Current Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Ng Yen Yen received much flak recently for announcing plans to "lay claim" on certain local delicacies during the launch of Malaysia International Gourmet Festival on September 16th. The local delicacies quoted in the local dailies include laksa, bak kut teh, nasi lemak, chilli crab as well as Hainanese chicken rice. Bloggers are up in arms over this announcement, particularly from across the channel, which has since laid claim to some of these foods long time ago. While I think she may be well intended and as of yesterday, has corrected what she actually meant (not patenting but promoting these local delicacies), I wonder personally how the ministry would intent to go about "proving" that some of these local fares are of this country origin. This is because, foods, generally "migrate" and "introduce" to other areas or regions as the populace move about. The literal melting pot of culture so to speak. Most of the general populace of this region shares an almost homogenised cultural identities and mix, particularly geographical regions which are deemed as Strait Settlements, such as Penang (is this name "claimed"and "patented" by the state govt yet as announced? :P), Malacca and of course, Singapore. Take laksa for example. No proven texts exist which clearly state that it is from here and not there. Yet, in this country alone, there are so many variants i.e. Assam Laksa, Curry Laksa, Laksa Kelantan aka Laksam, Laksa Johor, Laksa Sarawak (for a full list, I think I would need to check out Laksa Shack). I think as a food is introduced, it is generally "tweek" to suit the general population taste based on acceptance. I wonder if variation counts? And what about the variation in name but consist of same cooking method? And the cook? Does it has to be a local? Most hawkers in KL consists of employed Burmese anyway...Now, if I have my way, here's a list of hawker fare I would attempt to "claim" (since lately, "claim" has been in vogue in the local news, beginning with Indonesia "claim" on Negara Ku as theirs, the nation via Discovery Channel embarrassingly "portray" Balinese Dance as originated from here, state govt "claim" on the name Penang :)).
a) Penang(R) Kueh Chap(C). This low profile hawker fare is slowly becoming hard to find, except in old town sections or wet markets. Different from the more popular Sarawak or Southern variety, the soup and "spare parts" are "derived" from ducks. And my goodness, it is veli ho liau!
b) Chee Cheong Fun(C). There are the Teluk Intan type, normal yong tau foo type, and my fav, Penang(R) type which is banjir-ed in heavenly shrimp paste heh.
c) Penang(R) Curry Mee(C) which contain cockles, shrimps, taufoo pok, taugeh and most importantly, the coagulated pig's blood (the singular most important differentiatng factor). Perhaps the most widely "copied" version of all time.
d) Penang((R) Lor Mee(C). Again, the type of noodle use, is different from the mid to southern region. In Penang(R), yellow noodles or beehoon is used instead of the standard flat noodle variety. The right combination of ngor hiang powder and starch are used to create the unique gooey gravy like soup. And again it tastes different from its southern cousin, maybe a tad more tastier. Order it with extra pork intestine. crispy fried lard plus some garlic and vinegar, whoa, instant food high!
e) Ipoh(TM) Taugeh Chicken Rice(C). Nothing beats the taste of a steamed chicken bath generously in a sea of peanut oil + soy sauce.
f) Ramly(R) Burger Special(C) with Cheese and Egg Super Special(TM). The original fast food since '79. Fuelled poor soul like me during the college days. Fuel those who crave for a late night snack. Dunk out in Worcestershire sauce, margarine, mayonnaise, tomato and chilli sauces, and cucumbers, onions and cabbage...yummy. Some might say, the idea of local indie, punks and DIY are also deeply rooted in those one stall mobile burger joint. Rawk on, brader!
g) Kajang Satay(C). As an old school satay lover, I staunchly believes all satays must have at least a portion of chicken skin or fat. At least up to recently, most Kajang satays, known for its generous portion, tender meats and secret recipied peanut sauces, are so darn delicious.
Anyhoo, I guess at the end of the day, it is the taste which counts, not rubber stamping and prove where so ever the said foods originated from.