Singapore foodies: Malaysia, don't be jealous
Singapore's nomination to Unesco is not about whose food is better, say local experts in response to Malaysian criticism
No need to be jealous of our hawker food - that is the riposte of food experts here to criticism in Malaysia over Singapore's bid to seek Unesco recognition for its hawker culture.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced at the National Day Rally on Sunday that hawker culture would be nominated for Unesco's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
This prompted Malaysian celebrity chefs, including Mr Redzuawan Ismail, better known as Chef Wan, to lash out at the move.
In a report in Malaysian news outlet The Star yesterday, Chef Wan said the bid was "arrogant" and Singaporeans "lack confidence in their food".
"Food is meant to be enjoyed by everyone and not for us to pick fights over who owns what. We already fight about everything else, such as territorial claims, oil and water," he said.
"Now it's up to the level where they want to bring their hawker culture to the Unesco. I don't think it's wise for them to do this because it'll create a lot of unhappiness among the people in terms of branding."
Another celebrity chef Ismail Ahmad said Singapore's hawker culture is often confined within buildings, unlike that of Malaysia.
"That's the uniqueness of ours compared to theirs. Theirs is monotonous. Their hawker centres are beautiful but tasteless. Ours are very original and diverse," he told The Star.
When contacted by The New Paper, chefs and food experts here were bemused by the criticism, with acclaimed food critic K.F. Seetoh noting that the nomination is not so much about the food itself, hence talk of a food fight is besides the point.
"The Unesco award is not about food and dishes. It is about the street food culture heritage that bonds people together and is supported by the Government and industry because it is about the community," said Mr Seetoh, who was among those who suggested nominating hawker culture for the Unesco list.
"If you have it, flaunt it. Just like him (Chef Wan) selling himself and his food on international television... He should not be jealous."
The Unesco list, which was started in 2008, aims to demonstrate the diversity of world heritage and ensure its protection.
Singapore's nomination dossier will be submitted to Unesco by March next year, and the result is expected to be announced by end 2020.
If successful, Singapore's hawker culture will join the likes of Malaysia's Mak Yong theatre, Indonesia's batik and India's yoga on the Unesco list.
Chefs also told TNP that local hawker culture is unique and goes far beyond just the food.
Chef Pang Kok Keong, 42, of Antoinette, said: "I think the comments by the Malaysian chefs are misinformed. I'm not sure which hawker centre they went to, but those in Singapore are not tasteless.
"Every hawker centre here is different with its own specialities, which is what I think is so great about the hawker culture here."
He said hawkers should be commended for their hard work, not put down. "I grew up at a fishball noodle stall run by my mother, and I've seen how hard hawkers work," he said.
"My parents took only three days off every year during Chinese New Year. They work so hard providing affordable meals for everyone. It's not something everyone wants to do."
Celebrity chef Violet Oon, 69, of the Violet Oon restaurant group, said Singapore's history of immigration has played a large part in the unique hawker culture here.
"Our culture is certainly different and spells a confluence of diversity. That is wonderful in this age of insistence on monocultural experiences," she said.
Reflecting on the "beauty" of Singapore's hawker culture, Ms Oon said: "I can sit down at a hawker centre and have the whole of Asia on my table. This makes our hawker culture and experience unique in the world.
"If Malaysia wants to nominate their own hawker culture, why not?"