GEORGETOWN - Penang has decided to ban foreigners from being employed as the "main cooks" at hawker stalls, in a move to preserve the Malaysian state's food heritage and flavour.
In a state famous for its char kway teow, laksa and nasi kandar, all vendors operating from coffee shops, hawker centres, food courts and the streets must from next year ensure that only locals are employed to cook local delicacies.
"The main idea of this is to safeguard Penang's food heritage and maintain the flavours that are unique to Penang," news website The Malaysian Insider yesterday quoted Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng as saying, after a state exco meeting.
"We hope by taking this measure, we can retain our unique local taste and show visitors the warmth of Penang."
The "local cooks" condition will be part of hawker licences next year, but the implementation will be in stages; there will be a one-year grace period from Jan 1 for hawkers to adjust to the new condition.
The Penang authorities will issue special stickers to hawkers, to certify that the food is authentic.
Mr Lim said the rule will help ensure that Penang's hawker food business would not be taken over by foreigners. But foreigners can still be hired to handle orders, clean up or prepare ingredients, and eateries with centralised kitchens will not be subject to the ruling.
Penang Municipal Council secretary Ang Aing Thye said the councils will study "grey areas" - such as the type of food the hawkers sell - before they fully implement the new ruling.
"We will start with what we can easily define first," he said.
Mr Lim first made this proposal earlier this year, getting mixed reactions from the public.
But exco member Chow Kon Yeow yesterday said a survey of more than 14,000 people conducted by the local councils in July and August found that 87 per cent of respondents supported this move to hire local cooks.
Singaporeans had also apparently praised this idea.
"They told me they felt that Singapore should have done the same a long time ago," Mr Lim said, of the feedback he received during his visits to the Republic.