The future of Malaysian food isn’t with the airlines

JANUARY 8 — A while back I was in San Jose, California, with a couple of other journalists. I made fun of them at the time for choosing to eat at, of all places, a Malaysian eatery.

Looking back perhaps I could have been more supportive of the existence of a Malaysian restaurant overseas — especially one that didn’t need to advertise through tales of pet orangutans and olive oil-roasted beans.

I still wouldn’t eat at one in the US because I am not paying US$4.25 (RM17) for Ipoh white coffee, thanks.

The eatery has since closed down and reading the lacklustre reviews on Yelp it was probably inevitable.

I wonder if that will be the fate of that new upcoming franchise that will feature selections from a budget airline’s menu.

In Europe I can find nasi goreng but it’s considered a Chinese or Indonesian dish. That’s the tricky bit about marketing Malaysian food — we have so many dishes in common with our neighbours.

One thing we can do about that is market food by attaching the label “Malaysian” to it. It’s not enough to sell laksa; we need to sell Malaysian laksa.

We know our food is great but our ability to market it, and admit we have been terrible at marketing it, are both dismal.

Thanks to Crazy Rich Asians, millions of people now think Singapore has decent street food.

When it comes to Malaysian success stories, we do have some local franchises that have managed to find a welcome overseas such as Rotiboy, Paparotti and Old Town White Coffee.

Yet we are still overshadowed by our neighbours and though we complain about the slight every year, what are we doing about it?

I think a lot more can be done considering how passionate and reverent we are towards food — now it’s just about figuring out how to translate that for an international audience.

It’s time we stop losing at this one thing to Singapore. May the coming years not just be about “visit Malaysia” but “eat Malaysian.”

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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