Singapore bets for honor of UN street food causes culinary shock

Customers queue at the one star Michelin award Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle stall in Singapore on July 22, 2016.

The city-state is home to many outdoor food courts where vendors, known as "street vendors," serve dishes such as chicken and rice, noodles and meat skewers at relatively cheap prices.

Some street vendors have even been awarded Michelin stars for the culinary bible, which has had an edition of Singapore since 2016.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced last week that Singapore will nominate its street vendor culture to UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage, describing the state's food centers as "community soup kitchens" that are part of the identity from the country.

A waitress serves diners sitting at a restaurant table while pedestrians walk through Chinatown Food Street in the Chinatown area of ​​Singapore


But the move provoked anger in Malaysia, whose citizens have long claimed their own food on the street, which shares many similarities with Singapore, is far superior to anything in their small neighbor.

The famous Malay chef Redzuawan Ismail, commonly known as Chef Wan, told AFP that he thought the UN proposal in Singapore was "garbage."

"When you speak of street vendors, Singapore is not the only one that has a street vendor culture … Why (need) to go to UNESCO to patent? Is yours so special?" added the chef, who once appeared in a show with the famous American chef Anthony Bourdain.

Another well-known local chef, Ismail Ahmad, insisted that his country was a "paradise" of street food and that Malaysia should request recognition from the UN.

People sit in outdoor restaurants on Jalan Alor food street in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Monday, July 21, 2014.

People sit in outdoor restaurants on Jalan Alor food street in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Monday, July 21, 2014.


"Even the people of Singapore come to Malaysia and enjoy our posts," he said.

But Singaporeans have ruled out anger in Malaysia and insist that a UNESCO list is more than just food.

"This is the cultural legacy of street food that unites people and has the support of government and industry, because it is the community," acclaimed Singaporean food critic K.F. Seetoh was quoted as saying in the New Paper of the city-state.

"If you have it, boast about it."

Countries have had insane relationships since Singapore became an independent state in 1965 after being expelled from a brief union with Malaysia, but the ranks over food tend to get especially hot.

Singapore plans to present its nomination to UNESCO in March, and an announcement is expected on whether the offer was successful in 2020.