A hawker in Gurney Drive preparing wantan noodles which is among the 13 Penang street food which only locals should cook. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Hasnoor Hussain, January 19, 2015.In the food paradise of Penang, 13 types of street food have been identified as popular local specialities that should be cooked by Malaysians as the state takes its first step towards retaining the unique taste and flavour of its famous cuisine.
They are assam laksa, char koay teow, curry mee, hokkien mee, lor bak (avillion bak), wantan noodles, pasembor, chee cheong fun, mee sotong, char koay kak, oh chien (fried oysters), koay teow th’ng and nasi lemak.
The food were “certified” by the public as famous local street food in a study conducted by the Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) last year to collect feedback from the people on the proposal to ban foreigners from being employed as the main cooks at hawker stalls to protect the state’s food heritage.
With the people’s approval secured, Penang launched the “Penang Street Food” tagline at the Gurney Drive hawker centre last night.
At the launch, 21 local hawkers offering the 13 types of street food and who cooked the food themselves without hiring foreigners to do it, were each issued a special sticker to indicate that the food they served was authentic.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who personally presented the stickers to the hawkers, said it is important for the state to protect its local flavours because Penang’s street food is an attraction that draws visitors to the state from around Malaysia and the world.
He said Penang could not risk the good name of its street food and lose tourists, who also visited the state because they enjoyed the food.
“We have listened to the criticism against the proposal to ban foreigners from being employed as main cooks at hawker stalls selling our street food.
“We ran a survey and found 87% of the respondents supporting the move. There is nothing discriminatory about it and there are no double standards,” he said.
When the proposal was made last year, most people in Penang, even hawkers, were supportive of the move.
However, there were also others who felt that barring foreigners from cooking was discriminatory; while some worried that hawkers would be limited to selling only local food and not those from other culinary cultures like sushi or pizza.
Lim said when it comes to local street food, there is an expectation that it should be cooked by Malaysians, rather than the foreign help who may be unable to maintain the original tastes.
The foreign-cook ban, which starts this year, is only imposed on hawker stalls. The authorities are giving all stall operators a one-year grace period to get used to the idea.
Penang local government committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the authorities would also be implementing the new move step-by-step.
He said the stickers would be issued to local hawkers selling the 13 types of food at council-owned hawker centres around the state first.
“The list of popular local street food may also be expanded in future following more surveys to ask the people which street food they think is popular and they enjoy eating,” he said.
As part of the MPPP’s ongoing efforts to improve and help maintain the quality of Penang street food, the council is also asking members of the public to share their thoughts and list down the most popular types of street food in the state.
BY LOOI SUE-CHERN