Boba, Buns and Confessions of the Skinny Asian Foodie

I know what people think when they see me —“It’s easy for those Asians to stay skinny because all they eat is rice and vegetables.”

Like hell. If they only knew the calorie traps we Asian Americans face day in and day out. They’ve got nothing, nothing, to compare with what we Asians must contend with. Burgers? Fries? Mocha frappocinos? Burgers? Give me a break! Those are mere passing temptations, not mandatory social rituals.

For an Asian, especially an Asian foodie (and what Asian American isn’t?), there’s no escaping daily encounters with 450-calorie cups of boba, 350-calorie curry pork buns or 700-calorie washbowls of shaved ice without avoiding even all social contact. It’s not as easy as substituting cole slaw for that side of fries or just having a cup of tea instead of that frappocino.

We Asians can find ourselves migrating en masse to size 9 jeans within three insouciant weeks unless we take determined measures. After years of struggling to work off massive injections of calories mandated by all-too frequent encounters at Asian cafés, bakeries, noodle shops, barbecue houses, dim sum palaces, etc, I have devised these coping strategies for which your jeans will breathe a collective sigh of relief:

1. Boba is a Meal and a Food Group. A milk tea boba will supply your RDA of calcium and vitamin D — not to mention about 450-550 calories. So if there is the slightest risk of encountering an Asian acquaintance that day, skip that glass of milk and that lunch. And since it’s unlikely you have the character to skip the tapioca balls, definitely ask the counter person for half-sweet or even quarter sweet. Lollicup and most civilized boba shops are good about this.

2. Become a Dim Sum Boxer. Buyer’s remorse is a fact of life at dim sum palaces. Even as I give cavalier and munificent nods to plates of rolls, buns and dumplings, I am wishing I had the character to shoo those pesky cart ladies like flies. The next best thing is to hog the conversation while sipping your cup of tea and nibbling on the Chinese broccoli and maybe a tofu veggie roll or two. Then, if you’ve been very very good, as the meal is winding down allow yourself a sweet custard bun. Maybe two. The leftovers get boxed and pushed forcefully on your friends. Now you know what’s behind those post-meal arguments at dim sum palaces.

3. Order Half-Noodles. Nothing says an order of ramen or pho means a bowl filled with noodles. Order that waiter to give you only half or even a third the noodles. That way you get more broth, which is the best part anyways.

4. Nibble Each Other’s Pastries. Napoleon had his Waterloo — I must have my napoleon… and chocolate mousse layer cakes, and… I can’t possibly leave a bakery without eating at least three or four different treats. The only solution to this dilemma is for each of you to order something different and do an open-fork thing. The social shame of taking huge bites out of other people’s pastries will keep you honest.

5. Train before every meal. Like every good boxer, you have to do your roadwork before each big bout. Even if you are good about following the above rules, you never know when you will lose all self-control and go bonkers on a washbasin full of shaved ice topped with sweet cream, red beans and fruit. Five or six miles in the morning is your best protection.