Alor Divers and a healthy food choice

Warning: only read this if you care about the quality of food on your diving holiday
Maybe you are deciding to take a diving holiday and you already have an idea about the destination. But you don’t spend all your time dipped in the water… So before booking your trip you probably study and compare the above water aspects of dive operators. Does quality of food play an important role for you? If yes, then let us explain why at Alor Divers we believe the food is of great quality and good for your health as well!
Let’s chop it up in several bites so you can savor it in the order of preference:
Hygiene: Going to a local market is a very colorful experience. At a closer look there is also an abundance of dirt. To make sure that what enters kitchen are vegetables minus dirt, we routinely deliver all the vegetable and fruit produce directly to our “cleaning station”, where they are well scrubbed and rinsed before being stored either on a storage shelves or in the fridge, which are all being regularly disinfected –same goes for cutting boards and countertops for that matter. All the veggies are rewashed before hitting their dedicated cutting board in a food preparation step. Salads, vegetables for cooking and raw flesh get separate cutting boards and all crudités/salads are additionally washed in drinking water. It is also important to mention that we have trained two ladies of our kitchen staff to work in a “salad department” and they are almost obsessively washing their hands prior to any crudités handling. Also – different food groups not only get their own cutting boards but also their zone in the kitchen like this salad can never make friends with raw protein…well except if we get our hands on a fresh fish which will finish as ceviche or a coconut cream raw fish salad!
Last but not least: we are in tropics and domestic flies are an annoyance all year round. Despite our great dislike of this insect we are not out to eradicate the species (even though we daily set numerous fly traps). Since we cannot fight them out of our territory we have found a way around it (besides the traps) – our strategy is a countless number of tissue napkins and other sorts of lids that cover any food ingredient waiting for the grand finale – cooking. Once seasoned and cooked all is transferred into covered serving plates, safely waiting to be eaten.
Fats, fats, fats…good or bad? both, clearly – just need to know which one to choose! This topic is a big thing for us in our personal household. But since we are living at Alor Divers resort our personal household is Alor Divers kitchen so all our guests are simultaneously reaping benefits from our smart choice of fats and oils. Since years now there is hype about the health benefits of tropical oils. Much has been said about it on the internet so we will not talk extensively about it. We just want you to know what kind of fats we are using and give you few short reasons why…
– Coconut oil: we use it for our curries, some stir fries and a variety of our homemade cakes, muffins and cookies. Coconut oil can be classified as superfood! Its saturated fats are medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) that metabolize straight in your liver which can have therapeutic effect on brain and digestive disorders. In parts of the world where coconut oil is a dietary staple, people are found to be in excellent health with no evidence of heart disease. Additionally MTCs from coconut oil have been shown to increase the metabolic rate and therefore facilitating weight loss over long term, also by helping to restore the health of your thyroid gland who acts as a metabolism regulator. Coconut oil can also kill harmful microorganisms due to its high lauric acid content which is also a natural component of human milk (the part that supports the immune protection of an infant)! Even though saturated fat, studies are showing coconut oil does not harm the blood lipid profile like previously thought. If this is not already great enough, we are happy to add that applied externally coconut oil can protect against hair damage, cleanse and moisturize your skin and function as a sunscreen! Our coconut oil is not cold pressed but it is organic and still carries all of the benefits mentioned above! If you think what you read is too good to be true we encourage you to make your own search and hopefully is not long before you will purchase your own bottle of virgin coconut oil at the nearest health store 
– Palm oil: we use it for stir frying and especially deep frying. In this paragraph we will not go into polemic about oil palm plantations, even though we strongly agree that their unsustainable development is wrong, dangerous for environment and needs to be under tighter control. Palm oil was in use way before the commercial exploitation of oil palm, archeological evidence suggests it was most likely available even in ancient Egypt! What are its advantages? Palm oil is – same as coconut oil- saturated fat with a difference that it also contains a small proportion of unsaturated fats. Due to its high percentage of saturated fats it is excellent for stir frying and deep frying as his chemical structure assures the oil stays stable even at high temperatures needed for deep frying. Additionally it contains vitamin E which protects it from oxidation and contributes to oil’s long shelf life. Bottom line – palm oil is better alternative for stir frying and deep frying than other vegetable oils. Important note: due to its chemical stability palm oil can be reused for deep frying, which is a common practice in restaurants. But this practice is safe only until the color of the oil stays in the shades of dark yellow – light brown. We discard any used oil as soon as its color turns too brown which in practice means we use it up to max 3 times.
– Butter: we use it for some cakes and few main dishes. Butter is a health food if consumed in healthy quantities! At the moment only canned butter is available in Alor but we encourage you to get the best quality raw butter from pasture raised cows for your personal consumption at home. It is a great source of vitamins, minerals, healthy fatty acids and good cholesterol which we all need for optimum health. Its butyric acid is loved by gut’s healthy microbiota (all the good guys in our intestines) so butter is directly supporting the health of our digestive system.
– Virgin olive oil: we use for salad dressings and some vegetable dishes. As olive oil and its health benefits are known worldwide I will give no further explanation on this type of oil.
– Margarine: A BIG NO !!! This is the one we feel very strong about. Our common sense is to trust more a nature than a chemist when it comes to a food. This butter substitute was created by French men in 1869 on orders from Emperor Napoleon III to create it for armed forces and lower classes. Modern margarine is made mainly from vegetable oil and water. The main process of obtaining margarine from those two ingredients is hydrogenation which elevates the melting point of the product and rends it (semi) solid at ambient temperature. The level of hydrogenation determines the level of solidness. What also forms during this process are so called “trans” bonds inside molecules which remain present in the final product and its fats can be called trans fats. If you haven’t heard yet of how detrimental this kind of fat is for your health than we advise you to search on the net to hopefully give it up forever. There is a new generation of “trans fat free” margarine but we would steer away from that one as well. The only reason we have margarine in our kitchen is to grease the baking pans which are then layered with parchment paper and the margarine helps to keep that one in place. To say you don’t really get any of it in your mouth would be a safe statement.
MSG (monosodium glutamate) a.k.a. flavor enhancer is another no in our kitchen whenever we can avoid it, which is almost all the time. Although MSG is a natural byproduct of fermentation process and gives the “umami” taste (Japanese term for the 5th taste “meatiness”), we believe that regularly adding an artificially made MSG to your food is not the best practice. MSG tricks your tongue into making you think a certain food is high in protein and thus nutritious by stimulating taste buds that react to a presence of protein in a dish. So it literally not only changes the perception of taste but also the perception of nutritional value of food. It is actually quite an addictive practice and many Asians can’t imagine their meal without adding a pinch of MSG to their plate. But you don’t have to change a continent to read MSG on the food label. It is a very common food additive generally used in processed food you get in your local supermarket (canned food, pre-packed frozen meals, salad dressings, crackers, salty snacks etc). If the food you buy is not wholesome then there is a great chance to find MSG on the ingredient list. Common adverse effects linked to regular consumption of MSG include obesity, eye damage, headaches, fatigue, depression, rapid heartbeat, tingling and numbness. At Alor Divers we never add MSG in its pure form to the food we cook. However – in Indonesia is difficult to source cooking condiments without MSG so we do occasionally use one of those sauces for our dishes – the oyster sauce. As mentioned before, what is dangerous is accumulated effect of regular consumption so occasional dish should be ok. But we can always omit this particular sauce on special request.
Vegetables and fruits are all grown locally and in season, and at least majority of them – if not all – we believe are organic (deducting from their appearance and based on answers we get from the farmers). By buying locally we support Alor’s, Pantar’s and Timor’s (at 60 km from Alor Island) farmers and we are reducing our carbon print. We are also reaping benefits of produce grown in accordance with the season, which is the produce with the best taste and the best nutrient quality. The variety is limited because not many vegetable can handle the harshness of Alorese climate, but we try to compensate with variety of seasonings and many of our guests are surprised by all we can do from what little we have. To be honest we must mention our guests are occasionally disappointed with the lack of variety in fruits. Having holidays in tropical Indonesia probably raises expectations of having a great assortment of exotic fruits available at all times. That might be true for big cities and in touristic Bali but Alor is a place of extreme dryness during 4 months a year and water reserves are not bountiful as on other much bigger islands. So fruits produce depends solemnly on what nature allows. Some fruit trees and plants are well adapted and we get almost year round the papaya, mandarins and bananas. Then there are short seasons of watermelon, pineapple, jackfruit, sugar apple and mangoes. Compare to big supermarket that sounds quite humble but on the up side the taste of local fruits are superior to what you are used to … or at least this is what our guests say!
Special food restrictions: least but not last – we can adapt our meals for different food requirements. In last few years we witnessed a steep rise in food intolerances and allergies. However frustrating this might be for “unlucky” individuals, we do our best here at Alor Divers to accommodate special need as much as we can. Our staff has many experiences in catering for vegetarians and vegans, as well as gluten-free, nuts free, dairy free, MSG free and crustaceans’ free diets.
Our lunch menu offers two vegetable dishes, one protein dish (fish, meat or chicken) and a daily salad. Our dinner is a combination of a delicious soup, a protein dish and a vegetable plate. So even if you don’t have any special food restrictions, there is a great chance you will find something suiting your palate at every meal in Alor Divers restaurant ;-).
Bon apetit!

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Anders Nyberg