Monday, July 14, 2014

MALAYSIA:::If local cuisine is no longer authentic

The Penang state government is going to develop policies to ban foreign workers from working as main cooks in hawker food businesses to preserve the authenticity of local hawker cuisine. Once the ban is implemented, hawker licences of violators might be revoked.
Hawker food and heritage sites are Penang's main selling points to attract tourists and thus, they should be preserved and protected. In fact, having foreign workers as main cooks is not a problem faced only by Penang, but also other states, particularly big cities like Kuala Lumpur, where eight out of 10 cooks in hawker stalls are now foreign workers. If the government still takes no appropriate actions to curb the problem and hawker owners still do not face it seriously, hawker food business might soon face self-destruction. Once traditional cuisine losses its authenticity, what else is left in Malaysia's traditional culture?
Penang is known as a "cuisine paradise". The great variety of traditional dishes from different races have not only been loved by local people, but also been made the focus of attracting foreign tourists. Char kway teow, laksa, Hainanese chicken rice, Indo fried noodles, satay, rojak, nasi lemak and many other dishes have retained their traditional flavours handed down from generation to generation, which allow the modern generation appreciate the simple and plain lifestyle of the older generation. For example, two elderly sisters in Air Itam have been selling their signature Penang style curry mee for over 60 years. There are indeed many nostalgic food legends in Penang, but there are also problems tainting the traditional food's reputation, including the employment of foreign workers to cook local food.
More than 80% of Penang hawker stalls are now heavily relying on foreign workers. Dishes like bak kut teh and prawn mee attracting diners from other places are now mainly prepared by foreign workers. Many hawker owners have opened a number of hawker stalls in different places and let foreign workers operate them to earn more money, while some just left the stalls to foreign workers due to indolence, causing traditional cuisine to lose their authenticity. Local food tastes good and is nostalgic because of the sincerity and passion of the persons preparing them. However, foreign workers who should be responsible for cleaning the hawker stalls have now become the cooks. Could such food prepared according to the pre-programmed recipes be called cuisine? Malaysian food business operators really should learn the spirit of Taiwanese and Japanese cooks on how to dedicate and focus on developing food culture.
If the indolent attitude towards food continues, Malaysia's traditional dishes will sure disappear one-by-one. Some years later, Malaysians might have to visit Indonesia, Bangladesh or Myanmar to find authentic bak kut teh, asam laksa, Malay traditional cakes or nasi lemak.
It is hard for hawker stall operators to find successors, probably because they have to rely on foreign workers. Although hawker food is famous, they do not enjoy a high social status. Many hawker business operators think that the industry is hard and thus, they wish their children can achieve higher education to get a better job, instead of following their footsteps. While implementing a ban on foreign workers to work as main cooks in the hawker food businesses, the government should also take the difficulties they face into consideration.
Malaysian cuisine is famous overseas but how many Malaysians actually understand the history, culture and origin of these traditional dishes? In Japan, old chefs good at cooking traditional dishes generally enjoy a high social status and even ordinary sushi chefs are respected for the sincerity in preparing food.
If local hawker stall operators continue taking hawker food as only a means of earning profits, while diners take the food as only something to fill their stomachs and ignore food culture, food hawkers will have to keep living a hard life of relying on the assistance of foreign workers while it will be difficult to raise their social status. And the greatest sorrow will be watching traditional cuisine disappear.

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