Healthy Fast Food: Oxymoron?


Posted October 29, 2013 in Food & Drink

Panorama Test

With the fast food market predominately controlled by places liked McDonalds, Taco Bar, and Max, it’s hard to imagine fast food being healthy. We’ve seen what fast food lovers become – it’s not a pretty sight, but we often find ourselves sucked into their cheap prices and fast production.  With time becoming increasingly more precious in every day life, sometimes we seem to think that it may be our only option. Fortunately for us that’s starting not to be completely true. Stockholm has started to welcome in a healthy change to the fast food industry starting with two different food concepts: Noodle Mama and Zócalo.

Noodle Mama

The saying “it’s the little things” rings very true for a place like Noodle Mama. Owners Arni Thor and his wife Mariko Thor wanted to make a warm and welcoming atmosphere when they created Noodle Mama. Yes, its fast food but the details of the eatery didn’t happen as quickly as the food is made for its customers. The couple coming from a creative background, originally being in the Theater world, put their creative juices to work and designed a concept that was complimentary of what Stockholm might be missing and Mariko’s Asian background.

The concept is simple – a Japanese inspired noodle or salad based dish. First – pick a ris noodle, soba noodle, or mango salad bowl. Then pick an ingredient to go with it – chicken, tofu, beef, shrimp, or salmon. Then top it with their assortment of dressings – sriracha, sweetness chili, teriyaki, bulgogi, soyvi, or mangogo. Then there is the option to make a noodle bowl into a soup, if desired. The last choice lies in how spicy you like things – soft mama, medium mama, or mad mama. The cartoons that depicted these stages of spiciness really made me laugh – just one of the many cute touches of Noodle Mama.

The best part is – veggies is not really an option, it’s a given. The vegetables topped on my plate of noodles were more than I could ask for and they looked fresh as can be. The soba noodles are also an authentic Asian touch for the menu and a healthy alternative to ris noodles. “Our goal is to create quick healthy meals for people who don’t have the time to have a sit-down meal but still want to get some nutrients from fresh and healthy ingredients,” owner Arni Thor explained to me. “People don’t realize how places like McDonalds are initially satisfying but leave you hungry only an hour later. Noodle Mama gives you a fast healthy meal that will leave you full for a long while. That’s what we wanted to provide for people in Stockholm.”

The snack choices were also a great addition with a lot of the snacks being homemade by Noodle Mama – a delicious apple pie with cream on top (for all those who need a break from all that healthiness) and a very jam-packed fiber bar that takes more than one try to fall in love with (I was overjoyed to taste apricots in it). The mango juice is also a customer favorite and a perfect beverage for your meal that will leave your mouth with a beautiful flavor!

The small touches were a stand out for me. I noticed the Abbey Lane inspired picture with the Noodle Mama cartoon right away.  The place also had matching trays that did the same with inspiration from other things such as Miami Vice and Superman. Arni told me that a friend of theirs had done all the illustrations for their Noodle Mama concept and it’s exactly how they pictured it to be. The music playing was Tokyo inspired with a dabble into some Icelandic and other “chill” vibes. “We wanted to make sure that you get a really warm feeling entering. I have seen so many places in the U.S. that think just because they serve healthy food the whole place needs to be made out of steel. It doesn’t need to be that way. You can feel warm and comfy in a healthy food place too!”

Noodle Mama just recently celebrating their one year anniversary opening in Stockholm now has two locations – one in Kungsholmen and one in Södermalm. As the place gets increasingly popular people are starting to realize how yummy clean eating can really be. Maybe you don’t have to eat bad to eat fast? Not maybe… definitely.

Zócalo

People don’t normally think as Mexican food as a healthy choice for a meal, especially when it comes to fast food. Zócalo has done its best to be a healthier choice for Mexican food in Stockholm by using fresh ingredients and healthy additions to most of its menu options. Zócalo is the Swedish love child of San Francisco’s Mexican tastes, bringing the taqueria flavors over to Scandinavian seas.

Owner Einar Örn Einarsson knew that Stockholm’s food industry was missing something when she opened Zócalo. “There is a lack of quality Mexican here. There are a few places that focus on authentic Mexican, but we really missed the big burritos that we were able to find in the Mission District of San Fran.  We also felt that there was a distinct lack of healthy options in the fast food market here in Stockholm.  When you want good healthy food in Stockholm there usually aren’t that many options except for expensive and not very tasty salads.”

I ordered the pulled pork quesadilla without hesitation and after receiving it was immediately impressed with the homemade taste of the pork. It didn’t seem like something that was pre-made and stuffed with fatty oils and added artificial flavors. The flavors were real and the texture was spot-on, which is pretty essential for a slow-cooked meat. I was also impressed with the amount for what you paid for. Leaving hungry is not likely at Zócalo.  My coworker’s burrito was overstuffed with vegetables – beans, corn, salad, etc. Maybe too much so! But when did too many vegetables hurt anyone, right? It’s a nutritious way to stay full!

The healthy ingredients and assurance that there aren’t any added artificial flavors are the forefront differences between Zócalo and other Mexican food places. “Our focus is on selling healthy food that we make from scratch.  A lot of restaurants try to make things easier or cheaper by using all kinds of extra artificial stuff in their food. We don’t want that. Which means that we make our guacamole using fresh avocado, cilantro, lime and tomatoes, without any artificial colorings or flavorings or other e-number stuff.  I personally eat at Zócalo almost every day and I even bring my 18-month old son to the restaurant, so I want to make sure that the food we sell at Zócalo is good for you.”

The Mexican place is not only an eatery though – it also has a bar. Zócalo’s location located on Klarabergsgatan has a bar in the back with happy hour specials including some of our favorite Mexican signature drinks, like margaritas! So if you’re looking for a quick place to eat after work with a celebratory drink that the day has ended, you don’t have to feel bad going to Zócalo, because you’ll know what to expect – fast Mexican eats with only the freshest ingredients.

Words by Angela Markovic

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