Whether you’re on a plant-based diet, or simply want to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, there is something to suit every budget in Southeast Asia. By taking advantage of the nutritious, tasty and totally underrated local produce, you’ll add colour and variety to your meals.
Kickstart your day with papaya
Seriously underrated, papaya is a true superfood with a fantastic antioxidant profile as well as a rich source of Vitamins A and C. It has a sweet, musky taste similar to honey and a bright orange colour when ripe. Papayas can be found at most fruit markets in Asia. They contain the enzyme papain which has an exfoliating effect on the skin – try including raw papaya in your homemade face masks.
Top tip: For maximum health and digestive benefits, enjoy the ripe fruit on an empty stomach, ideally in the morning.
Swap berries for dragonfruit
Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, usually has either yellow, white or deep magenta flesh. Like berries, dragon fruit is high in antioxidants. Its tiny black seeds which contain omega-3 fats are beneficial for heart health. Did you know, it is sometimes called “strawberry pear” as it has a fresh and delicate flavour? It can complement a bounty of other Asian fruit, such as mangosteen, mango and sweet jackfruit, in a tropical fruit salad.
Top tip: The pink-coloured flesh variety adds a beautiful colour to smoothie bowls and can also be used as a garnish for other dishes.
Try out tempeh
Tempeh originates from Indonesia but nowadays can be found in most grocery stores throughout Southeast Asia. While tofu is commonplace, tempeh is also made from soybeans but has a firmer texture and different flavour. It also boasts a higher protein content and the fermentation process makes it easy for the body to digest. With its probiotic benefits, your stomach will thank you.
Top tip: Try marinating tempeh in soy sauce, garlic and ginger and stir frying or baking. It makes a tasty and nutritious meat replacement and can be added to your salads or stir-fry dishes.
Switch spinach for amaranth
Both the red and green varieties of amaranth leaves (locally known in Indonesia and Malaysia as bayam) pack a serious nutritional punch. Sometimes called Chinese spinach, these leaves are extremely easy to find as amaranth can grow easily in adverse environments. The leaves have a slight tangy taste and sweetness which complement a salad, curry or stir-fry dish. Amaranth leaves are a great source of minerals and vitamins, especially Vitamin K which plays an essential role in helping the blood to clot.
Top tip: Make room for this green in your diet and also incorporate it into a smoothie or vegetable-based juice.
Quench thirst with a coconut
Fruit and vegetable shopping is thirsty work, particularly in outdoor markets. Luckily, young green coconuts are ubiquitous throughout Southeast Asia and one of the best ways to naturally hydrate on the go. Rich in electrolytes, coconut water is a great post-workout drink and can also help replenish fluids lost in hot weather. Just bring a reusable straw, and get sipping!
Top tip: Do grab a spoon and dig into the young coconut meat inside, which is an excellent source of iron as well as healthy fats.
So forget the acai powder and next time you’re exploring your local market, keep an eye out for what’s fresh and available. You might just be surprised as to how many nutrient dense ingredients we have in our own backyards.