Culinary Claims

01 Oct 2009

Malaysia’s Tourism Minister has said that the country needs to ‘lay claim’ to national dishes that have become integrated into the cuisines of other Asian nations such as chicken rice, bak kut teh (pork rib soup), chilli crab, nasi lemak (coconut-flavored rice) and laksa.

At the opening of the Malaysian International Gourmet Festival, Minister Ng Yen Yen accused some countries of hijacking various national dishes. ‘Chilli crab is Malaysian. Hainanese chicken rice is Malaysian. We have to lay claim to our food’, she said, adding that in three months time the country will identify more nationally important dishes.

However, some are arguing that given that Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia share a common Asian heritage and many dishes have common origins across borders it’s not right for anyone to stake a claim. “We were all once part of Malaya and some of the dishes, such as nasi lemak have been around for at least 100 years,” said Hassan Abdul Khadir, stall owner in a Singaporean food centre.

Singapore Tourism Board’s Andrew Phua said that Singapore’s rich multi-ethnic heritage has contributed to a rich and colorful food culture. ‘The cuisine that early migrants brought with them decades ago has since evolved to become local favorites. It has also taken on a blend across cultures,’ he said.

Lawyers and food consultants assert that it will be difficult for any country to claim ownership of a particular dish. ‘The dishes have evolved due to the different cultures in their own countries’, said Singapore food consultant K. F. Seetoh. ‘For example, bak kut teh tastes very different in Singapore and Malaysia.’

Food consultant Violet Oon spoke of the difficulty of any nation claiming ownership of a dish: “Much of what is national American food has originated elsewhere, such as hotdogs, which were actually German in origin,” she said. “The cuisine of a people tells the unique history of the passage of people between countries and the heritage that many countries share.”

Source: My Sinchew

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