Singapore owns hawker culture because of better marketing, says article

Singapore owns hawker culture because of better marketing, says article
Patrons at Pasir Ris Central Hawker Centre, one of about 110 hawker centres here.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

PETALING JAYA - As the "food fight" between Singapore and Malaysia continues to simmer, an article in a Singaporean website is asserting that hawker culture belongs to Singapore because "they have more money than Malaysia".

The opinion piece, which was published on news portal ricemedia.co, acknowledged that Malaysian food was cheaper and better, but it said nobody cared about this.

"Malaysians may be better at cooking, but Singaporeans are infinitely better at selling/marketing ourselves as better cooks - simply because we have the resources to do so.

"Our flavours may be lacking, but most of the world will never know because we certainly don't lack for money when it comes to PR campaigns, media blitzes, and over-the-top product placement.

The article said that "angry Malaysian writers" failed to understand that that the origin or history of a particular delicacy rarely mattered when it came to food as the issue at hand was as much about money as it was about great taste.

"The question of who owns laksa or carrot cake is not settled by cultural historians or talented hawkers. It is settled in the boardroom by civil servants, bankers, spin doctors, and C-suite officers - i.e. those who have the means (read: money) to propagate specific narratives about food.

"On the corporate/bureaucratic/marketing front, Singapore dominates Malaysia," read the commentary.

It gave the example of the Ikea meatball where Ikea confessed that its famous "Swedish meatballs" were, in fact, Turkish in origin.

It argued that such a confession made no difference to popular perception as Ikea was a modern Swedish empire that sold billions of meatballs under tiny yellow-and-blue Sweden flags.

"Under such circumstances, Sweden owns the Turkish meatball, as surely as Americans own Hamburg's hamburger. You could argue for days about the cultural appropriation, but it doesn't change the fact that we think, dream, and write of the meatball as 'a Swedish product'.

"Until such time as Turkey forms its own global furniture empire or match Sweden in 'soft power', Sweden effectively owns its balls," read the commentary.

It said even if Ipoh or KL had great bak kut teh and a lively 'scene', this didn't matter because Malaysia's government was poorer and less organised than Singapore's.

"Until that changes, Singapore's 'hawker culture' will reign supreme in Brussels, London, and New York, even if Malaysian food owns Singapore.

"So Malaysia, please don't hate the player, hate the game," it said.

 

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