World-wise Cuisine

From couscous to shabu-shabu, ethnic restaurants tempt our taste buds, but which dishes are healthiest?

Table Set in Brightly Colored Booth
Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

According to a Japanese proverb, your life is extended 75 days for every new food you taste. If that's true, it's becoming easier than ever to lengthen your life span, given the recent explosion of restaurants offering authentic dishes from around the world. The six cuisines featured here ― Caribbean, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, and Mediterranean and Middle/Near Eastern ― are among the hottest to hit American shores in recent years.

Since many restaurants serving these cuisines don't inform you whether their dishes are low-fat or low-sodium (yet), Cooking Light looked at some popular choices to determine which are the healthiest. But as with all dining ― and cooking ― some general tips apply: Order sauces on the side, especially creamy ones or those high in sodium, and remember that grilled or baked entrèes tend to be the healthiest. If you usually request a special order, such as chicken with the skin removed or a dish without nuts, feel free to ask for the same consideration at these restaurants.

And don't be nervous about communicating your needs to a waiter with little or no English in his or her repertoire. "It's ok to ask questions about food preparation and to be clear about changes you want," says Pamela Kittler, coauthor of the Fork, Fingers, & Chopsticks newsletter. "But be respectful and open to cultural differences." Some wait staff, for example, might be unlikely to press you for clarification because they don't want to insinuate that you've been unclear. So keep talking ― nicely ― until you're sure you and the waiter understand each other.

As French author and gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once mused, "The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star." So head out to that unknown restaurant with confidence ― your road to happiness can easily be delicious and healthy.

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