Economic rice, also known as cai fan, is one of the cheapest and most filling meals you can have in Singapore. It’s essentially a plate of rice with three to four dishes of vegetables and meat that you can select from 10-15 troughs of cooked food.
Economic rice is almost never paleo. You can ask for economic rice with “no rice” but the food is most likely cooked with corn or soybean oil. According to the Health Promotion Board, their view of “healthier oils” are:
“Saturated fat found mainly in butter, ghee, coconut milk, cream and blended oils can raise blood cholesterol levels, increasing risk of heart disease and stroke. Whereas monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in soybean, sunflower, safflower, olive, peanut and canola oils both help to reduce blood cholesterol when they replace saturated fat in the diet.”
They will award hawkers with a “I cook with healthier oil” sticker if they use vegetable oils such as the above, despite evidence to the contrary that these oils are not good for our health.
That being said, I still eat economic rice occasionally because it’s cheap and convenient. It’s definitely not a perfect paleo meal; to get anything perfectly healthy, we just have to cook at home. But we don’t have to be perfect everyday. For days where we eat out, we can minimise the damage to our health by selecting the right food items.
- Avoid food that are battered
I do love the taste of battered meat but the batter is simply white flour that contains almost no nutrition. People on low-carb diets also need to be wary not to consume the meat as they may go over their carb limit simply from the batter. Examples of battered meat include sweet and sour pork and fried chicken wing. Instead, go for meat and vegetables that are not deep fried in flour.
- Be wary of fake meat
In order to save on costs, fillers are sometimes added to meat products. Fish balls, for example, may contain less than 20% fish and up to 80% of flour and flavourings. Likewise, the fried fish fillet that is commonly sold with breakfast beehoon or with nasi lemak is also largely made of flour.
- Stay away from too much sauce
I personally cannot stand it when my food is drenched in some thick sauce so I naturally prefer to have lighter-tasting dishes. Personal preference aside, it’s prudent to choose food that have less sauce because more likely than not, the sauce will contain a lot of sugar. Anything with tomato ketchup poured over it (such as fried omelette with ketchup) will just be a sugary mess.
- Opt for fermented soy
If you must eat soy, go for fermented soy rather than its non-fermented counterpart. This is because fermented soy neutralises the phytic acid (read about the problems with phytic acid here) found in regular soy. So natto and tempeh are better than just tofu. This post explains the difference between fermented and non-fermented soy.
- Skip the rice
I left this to the last because this may be more relevant for low-carb diets than the paleo diet. Although rice is generally eschewed in the paleo world, it is acknowledged that it is a safer starch than wheat and it’s gluten-free. I personally don’t take rice with my cai fan because I don’t really like it.
I must admit that the only tip I really pay attention to all the time is the last one of skipping rice because I find it easy to do so. I break the other rules from time to time but I think it’s important not to be overly stressed as long as we’re eating right 80% of the time.
What are your tips for eating cai fan? And do you know of any paleo-friendly stalls?