British envoy to Malaysia: British food takes influence from all over the world

Treadell checks out some of the British goods on offer in Malaysia. — Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli
Treadell checks out some of the British goods on offer in Malaysia. — Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 4 — As the debate rumbles on over two celebrity chefs’ dubious assessment of Malaysian rendang, it is worth remembering that the British too have an interesting cuisine of their own, with a wide selection of it imported to Malaysia.

As opposed to preserving tradition, however, the identity of British food is changing, according to British High Commissioner to Malaysia Vicki Treadell.

She said with increasing cultural influences in the UK, the food and drink that Brits now consume have evolved with the times.

“Britain has embraced people coming from overseas for a very long time. We take our culinary inspiration from our multicultural reality,” Treadell said.

“Our large South Asian community, Afro-Caribbean, indeed, our large Chinese community, all of them have influenced the food that is produced in the UK.”

Ipoh-born Treadell, who became Britain’s envoy to Malaysia in 2014, highlighted the South Asian market in particular as a success story for the UK adopting more diverse tastes.

She recalled one instance in her time as deputy high commissioner to India where she helped launch a UK brand of curry pastes and spices in Mumbai.

“We used the headline ‘Coals to Newcastle’, a very British joke as Newcastle was a famous region in the UK for producing coal.”

To ‘carry coals to Newcastle’ means to do something that is obviously superfluous.

“We were selling curry pastes, powders and chutneys in markets where they actually originated.”

While Treadell didn’t address the controversy surrounding MasterChef UK judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace — part of an ongoing debacle for suggesting a Malaysian contestant’s rendang was subpar because the chicken skin wasn’t crispy — she did tweet about it later in the day.

Earlier that same morning, Treadell did discuss how cuisines from around the world have impacted UK’s celebrity chefs, saying their fusion dishes were some of the best known.

“If you look at British celebrity chefs, we’re at the forefront of fusion food, the ones people remember, taking these influences from around the world,” Treadall continued.

“When you look at a British product, it may look as though it comes from another part of the world, but it is a result of the fact that we embrace so much difference in delivering new products onto the market, meeting the demand at home and increasingly overseas.”

Treadall was speaking at the launch of the Great UK Food Journey 2018 at Mercato Pavilion in Kuala Lumpur, a month-long campaign presented by GCH Retail Malaysia.

The month of April will spotlight imported British goods to shoppers at Mercato, Jason’s Food Hall and Cold Storage with over 100 new UK items flown in especially for the occasion.

Week one will focus on British food, week two on snacks, week three on tea and the final week on liquor.

Treadall reminded attendees at the launch that despite shifting trends in Britain’s cuisine, homegrown classics remain a favourite.

The best were all mentioned — biscuits, cakes, cheese and jams — while Treadall also highlighted developing markets in boutique gins and English sparkling wine.

“Buy it, taste it and come back for more,” she urged.

The event also marked GCH Retail’s official coming on board as a member of the British Malaysian Chamber of Commerce.

The Great UK Food Journey will take place from April 1-31 at all Mercato, Jason’s Food Hall and Cold Storage stores in Malaysia. Those interested in what’s on offer can follow each of the grocer’s Facebook pages for details and updates.

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