How Healthy Are Ethnic Foods? (The Diet, Month 2)

Healthy fast food is hard to find, and when it comes to 1) healthy, 2) American, 3) fast food, you usually have to pick between two of the three.  When I say American, I don’t mean strictly hamburgers and hot dogs; I mean everything that has fallen into the realm of standard fare for Americans on-the-go, including pizzas, tacos, and breakfast sandwiches, none of which I have consumed over the last two months (minus a late night, alcohol-induced trip to King Taco on New Year’s Day).  Instead, I have been relying on ethnic fast foods to get me through those busy days, which got me to thinking, how healthy is a sweet corn tamale from Mama’s, or a bowl of Daikoku ramen, or a “xiao long bao” from Din Tai Fung.  How healthy, really, are the ethnic foods that I’ve been eating, and how have they been affecting my diet.

I don’t know the exact recipes that these places use, but I have found standard recipes for the aforementioned foods, and this post will be based on that information.

Corn Tamales (as prepared by the Too Hot Tamales, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger) from the book Mesa Mexicana

10 ears corn
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
pinch of sugar, if necessary
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup hominy grits
1 recipe Salsa Fresca, see recipe

Immediately, two ingredients jump off the list in terms of health (particularly, cholesterol): butter and heavy cream.  My guess is that most places substitute butter with some kind of cooking oil, and they might avoid the heavy cream in sweetening the corn, but assuming that most tamales are prepared in a similar way, corn tamales are going to have to be taken out of the picture for the rest of my diet.

Daikoku Ramen (with Kurobuta pork)

Most of the online ramen recipes provide simplified instructions for what is really a labor of love for ramen chefs.  Daikokuya’s soup base is made from a pork broth that is simmered for over a day, and I can’t really find any online instructions for making a similar broth, so I’m not too sure what goes into that.  It should suffice to say that I don’t think broth of any sort is unhealthy.  What’s easier to see is what else goes into a bowl of Daikoku ramen: kurobuta pork, generic ramen noodles, a hard-boiled egg, and a sprinkling of green onion, bamboo shoots, and bean sprouts.

First off, the center of the hard-boiled egg is avoidable.  Leaving a slice of chashu in the bowl is almost impossible.  That tender, fatty slice of heaven known as kurobuta pork taunts me to no end, but that marbling will raise my cholesterol and needs to be left behind.  Ramen noodles can be made with or without eggs, and I’m not sure with the variety they serve at Daikokuya, but noodles are mostly just flour anyway.  The vegetables are so sparse that they really do nothing to help or hurt my diet.

Steamed Pork Dumplings
I found this recipe on, which uses The Heritage of Chinese Cooking as its source.

For Filling:
1/2 pound fresh ground pork (should be fatty)
3 oz fresh uncooked (green) shrimp, shelled, deveined, and minced
3 oz water chestnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped bamboo shoots
1 cup finely chopped scallions
1/2 cup minced celery

Most of the recipes online don’t vary too much, and my aunt makes them using a similar recipe, with no glaring ingredients when it comes to unhealthiness.  The nice thing that comes with dumplings (and tamales for that matter) is that they’re always steamed, which is probably the healthiest way to cook something.  (That might be wrong, but I don’t really care).

So what does all this diet “research” amount to in this crazy world?  I’m going to try to get some nutritional information on the tamales I have been eating, and in the meantime (at least until this diet is over) will stick to steamed dumplings.

Worm Update
I dumped some of the scraps from the meal I prepared on the day I got the worms, and I just checked on them today.  The little guys are actively eating and pooping out nutritious soil, but they’re eating much slower than I expected.  They’re still working on that first meal, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to add more scraps.  In their defense, it has been unusually cold in Southern California, and they do slow down a bit when it gets nippy.  I’ve moved them indoors for the time being, and hopefully that will help them go to town.


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