Take a trip through these handy tips to make your next holiday abroad even more delectable. By Jack McGee.
Whether you’re just trying to keep halal or to keep halal and also watch your weight, eating out can be hard at the best of times. Travelling can make things even more complicated, especially when you don’t know where to turn. For a Muslim, there is another ‘h’-word that could be just as important as halal – health. Here are some strategies that will help you stay happy, healthy and halal-conscious when on the road.
Do some online research before you leave on the top halal-friendly restaurants in your destination city. That way you’ll avoid having to succumb to last-minute fast food options, and you’ll have a choice about what you consume. Also look into local halal practices – for example, Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country but has a secular government; it therefore doesn’t issue halal certificates, even if the meat is nearly always produced according to Islamic methods. Similarly, although traditional Malay cuisine is not the most waistline friendly, it is far from being the only halal food available in Malaysian cities: Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, Persian and Western cuisines abound in this country boasting a sophisticated, diverse halal scene.
Words speak louder than actions
Get the local words for what you need. You don’t need to learn them, but if you want to avoid meat or alcohol, or if you want skimmed milk for your latte, buy a small phrasebook, copy your few key words onto some cards and carry them in your handbag. You’ll feel more confident about venturing into unfamiliar cafes and you won’t end up at McDonald’s again or pointing sheepishly at a can of Sprite.
Skip the mile-high pie
Begin your healthy eating habits on the plane – skip the sugar-rich carbonated sodas served with your meal. The juice is also almost as nutritionally poor, often containing as many grams of sugar as a can of soda. Stick to water and the occasional diet soda and you’ll notice your jetlag is reduced as your body is better hydrated. On a long flight, watch one or two movies but try to get as much sleep as possible. If you’re tired the next day, you’re more likely to over-consume caffeine and sugar for energy and also eat excessively.
Choose carbs carefully
Travelling, sightseeing and finding your way in a new place all require energy. We all know that carbs are necessary for energy, but make sure you limit your intake to slow-release carbs as much as possible: wholegrain breads, brown rice and grains. Avoiding easily digestible carbs like white rice and white bread that fill your blood with sugar for only a short while will stop you from having a subsequent ‘food coma’ and feeling sluggish. It will also stop you from needing to worry about your next snack and meal so often.
Forget about the menu
Research the local food and decide what you are going to eat before you get to the restaurant. That way you’ll know what you’re eating and can monitor your intake. Have a few options written down and ask the server to assist you. The server is not your colleague and there’s no need to feel shy – they are like the information desk at a mall and are happy to help you.
Reclaim your refrigerator
When you’re staying at a hotel for a few nights, ask housekeeping to clear the minibar. This is a common request. You’re not going to drink the mini vodkas anyway, and the small fridge is an ideal place to keep a healthy selection of local fruits and beverages. You’ll save a small fortune by not paying the hotel $10 for a teeny tiny bag of chocolates, and you’ll also speed up checkout when it’s time to leave.
Eating while travelling is one of life’s great pleasures. When we return, however, we all fear the scales. But the truth is that travelling doesn’t make you fat. Eating rubbish does. Don’t eat something just because it looks good. Being aware of halal requirements is also an invitation to consider everything that we eat, and to stop and ask ourselves: ‘Is it really necessary?’ Whilst you’re wondering whether the local chocolate cheesecake contains gelatine, why not also ask yourself if you want your thighs to look like gelatine?
Load up the camels
Pack a few snacks for when you are out of the hotel, and especially if you have kids in tow. A high-protein diet keeps blood sugar stable and so will reduce the temptation to reach for sweets and sugary food. High-protein snacks include nuts, turkey jerky, cheese, eggs and peanut butter. Having snacks on hand will help you to avoid taking the easy route of fast food just because it may be the only halal option around.
Burn your habits! Don’t think that just because you’re travelling that you have carte blanche to eat what you like. We all have our favourite dishes in our favourite restaurants around the world, but perhaps it’s time for a change. Perhaps you’ve wanted to lose weight for a while, and you wonder why you haven’t lost any. It’s time to smash old familiar eating habits and stop eating in routine places and for comfort. Or if you are going to a particular restaurant because, say, it’s the only place you can get halal ribs or BBQ and these aren’t available back home, then know that you can’t also have the breakfast buffet pastries the next morning. Don’t have different rules for ‘home’ and ‘away’.
Make a route
You probably know by now that you need to walk as much as possible. Even in the hottest environments we should all be trying to walk around inside malls and offices to get as much exercise as we can. This way if you’re presented with unhealthy options, you’ll be guilt free. When travelling, why not use Google Maps to plot a walking route around your hotel’s neighbourhood? Just print it off and make sure you confirm with your hotel concierge or host that the route is safe and conducive to pedestrians.
Make it easy for other people
Don’t just say you have to eat halal or cannot eat products containing gelatine – tell them what you can eat. If you are familiar with their food then make some suggestions. Also don’t assume that ‘vegetarian’ means meat-free. In some countries, it might just mean ‘lots of vegetables in a light pork broth’. Likewise, many people don’t consider chicken to be meat.
Think outside the box
It might not be healthy or halal to follow the local way of eating – too much emphasis on meat, for example, or cream sauces. Just order a selection of salads and starters and make your own way of enjoying the local food. Sure, it might not be ‘authentic’, but who cares?
Indians and Italians are your best friends. These fantastic cuisines are found in most cities across the world and each hosts many vegetarian options, which are good halal-friendly backup plans when you are in smaller towns in non-Muslim areas.