Penang food lovers say ban defiance distasteful

A Myanmar worker grills satay and the owner claims that he is actually not cooking. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
A Myanmar worker grills satay and the owner claims that he is actually not cooking. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

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GEORGE TOWN, Jan 3 — They expect to taste authentic food made by locals at hawker stalls. Yet, customers at Penang’s many hawker centres are left disappointed as foreigners continue to cook local fare at the eateries.

This is despite the state government’s move to ban foreigners from cooking at stalls, which came into effect on Friday.

Malay Mail visited several hawker centres yesterday and saw foreigners cooking and manning several stalls.

Lor Jun Ren, 25, who visited the hawker centre at Times Square Mall on Jan 1, saw foreigners cooking.

“The state government has given the traders fair warning prior the implementation of the ban. What more excuses do they have?” said the accountant.

“The authorities should check hawker centres. Such disregard is unacceptable.”

Shirley Yap, 33, who is spending her New Year break in Penang, said she was surprised to see foreigners cooking her favourite dishes at the hawker centres.

“I believe the ban was supposed to be enforced on Jan 1. But just take a walk and you still see foreigners manning the stalls. Perhaps the owners will claim they are helping them out.

“Just sit at a table for 30 minutes and you will know who is actually cooking and who isn’t.”

Isaac Tan Yong Sheng, 28, a full time entertainer who moved to Penang from Petaling Jaya because of his love for the local food said: “The best thing about Penang is the delicious local food. So, maintaining the food quality and taste is important.”

Food blogger Willy Wah Tee Hiang, 33, was happy the hawker centre in Chai Leng Park now sees locals cooking.

“When it comes to local food, especially char keuy teow, it takes a certain technique to cook it well. I am glad the directive is working as the taste of char keuy teow here is better now,” he said.

Dancer Tan Zi Jun, 27, said she had not seen foreign cooks at New Lane hawker centre in Lorong Baru since Friday.

“This ban should have been implemented long time ago considering there are less and less authentic local food in the city following the mushrooming of hotels and cafes.

“Hopefully, our culture, tradition and real local food taste will be preserved with the enforcement of this ban,” said Tan.

A curry mee stall operator, who also ran a drinks stall at Jalan Macalister, said he did not have enough staff and had to rely on his Myanmar national worker to man the stall.

“He is helping me for awhile as it is lunch hour and I am busy at the drinks counter,” said the operator, who declined to be named.

“If Penang City Council conducts a spot-check, I will just tell them he is not cooking.”

At the New World Park food court in Lorong Swatow, at least seven stalls had foreign nationals as their cooks.

The stall owners were quick to say their workers were “merely assisting” while others said they were not cooking but “merely preparing the food”.

An owner of a fried oyster and satay stall there said: “My Myanmar worker is grilling satay. That is not considered as cooking. For the past seven years, my husband and I have been cooking, not our foreign workers.”

Teik Batala, a Nepalese working at a hawker centre here said he is unsure of his fate as he can no longer cook in Penang.

“I am here to work so that I can feed my family back home in Nepal.

“My family needs me. Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do after this,” he said.

Batala’s colleague from the Philippines, who wished to be known Arnel, called the ban a “cruel blow”.

“Our lives as foreigners have always been tough, even more so now that I cannot work as a cook.

“I will have to look for other jobs,” he said.

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