut, are great for those on a high-protein-low-carb diet, keto diet and paleo diet, while busy folk at work looking for healthy weekday lunches to be delivered to their doorstep can consider service providers such as Grain.com.sg. Meal boxes from this halal-certified online restaurant have nutritional information labels, which state the amount of calories, fat, carbohydrates and protein. Popular dishes include the vegan tofu-powered tabbouleh with aubergine, roasted pumpkin and bulgur (think 491 calories).
Other restaurants, such as The Butcher's Wife, a modern European bistro by Spa Esprit Group that opened earlier this June, are committed to supporting the gluten-intolerant with a menu that is 100 per cent gluten-free.
"I see a gap in the market where gluten-free menus are usually an afterthought, and at best limited in variety and flavours. Just because you cannot eat gluten doesn't mean your meals need to be dull. The Butcher's Wife is leading the way for gluten-free dining in Singapore to thrive," says Ms Cynthia Chua, founder and CEO of Spa Esprit Group.
The Butcher's Wife, by chef partner Diego Jacquet and head chef Diego Carlos Quispe, offers hearty fare such as a green pea "hummus" served with grilled lamb sausages, yogurt, mint and pistachios; gluten-free ban mian-textured chestnuts pappardelle smothered with an eight-hour-braised osso buco ragu; and desserts such as the rich flourless chocolate pave with rhubarb compote, rhubarb sorbet and saffron syrup.
TAKING THE HOLISTIC APPROACH
At Verde Kitchen at Hilton Singapore, 98 per cent of the dishes are made from scratch (the 2 per cent would include ingredients such as rice pasta and shrimp paste) and prepared with an emphasis on healthy fats, low sugar and lower added sodium, without compromising on flavours.
Vijayakant Shanmugam, the hotel's executive chef, observes an increasing demand for superfoods and grains in the last couple of years, and notes that diners are actively looking for carbohydrate replacements.
In response to the trends, Verde Kitchen uses grains such as quinoa, amaranth and couscous in place of carbohydrates, resulting in gluten-free dishes such as organic amaranth and rice pasta with local tomatoes, mushrooms and Parmesan cheese; vegan dishes such as avocado composition with couscous, grapefruit, home-grown lettuce (from the hotel's vertical garden) and creamy avocado dressing; and low-sugar desserts such as chia seed and caramelised hazelnut pudding.
EATING WELL, A LIFESTYLE
For restaurants such as Como Cuisine, the focus remains more on healthy, clean eating and using ingredients that are organic and sustainably sourced.
Restaurant manager Janet Lee shares that dishes such as its green goddess soup (blended seasonal greens topped with sunflower seeds, extra virgin olive oil and seaweed) and big raw salad are suitable for several different diets as only raw vegetables, nuts, seeds and healthy oils are used. For guests on keto or paleo diets, a selection of grass-fed steaks, meats and fish prepared in a tandoor are available.
"Eating well is not just a trend, but a lifestyle that is gaining widespread awareness and popularity. Our cuisine is a reflection of this," she says.
When notified in advance, Como Cuisine will do its best to customise dishes to suit special dietary needs. Ms Lee said it has had requests from guests who are ovo-lacto vegetarian, on raw food diets and even diets that have to be prepared according to doctors' instructions.
"There was an occasion where we had a customer whose children were on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet plan (only carbohydrates that require minimal digestion is allowed) and we had to customise our dishes specifically to that diet," she adds.