Unesco bid

Singapore's hawker culture move starts food fight with Malaysia

Malaysian celeb chefs and Singaporeans dish it out on whether to list or not

Singapore will be nominating its hawker culture for Unesco's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Singapore will be nominating its hawker culture for Unesco's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI
Singapore will be nominating its hawker culture for Unesco's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Celebrity chef Redzuawan Ismail, better known as Chef Wan.

Singapore's bid to seek Unesco recognition for its hawker culture has got a bunch of Malaysian chefs banging their pans as they protest against the move.

Celebrity chef Redzuawan Ismail, who is better known as Chef Wan, called it "arrogant behaviour", reported Malaysian news outlet The Star yesterday.

"People who lack confidence in their food will go all out to do these things for recognition," he added.

His remarks follow an announcement by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Aug 19) that Singapore would be nominating its hawker culture for Unesco's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Asked about their thoughts on Chef Wan's comments, Singaporeans said there is room for various food cultures to co-exist, and added that it is not unexpected that some in Malaysia will criticise the move.

"It is understandable that some people would react this way, given that hawker culture can also be found in Malaysia and Indonesia," said Mr Winston Tay, 28, who is self-employed. "There are many similarities in food cultures in the region."

However, Ms Karen Koh, 27, who works in public relations, noted that over the past 50 years or so, the food cultures in the countries of this region have each developed unique traits worthy of celebration.

"I think there's room for co-existence," she said.

According to The Star, Chef Wan said food was universal and supposed to spark friendship and joy.

"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. Now, it's up to the level where they want to take their hawker culture to Unesco," he said.

"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," he added.

Another Malaysian celebrity chef, Datuk Ismail Ahmad, also said Singapore's hawker culture is often confined within buildings, unlike that of Malaysia, where it can be found in both rural and urban areas, The Star reported.

"That's the uniqueness of ours compared to theirs. Theirs is monotonous," he said. "Their hawker centres are beautiful but tasteless."

A civil servant who wanted to be known only as Mr Lau stressed that Singapore does "have a food history, and that cannot be denied".

"If Malaysia wants, it can also put up its hawker food culture for a Unesco bid," said the 38-year-old.

Meanwhile, National University of Singapore undergraduate Tay Bing Sen, 22, said Singapore need not be too conscious over others' perceptions.

He said: "Whatever you do, you're bound to get supporters and naysayers. Singapore should just do what we think is right."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2018, with the headline Singapore's hawker culture move starts food fight with Malaysia. Subscribe