Food

Penang gov’t says S’pore hawker culture not ‘so authentic’, M’sia can try for solo Unesco recognition

Sure boh?

Photo: Khalifah Wisata

The Penang state government thinks that Malaysia has a shot at winning the Unesco recognition for its hawker culture by going solo rather than a joint nomination with Singapore as their hawker culture isn’t “so authentic”.

In case you didn’t know, Singapore’s been caught in a ‘culture war’ of sorts with Malaysia ever since Singapore nominated its own hawker culture for recognition, with both sides seeking to ‘claim’ credit for themselves.

There is also the contention of Malaysian Laksa vs. Singapore’s chili crab.

For whom to claim?

After Singapore announced its plans to apply for nomination, it sparked a debate within and between Singapore and Malaysia about who really “owns” hawker culture.

Maxwell Hawker Centre. Photo: Vichy Deal/Shutterstock

Even Chef Wan, a Malaysian celebrity known for his bold comments chipped in, saying,

“People who lack confidence in their food will go all out to do these things for recognition.”

But the Singapore National Heritage Board has said this effort wasn’t about “claiming” anything at all but recognising the importance of the culture itself.

A week ago, Malaysia proposed an amicable solution to the whole mess: Malaysia-Singapore joint recognition. However, that wasn’t particularly popular with both sides of the causeway. Makes you wonder how an Israel-Palestine two-state solution is even possible if humans can’t even agree on food.

But this might be the best horse for Malaysia to bet on as Unesco itself encouraged this decision, according to Penang Tourism Development and Heritage Committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin.

Penang: we can do this on our own

Penang Assam Laksa. Photo: Sayuti Zainudin/Malay Mail

But the Penang government is still considering its options and sees a glimmer of hope in a solo application, particularly because it feels Singapore’s hawker is not “so authentic” due to the government controlling all hawker activities.

“Hawker culture in Penang is more unique than the hawker culture in Singapore, as we still have hawkers by the roadside and in food courts.

Yeoh Soon Hin, Penang Tourism Development and Heritage Committee chairman

A joint application would mean that it must include the totality of Malaysian hawker cultures —not just Penang’s—and Yeoh is fine with that as he sees better prospects there.

Although he has said that the Penang state leaves the National Heritage Department to decide on either a joint or solo application and in any case, should do so more aggressively, noting that Malaysia should piggyback on Singapore’s application. This route was also “encouraged by Unesco”.

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