Healthy Wedding Banquet On the Menu

One of the best food spread in a wedding banquet that I ever experienced was during that of my sister’s friend many years ago.

The serving style was no different than in most weddings these days, in that it was a buffet spread. It has been more than a decade since I attended that wedding. However, the meal still stuck in my mind to this day, easily beating many wedding meals that I have had over the years for the sheer variety of dishes that guests could choose from.

However, just saying that it was the variety of dishes that got the thumbs up from me would do injustice to the well thought-out menu and the sumptuously-prepared meal.

As I recall, there was a choice of ‘nasi minyak’ (flavoured ghee rice) or white rice, variety of dishes to complement them including beef rendang, black pepper prawn, sambal goreng pengantin, sweet sour sliced fish, fried chicken, chicken curry, ‘acar timun’ (pickled cucumber) and others that I fail to remember.

What I do remember is that in addition to the rice and the dishes, there were also kebab, rojak, lontong, soto ayam. And I haven’t even begin to list down the desserts that included bubur pulut hitam (black glutinous rice dessert), a selection of Malay kuih and cakes, ice-cream and of course cold and hot beverages.

I must say I came out of that wedding banquet a very satisfied and ‘full-filled’ guest.

Can ‘Healthy’ Replace Scrumptious?

A few weeks back I came across an article in the local papers that discussed the issue on food served at Malay wedding reception.

Nasi minyak or nasi biryani are almost a staple at these weddings. Prepared with ghee (clarified butter made from the milk of cow or buffalo), these are unfortunately deemed unhealthy.

In his 2017 National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed that 17 percent of the Malay population in Singapore were diagnosed with diabetes. For an ethnic group that accounts for less than 15 percent of the country’s population, this is certainly alarming and subsequently triggers the government’s drive towards a healthier lifestyle targeted at the Malays.

Food caterers are urged to prepare healthier dishes served at wedding reception to encourage Malays to eat healthier. It is rooted in the belief that Malay dishes are generally laden with coconut milk and ghee (particularly nasi minyak and nasi biryani) – a recipe for unhealthy lifestyle.

With the goal of having healthier dishes at weddings, less oil and substitutes for some ‘unhealthy ingredients’ were recommended in the preparation of dishes such as nasi biryani and rendang. For instance, olive oil or oil with less saturated fats should be used instead of ghee and fresh milk used instead of coconut milk for rendang. Steamed spring rolls can be alternatives to fried foods such as curry puffs or samosa.

What If We Change?

Any changes made to a dish would of course result in some differences, particularly in cost and taste.

For instance, if olive oil becomes the oil of choice instead of ghee in biryani, the whole cost of this dish could get pricier. This increase would eventually have to be borne by the reception host.

Another issue that might crop up is the taste of the dishes – can you achieve the ‘authentic’ taste of traditional dishes by substituting with healthier ingredients? A local chef declared that substituting original ingredients in a traditional dish would compromise on its taste. I concur his statement, having experimented with olive oil and fresh milk in my own kitchen to prepare beef rendang. You might achieve the ‘right’ colour but the taste was not up to the par that I’m used to.

What To Serve Then?

First off, I would declare myself as a proponent of healthy living, simultaneously an ardent fan of authentic-tasting traditional dishes and sweets.

I certainly don’t condone eating cooked chicken or beef swimming in oil like what I witnessed in some wedding reception. However, I would stop short in using, say, fresh milk instead of coconut milk in my rendang. Why? Simply because it would compromise on the authentic taste of the rendang dish.

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What is the meaning of ‘healthy living’ anyway? Is it a total abstinence from seemingly unhealthy ingredients such as ghee or coconut milk which form part of our signature traditional dishes? Certainly not!

It is all about eating in moderation, be they carbohydrates, proteins or sweets.

While I support the drive towards healthy living, I am totally against the practice of ‘modifying’ our traditional dishes, purportedly towards healthier meals.

As an example, I heard over the radio recently on the suggestion to modify one of Malay favourites – the kuih lopes (glutinous rice served with palm sugar syrup). To be honest, I got quite worked up that the cook suggested mixing black glutinous rice with white ones to make lopes and serving it with syrup made of dates instead of palm sugar. Why not call her creation something else then, instead of kuih lopes? Please, don’t tarnish the appearance or taste of this traditional treasure!

Trying to modify traditional Malay cuisine would have its consequences. I am genuinely concerned that modifications could corrode the original/authentic appearance and taste of the food. Aren’t we concerned that years down the road, our future generation would not know what Malay rendang or kuih lopes really are?

So what to serve at your wedding banquet?

To me, a wedding is a joyous occasion, where happiness is shared with friends and relatives. This is the time guests ought to be pampered with scrumptious meal in appreciation of their attendance at the wedding banquet.

As the host, you would want to serve food that make your guests happy. In that light, I feel a variety of dishes, comprising both traditional and healthy food, would go a long way in whetting your guests’ appetite. What is the point of serving ‘healthier’ meals made up of an array of steamed dishes to guests who are not too keen on such food. If they just have a taste and not really eat them, wouldn’t the food go to waste?

To each his own, as they say. But if I were the host, I would keep to traditional dishes with nasi minyak or nasi biryani. At the same time, I would also add a few steam-based or ‘healthier’ dishes to the mix. In planning the food spread for the reception, I would discuss with the caterer to:

  1. Use less oil in preparation of dishes
  2. Include traditional dishes and add ‘healthier’ choices such as steam-based dishes to the mix
  3. Use less salt or sugar without compromising on authentic taste of the food

Particularly in a buffet spread, the onus is ultimately on the guests to select and ‘eat responsibly’. The host should not dictate what guests eat by serving, for instance, only steam-based food. That would be torture especially for guests who are not into such dishes.

At the end of the day…

Lastly, in my opinion, the drive towards healthy living should begin from home. It is about adopting a holistic approach towards eating food in moderation and coupling that with regular exercise.

Eating supposedly ‘healthier’ food in wedding banquet that we get to attend only once in a few months is not going to significantly make us lose weight, lessen our blood sugar or reduce our cholesterol levels. If there is a need for a platform to educate Malays on healthy eating, then perhaps the target should be places like food courts and hawker centres.

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