Fri, Aug 31, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Singapore bid for UNESCO listing sets off food fight


People eat lunch at the Maxwell Food Centre in Singapore yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Singapore’s bid to get UN recognition for its street food has sparked a cross-border culinary clash, with angry chefs in Malaysia pouring cold water on the idea.

The city-state is home to many open-air food courts where vendors, known as “hawkers,” serve dishes such as chicken and rice, noodles and meat skewers at relatively cheap prices.

Some hawkers have even been awarded Michelin stars by the culinary bible, which has had a Singapore edition since 2016.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) last week announced that the city-state would nominate its hawker culture to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage, describing Singapore’s food centers as “community dining rooms” that form part of the nation’s identity.

However, the move sparked anger in Malaysia, whose citizens have long claimed their own street food — which shares many similarities with Singapore’s — is far superior to anything in their tiny neighbor.

Malaysian celebrity chef Redzuawan Ismail, commonly known as Chef Wan, told reporters that he thought Singapore’s UN bid was “rubbish.”

“When you talk about hawkers, Singapore is not the only one to have hawker culture... Why [do you] need to go to UNESCO to patent? Is yours so special?” said Ismail, who once appeared on a TV show with US celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

Another well-known local chef, Ismail Ahmad, insisted that Malaysia is a street food “paradise” that should be applying for UN recognition.

“Even the Singaporean people come to Malaysia and enjoy our stalls,” he said.

However, Singaporeans have dismissed the anger in Malaysia, insisting a UNESCO listing is about more than just food.

“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,” acclaimed Singaporean food critic K.F. Seetoh (司徒國輝) was quoted as saying in the city-state’s New Paper.

“If you have it, flaunt it,” he added.

The countries have had testy relations since Singapore became an independent state in 1965 after being ejected from a brief union with Malaysia, but rows about food tend to get particularly heated.

Singapore plans to submit its nomination to UNESCO in March next year, and an announcement on whether the bid has been successful is expected in 2020.

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