I Tried Eating Healthy At Singapore’s Fast Food Restaurants
These days, fast food is like Tinder. We had barely gotten over the ghosting of McGriddles when the Ha (Ha) Cheong Gai Burger and the Durian McFlurry burst into our lives.

There’s barely enough time to register our disappointment before each trend moves on.

However, this is not a hype review of the latest gimmick. This is a review of those long-suffering fast food menu items that no one ever orders. I’m going to review the salads, soups and other healthy options that have left to languish, forgotten and unloved in junk food purgatory.

McDonalds Red Rice Porridge

The McDonalds Red Rice Porridge is Congee which contains Goji berries, Shiitake mushrooms, Sweet Potato, silken beancurd, and corn. According to Businessinsider, it was created for McDonalds by Anna Lim, an embryologist-turned-chef who also started The Soup Spoon franchise.

The dish was reportedly inspired by Anna’s travels in Bhutan, where zinc-rich ‘red rice’ is a daily staple because no other variety of rice can grow in Bhutan’s high attitudes.

If so, I hope the Bhutanese are better cooks than McDonalds/Anna Lim because I pity any poor soul who has to eat this everyday. The Red Rice porridge contains 6 fancy ingredients but tastes like one: Goop.

There are no flavours of goji, beancurd or mushroom because everything has been blended into a ill-defined, unrecognisable mush. Thank god for the corn kernels, because their sweetness is the only thing redeeming the porridge from its closest culinary cousin: a very salty arts-and-crafts glue.

Whilst eating, I am reminded of Oliver Twist asking for more ‘gruel’ in that Victorian workhouse for orphaned boys.

4Fingers Tofu & Mushroom Salad

The 4 Fingers Tofu Salad costs $9.95 and it is surprisingly tasty for a restaurant that specialises in fried chicken.

It contains mushroom, tofu, lettuce and salad dressing. Although there are only 4 ingredients, each individual component is very well done. The tofu is glazed with a soy thing that’s neither too salty nor too sweet, and the roasted sesame sauce actually tastes vaguely like sesame. The lettuce is of that very verdant romaine variety, and the mushrooms … are sufficiently inoffensive that I can’t find fault with them.

Best of all, the whole salad is pre-tossed in the kitchen. Every component is evenly coated with the sesame dressing so you don’t to have tear open any sauce packets, or use your fork to mix the salad with agonising slowness and inefficiency.

My only criticism is the sauce. Ratio-wise, there’s way too much sauce on the salad and you would definitely need a drink after you’ve finished.

Burger King Salad

10 minutes is a long time to prepare a pre-prepared salad, and I suspect they couldn’t locate my salad because no one ever orders it. This nagging suspicion is confirmed by the bizarre exchange that followed:

BK staff: Is the sauce okay? The thousand island.

Me: What else do you have?

BK staff: Chilli and ketchup

Me: … It’s fine.

Okay, that was a lie. It’s not fine because even by fast food standards, this is an exceptionally sad salad indeed.

The plastic box opens to reveal a machine-cut medley of lettuce, red cabbage, carrot strips and exactly three cherry tomatoes. The tomatoes were definitely the highlight because they tasted like tomatoes, whereas everything else was a mouthful of cold crunchy nothing. The carrots tasted like cabbage, which tasted of lettuce, which was itself indistinguishable from the cardboard-like carrot strips.

This is a salad prepared by an someone who has heard salads described, but never tasted a salad or seen one in real life. 1/10. Sad.

Subway Soup 

Subway soup must be the most popular side dish in Singapore. The first outlet told me they sold out and the second outlet claimed not to have any. Despite not being advertised in any shape or form, Subway just can’t seem to keep soup on its shelves.

However, when I finally tracked some down at Singpost, the sandwich artist gave me this exact look when I ordered soup and nothing else:

Not sure why she felt concern for my mental well-being. It tasted fine.

The available choices are either tomato or mushroom, and the available garnishes are black pepper or fuck you. And since I was feeling unchallenged by my frozen-lettuce diet, I decided to go for the tomato. Black pepper? Yes please. Anything to prevent my tongue from falling into a coma out of sheer boredom.

Okay, the overpowering black pepper was a bad choice but the soup itself was unexpectedly proficient. It was neither too watery to call itself soup, nor too tart so as to resemble ketchup.

All in all, it resembles the readymade tomato-and-basil soup one finds in an upscale supermarket. You could do a lot worse.

Subway’s Brothers-All-Natural Fruit Crisps

Sadly, the same cannot be said for their ‘Fruit Crisps’. I have never seen anyone buy these fruit crisps and now I understand why: they are awful.

The texture resembles drywall plaster with only the faintest whiff of banana or strawberry. When it crumbles into a gel after a few chews, it gets stuck to your teeth and becomes impossible to remove without a toothbrush.

Fruit Crisps claims that it uses the freshest and most luscious fruit from the ‘best growing regions around the world’, only to ‘freeze-dry’ the product, thus stripping it of any flavor. It is also ‘gluten-free’ and ‘peanut-free’. But why would freeze-dried fruit have gluten or nuts to begin with?

Vague pretensions to health is the most likely answer. Avoid this product, it is a waste of perfectly good fruit and a insult to crisps.

Mos Burger Natsumi Burger

According to Google, the Japanese word ‘Natsumi’ means something like ‘Summer Beautiful’. It is usually a female name, but also the marketing image that Mos Burger wants to evoke with this lettuce-for-buns burger: freshness, clear skies, and a vague sense of creeping dread as summer fast approaches and you realise that you’re nowhere close to that beach bod.

Given the popularity of keto, paleo and low-carb diets, Natsumi’s appearance is not entirely surprising, or unwelcome. Once you get used to the sensation of the lettuce between your fingertips, it tastes quite alright. Natsumi lettuce is fresher, crispier and superior in every way to Burger King’s sad iceberg. Its texture pairs well with a soft meaty beef patty and the tartness of its sauce.

For a brief moment, I almost forget that I was eating a hamburger without buns. Perhaps lettuce burgers were indeed the healthy future awaiting us, I thought, just as the beef patty slipped out and landed in the basket with a soft splat, forcing me to lick the wrapper for sauce.

Carls’ Junior Char-grilled Chicken Salad

I have nothing much to say about this salad except that it is very respectable effort for a franchise not renowned for its moderation or common sense. Chicken salad gets no points for imagination, but then again, innovation is likely the least of your priorities if you’re ordering salad at Carl’s Jr.

The marinated chicken breast is grilled to tender perfection and it has a generous helping of cheese, which can redeem even the most dismal of salads when deployed in battalion strength. The sauce, though probably recycled from its burger menu, is thick and creamy and available in my favourite flavor – Ranch – so I’m quite happy eating this unhealthy healthy option for dinner.

They even bothered to add 2 rings of sliced onion to the salad. A+ for effort.

In conclusion, I have to say: most of the healthy options left me unsatisfied but some are better than others. The worst is a toss-up between McDonalds’ Red Rice Goop and Burger King’s parody of a salad. The best is probably 4 Fingers, which actually managed to please this carnivore despite a lack of protein in its Tofu-mushroom surprise.

However, I do wish that franchises would wean themselves from lettuce.

Big Lettuce must be giving out blowjobs aplenty to all the right people because everyone uses lettuce and nothing else. It has become synonymous with ‘healthy-eating’ to an unhealthy degree. Most diets would probably end better if there were more sweet potatoes, tomatoes, Zucchinis, or any vegetable that doesn’t feel like munching on thin air.

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