Eating out is fun. Especially with all of the options in NYC: Tender Chinese dumplings on Canal Street, spicy halal and juicy kabobs in Astoria, zesty pasta on Little Italy’s Mulberry Street – you get the point, New York’s best ethnic cuisine isn’t hard to find. What is hard, however, is the selection process, made particularly hard when you find yourself, as many New Yorkers do, on a diet. Luckily, I’ve made this easy for you! Below is a list of the best (and healthiest) options to order according to the experts at “Eat This, Not That,” when you’re dining out organized by ethnic cuisine. Bon appetite!
Forego the fried chicken, fatty nuts and thick (also fatty) oyster sauce common to platters like cashew chicken, General Tso’s and sweet and sour anything. Instead, opt for Kung Pao Chicken which is has roasted peanuts, dried chilies vegetables (bonus!) and sautéed, rather than fried, chicken. Lo mein and Chow mein dishes may feel lighter because there’s no visible sauce and at most, it appears to be noodles and vegetables or meat, right? Wrong. Chefs slather on so much extra oil to keep the noodles from sticking that a full order can pack in as much as 1,000 calories. If you’re into meat, then skip the oil and carbs and head straight for duck, which is a lean and nutritious meat that chefs work tirelessly at to remove the fat from. Here’s a pleasant surprise: Dumplings which are panfried, a less fatty way to fry food, has fewer carbs than food made from bread and turns out to a healthier option on the menu – yum! And for the record, learn to be conscious of sneaky dishes which appear healthy but contain a sodium content so high it’s lethal to dieters, like egg drop soup.
With its deep-fried tortillas, grease-soaked meat and layers upon layers of cheese, sour cream and guac, Mexican food gets a bad rep among health-conscious foodies. Although but guacamole and queso are fatty dips, guacamole contains tomatoes, olive oil and most importantly, avocados and therefore is a nutrient rich dip. Queso however, is doused with salt and considering cheese is salty enough on its own, this dip combined with fried and salted chips is a sodium hazard zone. For your entrée, opt for the vegetable-packed fajita option (cheese and sour cream optional) rather than the overly-seasoned chicken, globs of cheese and sour cream found in quesadillas. And if you’re like me, then you’re thinking that tacos may seem like the safest bet. But if they’re hard shell, then you’re wrong. Burritos, which offer the soft shell version of this Mexican fiesta, are not fried in hot oil and therefore are the better option. If you can, omit the meat and avoid sour cream which can pack extra calories. Rather, add as much hot sauce as you want as this will speed up your metabolism and likely push the meal right through your body.
Italian food is a significantly easier cuisine to navigate if you stick to one principle: The darker and less creamy the sauce, the better. Penne alla vodka, a house favorite, can be the riskiest dish to gamble on. While some calories are burned with the alcohol, the sauce can come in two varieties: dark red, chunkier and closer to the likes of tomato soup or pink, thick and creamy. Hint: The latter is the more dangerous selection. On a lighter note, during the pre-meal debate over bruschetta versus mussels, go with the leaner, low fat and high protein option – muscles. Eggplant parmigiana (my personal favorite) may seem like a leaner option since it comes with neither meat nor carby-pasta. However, if it’s breaded (though as an Italian who grew up on this dish, this ain’t the real deal) the combination with oil, cheese and sauce can tilt this dish towards the 1,000-calorie side of the scale. While chicken marsala may seem like the lighter option here, but excessive oil and prosciutto can jack the calories up before you know it.
While staples of Greek food include olives, nuts, chickpeas and fish, all of which bursting with nutrients, many of the signature dips will widen your waistline, not shrink it. Souvlaki, or grilled lamb skewers, may at first seem like lighter fare since it’s only seared meat on a stick. However lamb is high in saturated fat so opt for chicken instead. In fact, even keftedes (or meatballs), high in protein, are healthier than lamb. Moussaka may be hefty with nutrients from potato and/or eggplant, but it’s hefty in calories too: Fried and mixed with egg, milk, cheese and minced meat make this plate something you should dodge. Rather, go for the spanakopita which is just as traditional but, with its folic acid-packed spinach and high calcium feta cheese, this pie is the much smarter choice.
This spicy cuisine has skyrocketed in popularity since the ‘80s when there were only 18 Indian restaurants in the entire city. However, just because many of the dishes are vegetarian-based does not automatically make Indian food a safe bet. In fact, any of the appetizers don’t differ so much from American style apps: That is they’re deep fried (think: samosas, yum…). It’s better to skip the oily starters and dive into the main, with something like tandoori which is marinated and baked (in a “tandoor”), not fried, and is lighter on the sauce anyway. By the same token, avoid thick creamy sauces like Korma, which is not only made with milk, but coconut milk – double whammy. Aloo gobi, a dish of potatoes and cauliflower made yellow by its main spice, turmeric, is full of healthy antioxidants and would make a better pick. Side note: Saag panner, a dish composed primarily of spinach with little cheese cubes thrown in may appear to be a lighter dish at first sight. However, the spinach has a cream base and the added cheese doesn’t exactly help the caloric index.
Note: These pointers were summarized from the experts at “Eat this, not that.”