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Tourism minister should be fired for naming bak kut teh as a Malaysia heritage dish, says UMNO Youth chief

He accused the tourism minister of not considering the sensitivities of the Malaysians when making the addition.

A picture of Bak Kut Teh, the chinese dish normally seen in Malaysia and Singapore.
UMNO's Muhamad Akmal Saleh has called for the dismissal of Tourism Minister Tiong King Sing for suggesting that Bak Kut Teh should be a Malaysian heritage dish. (Photo: Getty Images)

Amidst all the online debate after the announcement that bak kut teh was among the latest 10 dishes added to Malaysia’s heritage food list, UMNO Youth Chief Muhamad Akmal Saleh has stepped out to call for the dismissal of Tourism, Arts, and Culture Minister Tiong King Sing.

In his Facebook post on Thursday (29 February), Akbal said rather than bak kut teh, which contains pork, other Chinese dishes that can be eaten by everyone in the country, regardless of race or religion, could have been considered instead.

Akbal wrote that if the tourism minister could not consider the sensitivity of such a decision, it might be better to ask Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to fire him.

He also referenced the recent demotion of Tourism Malaysia’s director-general Ammar Abd Ghapar to deputy director, saying that Tiong should be likewise penalised as he is the “worst minister” in history.

Bak kut teh as a heritage dish has been shrouded in controversy

The move to gazette bak kut teh, together with nine other dishes, as a heritage food was first announced on 23 February by heritage commissioner Mohamad Muda Bahadin.

Before the official announcement, members of parliament (MPs) had been debating whether bak kut teh should be included in the list in June last year.

The debate occurred after Tebrau MP Jimmy Puah had urged the government to consider recognising it as a national heritage food. Puah’s motion in favour of bak kut teh was because he wanted to “protect and empower” the dish after a documentary suggested that it could have originated in Singapore.

Questioning the inclusion was Langkawi MP Suhaimi Mohd Abdullah, who pointed out that the dish was not among the 10 most popular Malaysian traditional food items.

Former tourism minister Rais Yatim also warned against bak kut teh getting national heritage status as the dish's name refers to pork.

After the official announcement of bak kut teh’s new status, many netizens went online to express their opinions both for and against the move.

One netizen stated that as the dish originates from Klang, it should be considered a Malaysian dish.

Another said that whether the dish can be consumed by all Malaysians was secondary, pointing out that other dishes on the dish such as kolo mee and jeruk tuhau, have probably not been eaten by “more than half the population”.

While bak kut teh is available in both Malaysia and Singapore, the Singaporean version of the dish is made with a peppery soup base, whereas the Malaysian version uses a more herbal broth.

Malaysian rapper Namewee even said last year, "If you ask me if the pepper-based soup is tasty, I’ll say it is. But if you tell me it’s bak kut teh, we’ll argue for almost two hours."

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