[SG] Dian Xiao Er | Debunking common myths about healthy food

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Has it ever occurred to you that we or Singaporeans in general are dining out more frequently for our meals? I personally find it a challenge to find nutritious yet delicious meals around but that is just about to change with the Health Promotion Board recently introduced the Healthier Dining Programme.

So what is this healthier eating campaign all about? An initiative by Health Promotion Board, it encourages F&B companies to provide healthier meals for their customers which may come in the form of lower-calorie meals or the use of healthier ingredients such as whole-grains or even healthier cooking oil. A focus on lower-calorie meals came about as a study has found that 6 in 10 Singaporeans are eating more than their required calorie intake.

After our last visit to Dian Xiao Er, we have revisited on several other occasions with their offering of home-style cooking (家常便饭) . When we learnt about them being the first among the restaurant chains to embark on the Healthier Dining Programme, we decided to check out what are some of the changes they have adopted!

There is always the saying "you are what you eat" and I was particularly impressed with how Dian Xiao Er took a costly switch over to using rice bran oil, one of the healthiest and most expensive cooking oils in the market. Apart from its benefits of being anti-oxidants rich, Vitamin E and cholesterol-inhibiting compounds, the best part for diners is that we are not paying more!

Partnering Unilever in the research and development phase, Dian Xiao Er now offers two new lunch-time set meals with a focus on low calorie and collagen rich selection and expects to roll out a full selection of healthier set menus in July 2014.

In addition, expect new menus to be introduced in July which has calorie contribution and informative logos on healthier choices!

Can healthier dining still taste as good? 

Signature herbal roast duck |
Angelica herb (S$13.60/++), Ten wonders (S$13.90/++), Wild ginseng (S$14.30/++)

Photo credit: Dian Xiao Er

Famous for their signature herbal roasted duck, it is almost a sin to leave Dian Xiao Er without trying this dish! In order to qualify for the sub-500 calories meal, you can now request for the healthier version whereby lean duck breast meat would be specially portioned and served. Expect the same crisp duck skin and accompanying sauces from a choice of angelica herb (当归), ten wonders (十全) and wild ginseng (泡参).

Fish maw soup with seafood | S$16.90/++

As usual, the fish maw soup stood up to the taste test as it packed a generous amount of ingredients and what I particularly enjoyed was the mildly crunch texture from the fish maw amidst a flavourful broth.

Three featured soups
Top to bottom (clockwise): Stewed crocodile soup with almonds and chuan bei (S$7.60/++), double-boiled wintermelon with conpoy (S$7.30/++), double-boiled black chicken soup (S$7.30/++)

While I am not a connoisseur when it comes to double-boiled soups, I could certainly taste the difference in quality with the good ingredients used. While most at our table frowned upon the crocodile soup, it actually packed a great deal of health benefits such as improving one's respiratory system which would be perfect for those with asthmatic conditions. The other two soups were flavourful and made me reminisced about my mum's home-cooked soups!

Hong Kong style steamed silver cod fish | S$26.90/++

Having previously tried the fried version of the silver cod fish during our last visit, we could not help but draw comparisons between the two dishes. The steamed version of the silver cod was cooked beautifully leaving the flesh of the fish nice and soft paired with the soy sauce to give the dish some flavours. On the focus of eating healthy, this would surely fit the bill but when it comes to overall preference, I would go with the fried version which had that additional crisp batter coating the delicate fish, giving the dish some texture.

Baby kailan with salted fish and lime | S$9.90/++

This was one of my favourite dishes that brought about a slightly unexpected but pleasant punch of flavours as the acidity of lime cuts through the savouriness of the dish to make it refreshing and light on one's palate. The greens retained the desired crunch and had a nice crisp. On hindsight however, I could not taste the flavours of the salted fish but overall a simple but neat dish.

Claypot braised sea cucumber, mushroom and pork tendon | S$26/++

For regular patrons of Dian Xiao Er, they would know that the restaurant is famous for their savoury dishes to go with rice and this claypot dish nailed it spot-on. Expect some bold and intense savoury flavours harmoniously complemented by an array of textures such as the crunch of the sweet peas, soft pork tendons and the gelatinous touch of the sea cucumber. The only drawback for this dish? You will need some rice (carbohydrates) to go with it else the dish standalone might be overwhelming for some in terms of flavours.

Seafood combo with assorted vegetables | S$15.60/++

While the dish does not sound or look incredibly impressive, it was stir-fried to perfection with the broccoli, ,water chestnut, sweet peas, carrots and sweet corns having the right crunch while the succulent tiger prawns and sliced abalone introduced an element of sweetness. Is this my definition of a healthy dish tasting good? A resounding yes for me.

Stir-fried bee hoon | S$9.90/++
Photo credit: Dian Xiao Er

Personally, I found that this dish could go either way for diners. If you are truly after a healthier meal, then this might appeal to your palate as the bee hoon had the right amount of wok hei but it might feel slightly dry for some. The dish however went very well for some of our dining companions at the table.

Service at Dian Xiao Er has always been one of the factors that drew us back with the staffs giving that personal and humane touch which gives a very homely feeling. While customers and diners usually treat this as a given when it comes to dining out, restaurants for some reason always fail to pick this up.

As Dian Xiao Er is one of the leading restaurants to kickstart the Health Promotion Board's Healthier Dining Programme, they are also introducing the Healthy Go Lucky Loyalty Card programme which aims to incentivise consumption of healthier choice items where one could earn a stamp for each Healthier Choice food item ordered. Simply collect five stamps to be eligible for a lucky draw opportunity as the contest runs from 26 June - 25 October 2014 at all participating restaurants.

Look out for these lucky draw boxes and request for your loyalty card at all participating restaurants.

Dian Xiao Er is also hosting its very own social media campaign with the objective to debunk the common notion that healthy food is compromised on taste. During the contest period 26 June to 25 July 2014, all you have to do is to order any healthier choice dishes, snap a photo and upload onto Dian Xiao Er's Facebook Page with hashtag #healthycanbetasty. First 50 to get 50 likes on your photo will win a $20 dining voucher!

Find out more about Health Promotion Board's latest Healthier Dining Programme here.

Do you think that healthy food taste good? It sure can and did for us.

Overall verdict: 7.5/10

Dian Xiao Er | 店小二 @ Serangoon NEX
23 Serangoon Central,
#02-09/10, NEX
Singapore 556083
Tel: (+65) 6634 4828

P.S: Special thanks to Dian Xiao Er for the invitation.

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