Malaysia’s heritage foods to be nominated for Unesco recognition

Nasi Minyak

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians are a fortunate lot as the country is home to hundreds of delicious traditional foods.

Ondeh-ondeh, Satay, Putu Piring, Lemang, Pajeri, Gulai Tempoyak, Otak-Otak, Pekasam and Nasi Kerabu are only a few of the delicious traditional foods that Malaysians enjoy, each originating from the different states and cultures that make up Malaysia.

Some of these foods still enjoy centre stage during festive seasons and special ceremonies. Some are even produced commercially.

Kuih Angkuh
Pulut Durian

Many however, are slowly disappearing from the local menu due to changing times and evolving palates.

It is no surprise that many of the younger generation have not even heard of some of these foods, once firm favourites of their great grandparents.

The National Heritage Department (JWN) has to date, declared 213 foods as traditional foods under Act 645 of the National Heritage Act 2005.

The purpose is to ensure that these remain a part of Malaysian culture and continue to be enjoyed by current and future generations.

Tracking down heritage foods

JWN Deputy Director General Mohamad Muda Bahadin said Ketupat Sotong, Nasi Minyak and Nasi Dagang were among the foods included in the list.

“This act provides for the conservation and preservation of our natural heritage, our tangible and intangible cultural heritage, our underwater cultural heritage, our many treasure troves and related matters,” he told Bernama.

JWN defines heritage as something inherited from the previous generation. It describes a national treasure as something that was, or is, owned by a community or people, and thus it becomes a collective responsibility to protect and preserve it.

Heritage food can be considered part of a culture that must be preserved so it can be enjoyed by future generations.

Puding Raja and Bubur Cha Cha
Kuih Ros

Mohamad Muda said JWN had travelled across the nation seeking out housewives, entrepreneurs and those from the older generation who were still producing these heritage foods.

“Our researchers and officers have conducted studies and created an inventory of traditional foods passed down from our ancestors and have now become part of the identity of a people.

“Details of these heritage foods such as names, photos, videos, methods of creation, storage, preparation and the festivals or occasions related to it, are all recorded,” Mohamad Muda explained.

He added that tourists and the public were introduced to traditional foods through cooking demonstrations, at official government events and by sales through government departments and agencies. One such occasion was the 2019 National Craft Day celebrations.

Sharing favourites

Mohamad Muda said that every ethnic group in Malaysia had its own heritage food, most of which were enjoyed by all Malaysians.

“Nasi Lemak, for example, was originally the breakfast food of ethnic Malays. Today, it is a food loved by all ethnicities and enjoyed not only for breakfast, but for lunch and dinner as well,” he said.

Pie Tee

Chinese favourites such as Dim Sum, Mee and Kuey Teow are also now beloved by Malaysians of all ethnicities.

Foods popular among the ethnicities of Sabah and Sarawak such as Umai, Linut and Manok Pansuh are also becoming increasingly popular nationwide, indirectly contributing towards social unity.

Recognising heritage foods

Meanwhile, JWN’s World Heritage Division Director Mohd Syahrin Abdullah said the department was working towards obtaining recognition for heritage foods by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

He added that food was an intangible heritage that could be nominated for recognition under Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity under the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage 2003.

Mohd Syahrin said that in order to obtain Unesco’s approval, the nomination form would first be evaluated by an Advisory Board selected by the Unesco Secretariat.

A panel of experts in intangible heritage and an appointed body, known as the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, would then examine each of the nominations before officially inscribing the candidates as elements on the list.

Bubur Lambuk
Chapati and Keema

The committee will announce the final decision when it convenes either in November or December.

“If an element is recognised as part of the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, we will be given a certificate signed by the Unesco Director-General,” he explained.

Among the more popular in the list of 213 heritage foods nominated are Nasi Minyak, Pulut Durian, Kuih Angku, Bubur Lambuk, Kuih Ros, Pudding Raja, Pie Tee, Bubur Cha-Cha, Capati, Keema and Budu.