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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Unlike Penang, KL is okay with foreigners cooking street food

As Penang is mulling over banning foreign cooks from working at hawker stalls, Kuala Lumpur says it has no problems with them preparing street food. – The Malaysian Insider pic, July 30, 2014.As Penang is mulling over banning foreign cooks from working at hawker stalls, Kuala Lumpur says it has no problems with them preparing street food. – The Malaysian Insider pic, July 30, 2014.
Kuala Lumpur is taking a different route to Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s proposed ban on foreigners working as cooks in hawker stalls.
The capital’s customers are less perturbed by the taste of food prepared by foreign workers. Their main concern is hygiene.
Insurance agent, Malinda Tan, 32, said that despite the rampant increase of foreign cooks in the past few years, the standard of hawker food met her expectation.
“However, the same cannot be said about illegal foreign workers and it is up to the authorities to ensure that these illegal workers don’t become a health hazard.” 

The Department of Statistics Malaysia said the number of foreign workers has increased from 1.7 million in 2010, to a total of 1.74 million in 2012.
Khairul Zaman, a 24-year-old from Kuala Lumpur, said he agreed with the idea of protecting the authenticity of local food, but added that he is not very particular about the taste, moreover when the price of hawker food is not steep.
“I’m not really concerned about who prepared my food as long as the cook does a good job.” 
He also agreed that there is a problem with hygiene, but said that instead of imposing an overall ban on foreigners working as cooks, City Hall should instead have enforcement to regulate hygiene.
“It’s unfair to implement this ban because foreign workers too need to earn a living.”
He also said that the solution for the influx of foreigners probably does not lie in the ban as the increasing cost of living has created a lifestyle gap and a disparity of needs between that of a Malaysian and a foreign worker.
“The foreigners, like our parents during the 60’s and 70’s, do not have much of a choice so they are willing to take up any job for income, unlike Malaysians nowadays who are choosy.”
Following the announcement by the Penang government that it was mulling over a ban on foreign cooks at hawker centre, a straw poll by The Malaysian Insider found the Penang public supportive, as it was intended to protect the state’s food heritage.
Chan Toong Choy, a 43-year old char kuey teow stall owner, said he had a Myanmar employee who cooks for him.
“I have trained him to cook.”
Chan, however, said that Penang can’t be compared to Kuala Lumpur because Penang is a tourist hotspot known for its local street food culture.
“Perhaps for hawkers like me, as long as we are strict with our foreign employees, it is not necessary to introduce the ban,” he told the Malaysian Insider.
He added that he had customers who revealed to him their negative perception towards a foreigner preparing local food, saying that it reduces their confidence in the taste and quality of the dish.
“I told them to try it anyway and then judge for themselves, his cooking skills and mine. They had no qualms about it afterwards, but if they do then I’ll just do it myself,” said Chan.
A restaurant operator in Jalan Alor, who identified herself as Ng, expressed her dilemma that although foreign cooks may raise questions about the taste and authenticity of local food, businesses can’t survive without them.
“It’s not right to ban foreigners. We need them because who else are we going to hire? Malaysians are unwilling to bear the hardships of the job…  the sweat, heat, hectic pace and unattractive pay. They prefer white-collar jobs in a comfortable office environment,” said the 50-year-old, who runs the restaurant started by her mother-in-law.
Ng said the quality of food prepared by foreign workers tend to be inconsistent, while others were reluctant to learn.
She also makes it a point to hire only foreigners who have documentation.
“This way they are inoculated and have undergone health screening. Thus, only foreign workers with permits are hired and we are also guaranteed that they do not carry with them illnesses, based on medical reports approved by the Ministry of Health.”
Foreign worker Ida Rusliana, who came to Malaysia 10 years ago from Medan, Indonesia, expressed her disappointment with the proposed ban.
Ida, who has been working in Ng’s restaurant, was dismayed with the idea that foreigners cooking could affect the quality of local food.
“I don’t think it is right for him (Lim Guan Eng) to say that we affect the originality of the food because we merely follow orders and directions from our employers,” she said, adding that she does not receive complaints from customers either.
Describing hawker food as “an expression of Malaysian culture”, Bukit Bintang MP Fong Kui Lun said Malaysians promoting foreign cooks in hawker stalls will take away the livelihood of local cooks.
“I think it is ridiculous to have a foreigner prepare a local delicacy from A to Z. If foreign cooks start taking over, the taste of our food will also change,” he told the Malaysian Insider.
“I believe that the employment of foreign cooks in hawker stalls, especially illegal ones, is wrong and must be stopped.”

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