TODAY says “healthier, tasty ayam penyet” not possible; but that’s not true

TODAY says “healthier, tasty ayam penyet” not possible; but that’s not true
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On 25 August, the TODAY newspaper (which incidentally will go out of print soon) published an article titled, “War on diabetes: Changing eating habits of Malay, Indian communities an uphill task.”

The article is a follow-up to what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said in his National Day Message and National Day Rally speech earlier in the month – that the diabetes rate in Singapore has increased and is a worrying trend. He particularly singled out the Malay and Indian communities for their higher rate of the disease: 5 in 10 Malays, and 6 in 10 Indians aged 60 and above have the condition.

The TODAY article focused on the food of the Malay and Indian communities and their eating habits.

It cites a taxi driver which, apparently and supposedly, represent the views of the Malays when it comes to food – that “Malay food should be all about “the colour and spice”.

“He finds such Malay dishes much more attractive than the “bland” soups, steamed food and stir-fries common in Chinese cooking,” TODAY reported him as having said, and further quoted the driver:

“The doctor talks like it’s very easy (to change), but our lifestyle is not like the Chinese lifestyle. For them, they go qigong, they go exercise …”

“Our culture is different, we like to gather and cook, go picnic, go makan… You see (the Malays) carrying their pots to Changi Village to go there to eat, sleep, swim (all day),” he said.

The article also claimed the following:

“For them [presumably the Malays and Indians], unlike Chinese dishes, one cannot produce a healthier, yet still tasty ayam penyet or roti prata by simply using less oil, salt or sauce.”

This is, unfortunately, a sweeping statement which is not at all accurate. There are ways to cook healthier and just-as-tasty Malay or Indian food, just as there are similar ways to do so for Chinese (or any) food, in fact.

For ayam penyet, for example, one alternative is to oven-bake the chicken, instead of deep-frying it. You could also use an air-fryer to cook the chicken.

Or to use healthier oil. In this example below, this Malay owner of an ayam penyet hawker stall (Royale Penyet) says he changes the oil more frequently. His stall was featured in a TV programme highlighting healthier hawker foods.

While it is commendable that the mainstream media is trying to encourage Singaporeans to cook and eat healthier, they should also not make false claims about the food culture of our ethnic communities. Some simple research, or consultation with nutritionists (which include those from the two communities) would reveal healthier (and tasty) alternative recipes for these dishes.

Incidentally, changing eating habits is an uphill task not only in the Malay or Indian communities, as apparently being claimed by the TODAY article. It is a huge task in all communities. Try telling the Chinese, for example, to change their eating habits. You’d be greeted with a tonne of excuses.

Let’s keep the focus on changing eating habits in general, for by 2030, there will be 1 million Singaporeans who would have diabetes, and these come from all communities, not just one or two.