First off, let me caveat that we don’t really have street food in Singapore. Our food is off the streets for some time now and housed in hawker centres or coffee shops. But you know what I mean, we are talking about the food itself, not where it’s cooked.
Back to the meat (pun intended) of the story. Our neighbours up north have recently been feeling quite FOMO (fear of missing out) when Singapore announced on 28 Mar that we will submit a bid to list our hawker culture with UNESCO.
They felt so indignant that the Penang state government said on 2 May that it wanted the federal government to pursue a joint listing with Singapore, as this would increase the probability of UNESCO inscribing the hawker culture of both countries.
Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik told The Straits Times on 8 May that although he has not received a formal request from the Penang state government on a joint nomination, he had already raised the idea in a meeting with Singapore’s Deputy High Commissioner to Malaysia.
Wow, this is a serious case of copycat man. We submit a bid for UNESCO recognition, then now you also want to submit together. Errr why don’t you guys go ahead on your own? Or are you just trying to ride on our good work?
The debate on whose food is better can go on for all eternity. Actually our food has evolved quite differently. I started watching a new Netflix series called Jason’s Market Trails which showcases Malaysian street food and I realized that Malaysian food can be completely different. It’s a fascinating series to watch by the way and Jason Yeoh is a great host.
So how about we just stop comparing because both are good in their own way. But we must say that Singapore does a much better job of marketing our food culture. Singapore food has been in the global limelight constantly, whether it is the cheapest Michelin-starred meal (Hawker Chan below) or having hawker food showcased in a major Hollywood film like Crazy Rich Asians. Our marketing game is simply that much stronger.
The latest Netflix series called Street Food from the makers of Chef’s Table has all the Malaysian foodies riled up. It features Thailand, Japan, India, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines but most glaringly, it does not include Malaysia. Why? Maybe Malaysians should ask themselves this question.
Food is an emotional topic because food is comfort. Even though Singapore was featured in Street Food, Singaporeans were also divided about why putu piring was given such a prominent airing as this CNA Lifestyle article shows, “Singaporeans react to Netflix’s Street Food: Does putu piring represent us?”
But at least this is about Singaporeans debating about Singapore food. To our neighbours up north, please leave our food alone. As in all other things, our food has also evolved differently from yours. We have our own food identity, please go and reflect on your own identity.
UPDATE: Our neighbours up north said they don’t want to do a joint bid anymore. They want to ownself submit the bid. Maybe they can also say that prata is their national dish.