It’s the one word that sends my hand involuntarily towards my paunch, moving side-to-side across its curvature before finding a resting point at the apex, slightly above the belly button.
No surprise here, but I disdain calories. It’s just unfortunate that I happen to be in love with its best friend taste.
And it seems that they’re inseparable, at least until you’ve had Pepsi Black Ginger and Vanilla.
The dark fizzy beverage — now available nationwide — does everything it says on the label, delivering the full Pepsi cola experience with none of the calories.
But it also got me thinking — is Pepsi Black Ginger and Vanilla just an anomaly? Are taste and calories destined forever to be intertwined?
I decided to put it to the test, spending a day hunting down lower-calorie versions of some of my favourite dishes found in local hawker centres.
1. Mee pok
First up was mushroom minced meat mee pok, better known as bak chor mee.
Descriptions aren’t necessary for this hawker centre staple but gosh, it’s hard not to salivate thinking about how the vinegar, chilli, and lard blend together to form the perfect saucy foil for the springy yellow noodles.
Top it up with some minced pork, pork slices, pork liver, mushrooms, and meatballs and we’re talking about a legendary combination that stands the test of time.
Not today though. In my bid to be healthy, I asked for less noodles and less sauce.
I also said no thanks to the soup because that can be high in sodium.
The result was a meal that was unfortunately on the drier side of things.
However, having an ice-cold bottle of the flavourful Pepsi Black Ginger on hand definitely helped to moisten the proceedings.
2. Cai png
Never mind, because my next meal would be a classic — cai png.
After my brunch, I was looking forward to the flexibility of picking my own poison.
The only catch is that I would have to ignore all the deep-fried and excessively saucy selections.
You would think that having a smorgasbord of options to pick from would guarantee a tasty ‘two veg, one meat’ melding.
How wrong I was.
I went for a plate of brown rice, steamed fish, wong bok, and a standard-issue cai png vegetable that my colleagues have identified as chye sim.
No doubt it was the healthiest cai png I’ve ever ordered, but it was also pretty plain.
The meal was thankfully was made better by some Pepsi Black Vanilla.
It’s still keeping with the healthy theme of the day — as proven by its Healthier Choice seal of approval — but full of bold vanilla flavour.
3. Chicken Rice
The last meal on the list of my healthy-hawker hunt was a national icon — Hainanese Chicken Rice.
Making this meal healthier was fairly straightforward: steamed not roasted, no oil or sauces, less rice, breast meat only.
I wondered if the food court aunty taking my order would hold any disdain for the guy reeling off a list of healthy revisions to their tried and tested recipe.
I’ve got to say, out of all the healthier hawker options I’d tried today, this was the best.
Sure, roasted chicken is always going to beat out steamed (fight me), but chicken rice is hard to get wrong.
Other than chilli and black soya sauce, ginger is also a common condiment. So if you’re going to try this health-hack is to pair it with the fiery burn of Pepsi’s ginger-infused cola.
As I lay in bed later that night, I realised that while I could wallow in self-pity over a day wasted, I had learned a thing or two about life.
First, hawker centre fare needs to stay the way it is. Bak chor mee with less sauce isn’t quite bak chor mee.
Cai png restricted to the healthy options is like restricting Picasso to one colour.
And the oily rice usually associated with chicken rice might seem like something you can live without but it really helps to elevate all the flavours of a simple dish.
Second, substituting my regular soft drink for Pepsi Black Ginger and Vanilla is a great way to cut back on calories. You’ll still get great bold flavours but none of the guilt.
And here’s a bonus third lesson I learned: reducing the calories from food while maintaining its great taste is no easy task. Trust me, I found out the hard way.
Top image by Andrew Koay
This sponsored article by Pepsi made the author yearn for more no-calorie-great-tasting food and beverages.