It was a predictable outcome. When Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, announced during his National Day Rally speech in August 2018 the intention to nominate Singapore’s hawker culture for UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Malaysians were swiftly up in arms.

Across the Johor-Singapore Causeway, Singapore’s UNESCO bid was blasted by some as arrogance, or yet another attempt to claim superiority. In a region of foodies where people have argued over the ownership of all sorts of dishes—from yusheng to cendol—the city-state’s desire for international recognition was interpreted as one more instance of trying to lord it over its closest frenemy.

Members only

Log in or

Join New Naratif as a member to continue reading


We are independent, ad-free and pro-democracy. Our operations are member-funded. Membership starts from just US$5/month! Alternatively, write to sponsorship@newnaratif.com to request a free sponsored membership. As a member, you are supporting fair payment of freelancers, and a movement for democracy and transnational community building in Southeast Asia.

Kirsten Han

Kirsten Han is a Singaporean journalist whose work often revolves around the themes of social justice, human rights, politics and democracy. Her bylines have appeared in publications like The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Asia Times and Waging Nonviolence. As an activist, Kirsten has advocated for an end to the death penalty in Singapore, and is a founding member of abolitionist group We Believe in Second Chances.

Tuan Nini

Tuan Nini is a Malaysian illustrator residing in Bucharest, Romania where she studied painting at the National University of Fine Arts. Nini is fortunate to work on a diverse range of projects, from advertising to film production, though drawing for social issues and food remain close to her heart. Find her work at www.tuannini.com or instagram.com/tuannini.

Foong Li Mei

Foong Li Mei is a freelance journalist and infographic designer covering current affairs, consumer trends, culture, and food for publications across Asia. She runs a democracy at her home in Malaysia with her husband and an overexcited doggo – or at least that's what she likes them to think.