The rivalry between Singapore and its neighbour Malaysia has reached a peak after many Malaysians criticized Singapore’s attempt for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to recognise their hawker culture as an “intangible cultural heritage”.
Malaysian food critics have also been reported saying that Singapore’s hawker centres were too sanitized to compete with authentic Malaysian versions.
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in August that the country’s national museum would host a related exhibition this month, and as of November 5, a petition to support the UNESCO bid had nearly 38,000 signatures.
However, while Malaysian critics may have opinions of their own, many Singaporeans were riled up at the former’s attempts to bash Singapore’s hawker scene.
Bilahari Kausikan, a retired Singapore diplomat wrote on social media, “The Malaysians and the NYT do not seem to understand that a UNESCO listing is not about origins or ownership; it is about what a country values and wants to preserve. So Malaysia could well ask for their hawker culture to be listed too”.
He echoed sentiments shared by Prime Minister Lee, who said that inscribing the city-state’s hawker food in the United Nations organization’s intangible heritage register would “help to safeguard and promote this unique culture for future generations.”
He added, “I hope everyone will strongly support this nomination, so that our hawker culture can stand proudly on the world stage”.
Singapore’s National Heritage Board, the National Environment Agency and the Federation of Merchants’ Associations, Singapore said in a joint statement that the bid was “not intended to establish the origins or ownership” of cultural practices.
Currently, two hawker stalls in Singapore – Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle and Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle – are holders of Michelin stars.
Singaporeans had much to say against Malaysians’ criticism.