It’s goodbye to hawker food


A classic bowl of Penang curry mee, which should be avoided by anyone following the keto diet.

NOBODY misses Penang hawker food more than those who live here while being on a ketogenic diet. That includes me.

Goodbye, koay teow (flat rice noodles). I will always cherish the memory of your silky smoothness.

Goodbye, mee (yellow noodles). May I someday know your thick, yielding bite texture again.

And I beat my chest in anguish each time I remember the glory of precious white rice drizzled with Line Clear Nasi Kandar curries.

I long to eat these again, except that 20 days into my keto diet, I lost 5kg and the first fats cells to disintegrate came from my visceral fat.

Subcutaneous fat lies under our skin and is quite useful. Intramuscular fat is between muscles and good for emergencies. Visceral fat, plastered to our internal organs, are the culprits of a long list of health problems.

In just 20 days, my belly deflated and all my pants became loose.

For the uninitiated, a keto diet is one where we compel our bodies into a metabolic state called ketosis.

We do that by not eating carbohydrates and sugars at all. I say again: at all.

We are only allowed to incidentally ingest no more than 30g of carbohydrates a day. These are found in the leafy vegetables that we must eat to maintain fibre intake and is equal to maybe two slices of wonderful white bread.

When your glucose stores are gone and your body realises no more is forthcoming (this takes a few days), then like an imaginary car that can use diesel when there is no petrol, your body switches its metabolic process and uses ketones, an energy source synthesised from fat.

So, my main sources of fuel now are butter, cheese and extra virgin olive oil.

But despite my improved state, I fight the craving every day for Hokkien mee and char hor fun (stir fried flat noodles in yummy, starchy gravy).

A few days ago, I could not stand it anymore. I would rather be in a desert with nothing to eat than be in Penang and not eat hawker food.

So here is what I did:

I ordered ‘kali mi, kan nah liau’ (Hokkien for ‘curry mee, only the condiments’).

The coconut milk soup-base, shrimps, cockles, bean curd and curdled blood are fine for keeping us in ketosis.

The long-time curry mee seller at the corner coffee shop in Gottlieb Road opposite Penang Chinese Girls High School eyed me incredulously.

But maybe shrimp and cockles are too costly for him to fix up a reasonably priced yet sumptuous bowl.

It was better when I ordered ‘koay teow th’ng, kan nah liau’ in the coffee shop at the corner of Burma Road and Bangkok Lane.

I half-expected the seller to be jolted, but he instead gave me a knowing look and said ok. Maybe other ketogenic souls have been there and ordered the same.

My bowl of kan nah liau gave me shivers of pleasure. Replacing the succulent koay teow was a heap of bean sprouts and I had a rich bowl of duck meat soup, nice and oily.

There was so much duck fat in it, my next meal was over 10 hours later, with only a snack of two slices of cheese and a cup of black coffee with melted butter in between; busy day at the news desk.

That is how it is to be in ketosis. We do not get bouts of hypoglycaemia when our last meal is fully digested. We hardly feel our stomachs rumble when it is way past our typical meal times.

When in ketosis, our bodies do not have to be told twice to extract ketones from our fat stores when our tummies are empty. We lose the sensation of being starving.

But while I do not crave for glucose, I dearly miss the gummy, gooey texture of orh chien (fried oysters) and lor mee (yellow noodles in a heavenly, starchy broth).

Now I realise it: the delight is in the bite. When we slurp in a mouthful of bee hoon (vermicelli) mixed with mee and chomp away, the satisfaction comes from the bite texture as much as the flavour.

I am glad I found a way to enjoy some of the flavours again, but oh, how I miss my noodles.

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