Let’s reimagine, reinvent our dishes

LIKE many Malaysians, I intend to make road trips in search of good food when the country reaches herd immunity from the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m a self-professed foodie and food tourist.

When the times comes, I’m sure many yearn to take the less- travelled routes through small, quaint towns where they could stop at places that offer alluring attractions, including sinfully delicious dishes that have not quite been made popular or viral by food bloggers.

Whether to go on a new dining adventure or to reminisce about the quaint towns they’ve visited in the north, south, east or west that offer delectable food, I’m sure Malaysians can’t wait to go on road trips, not merely to enjoy the sights and sounds of these places.

There are exquisite street foods they’ve heard, seen on videos or eaten that have run through their minds and palates after 19 months trapped in the vicious cycle of the pandemic.

Having said that, I have a wishlist of food that I want to relish once it’s safe to travel. 

Randomly, I’d like to devour the extra crispy roti canai swimming in daging masak hitam and gulai merah ayam served at the stall in Transfer Road, George Town, for breakfast.

Let's reimagine, reinvent our dishes
Cecemek’ is a delicacy popular in Kampung Gajah and Pasir Salak in Perak. FILE PIC

For lunch, I’d love to dig into the nasi campur at Warung Kari Ikan Sembilang dan Udang Galah Menggelupoq by the Butterworth-Ipoh trunk road in Semanggol near Taiping. I’d like to taste the heavenly assortment of kueh talam Mak Lang in Jitra for tea or enjoy a good nasi kandar at my favourite haunt in Penang for dinner.

Food tourism is a big thing, and is essential to draw tourists, locally or from abroad. These food haunts could fuel tourism. Malaysia is well-known for its street food and ever-evolving restaurant scene, which presents new dining opportunities and exciting experiences for visitors, whether in Kuala Lumpur or Kuala Kedah.

Food tourism means attracting visitors to a place for the purpose of partaking in food festivals or trying out different restaurants. 

Malaysia is so rich and diverse in its culture and heritage. It has become an ideal place for tourists to not only experience the lifestyle and culture but, at the same time, to taste the food.

Food is an expression of identity and culture. For a foreigner, eating banana-leaf rice at an Indian restaurant in Brickfields will give him a better understanding of the country and its culture.

A domestic tourist like me will understand better the rich heritage of Kampung Gajah and Pasir Salak when I have a bite of a traditional Perak delicacy strangely called cecemek.

While Tourism Malaysia is initiating the strategy to attract high-value tourists to the country, state tourism committees and local authorities must move in tandem to promote food tourism as a niche product like other sectors, such as places of interest, shopping or diving.

The problem is that food tourism in this country is a “by the way thing” that doesn’t get promoted much. It needs to be reimagined and reinvented so that it can be packaged with other niche tourism products. 

Singapore and Thailand have elevated food tourism as a niche product over the last 10 years. I admire how the Singaporean government promotes its hawkers and street food to tourists. 

The thing is, Malaysia has similar dishes and could offer more variety, and they are probably more delectable. 

If we could only promote our mouth-watering rendang or asam laksa and nasi kandar to be savoured by foreigners, whether they are here or in any city in the western hemisphere.

When the late Anthony Bourdain visited Malaysia many years ago for his food and travel show, he loved asam laksa and laksa Sarawakso much that he wanted to include them in his New York food market project. Unfortunately, the project was abandoned due to his death.

Imagine if asam laksa and laksa Sarawak had made into Bourdain’s collection as two of the world’s greatest foods.

By : Rohiman Haroon – NST

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