There was a hesitance to consider adding bak kut teh as one of Malaysia’s national heritage dishes because it’s a non-halal dish.
It can be tricky to claim some national dishes as our own since we share lots of cultural similarities with countries such as Singapore and Indonesia.
On 6 June, Tebrau MP Jimmy Puah urged the government to consider recognizing Bak Kut Teh as a national heritage food after a documentary on Channel News Asia claimed the dish could have originated in Singapore.
For those who are unfamiliar, the bak kut teh is a soupy pork rib dish cooked with herbs and spices popularised by the Hokkien community in Southeast Asia.
However, this suggestion was contested by Deputy Minister Khairul Firdaus Akbar Khan who pointed out that Malaysia doesn’t have the right to dispute the differences between the shared heritages with Singapore.
He suggested that only awareness programmes conducted by the government locally and abroad can help people differentiate the heritage food in Malaysia and Singapore.
Meanwhile, Opposition Langkawi MP Datuk Suhaimi Mohd Abdullah asked if the government intends to include bak kut teh in the list of Malaysian heritage food items.
He said bak kut teh is not listed among the 30 Malaysian ethnic food items such as nasi lemak, kuih bahulu, gula melaka, ketupat, char kuey teow, sizzling yee mee, bubur nasi, tong yuan, kuih bulan, kuih bakul, muruku, tosai, idly and putu mayam.
Suhaimi added that Malaysian heritage food must be able to be eaten by all ethnic groups in the country. By this logic, bak kut teh will fail to make the list as it’s a pork dish.
Suhaimi said the chicken version of the bak kut teh, the chikuteh or Chi Kut Teh, would be more appropriate to be added to the list.
According to Malay Mail, the Tourism, Arts, and Culture Ministry applied to Unesco in March to recognize nasi lemak, roti canai, and teh tarik as Malaysian breakfast culture food.
What do netizens think about the heritage food issue?
While food is important to Malaysians, many think the issue is not important enough to be debated in the Dewan Rakyat since there are more pressing issues to discuss.
Others wondered if it was wrong to put the food of other Malaysian races on the list of Malaysian heritage food.
The insistence to have all food on the national heritage dish list be halal and supposedly consumable for all, brings forth another issue.
Some people in the Malaysian Indian and Chinese communities abstain from consuming beef, but it’s one of the key meat ingredients in dishes such as rendang, satay, and masak lemak daging salai. It’s also one of the meat choices in our beloved Ramly burgers.
If the government intend to enforce the rule that all food in the national heritage dish must be able to be consumed by all, the current list might need to take all of these sensitivities into account and be reworked again.
Diu, like that also debated in parliament… waste of taxpayers money. Build more road bridges and railways, culture will find its way out— anothersapien (@AnotherSapien_) June 7, 2023
salah ke letak makanan kaum lain? Tourist yang datang Malaysia ni semua Muslims jer ke? Malaysia is made up of many races.— Mish (@browtigajack) June 7, 2023
Kimek. Habis semua makanan warisan kaum cina dapat kat singapore. Bodoh takda topik ke? Ni ke yg korang cakap audit takleh bahas sebab ada benda lain perlu bahas? Belum cerita belah borneo lagi. Sinalau bakas tau ka kamurang? Kamurang tu bakas.— matrep🇲🇾 (@matrepangker) June 7, 2023
It is a Malaysian heritage food if you think Malaysian!— CFLIM (@chiafook2013) June 7, 2023
So Khairul, daging dishes cannot be considered heritage dish since not all races eat beef? Is that your logic?— david soong (@asianmalaysian) June 7, 2023
Malaysia should do more to protect cultural heritage
This inconsistency regarding Malaysia’s food heritage shows that Malaysia does need to do more to protect and preserve its heritage and culture despite sharing similarities with other Southeast Asian countries.
There’s a silver lining for Malaysia when it comes to nominating the kebaya under the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisations’s (Unesco) Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity for 2023.
Malaysia, in a joint effort with Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand, is working to ensure the kebaya remains protected through the delivery of knowledge, promotional efforts, and documentation or research efforts with the support of the other countries involved in the nomination.