Uniting Malaysians Through Culture

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By Associate Professor Dr Elise Line Mognard and Professor Dr Jean Pierre Poulain

A mark of being a true Malaysian means taking pride in the local food.
True enough, people often plan their trips based on where they want to eat rather than the places they want to see.
But what constitutes a common food cultural heritage in this ethnically diverse country?
As the nation celebrated its 66th year of independence, it is time to reflect on our common love for food that unites the nation together.
The Malaysian Heritage Department of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry ‘s recognition of the Malaysian breakfast encourages the identification, safeguarding, and promotion of cultural heritage which has a significant interest to the nation. 

Dr Elise Line Mognard.

The breakfast appears as one of the most prominent traits of the food culture in Malaysia.
Breakfast, as the first meal of the day, varies based on different cultures in Malaysia.
Dissecting the Malaysian breakfast practices, a team of food studies scientists from Taylor’s University’s School of Food Studies and Gastronomy recently published their conclusions in an article entitled “Much More Than Food: The Malaysian Breakfast, a Socio-Cultural Perspective” in the academic journal Sustainability
The study revealed a breakdown of the different styles of breakfast consumed in Malaysia, each style being attributed to a specific culture: “nasi lemak”, “nasi goreng”, and “kuih” to Malay; “roti canai” and “chapati” to Indian; and “noodle soup”, “fried rice”, and “dim sum” to Chinese. 

The article characterised the Malaysian breakfast by the commonality of styles and the fact that the boundaries between these styles are porous. The shared culinary background of the different communities constitutes a common register of Malaysian breakfast. The breakfast in Malaysia is an expression of identities, allowing individuals to assert their affiliations with their respective cultures and the wider Malaysian citizenship. 
Restaurants, food courts, “mamaks”, as well as small traders are involved in an informal economy. They are key stakeholders in supporting this food system which contributes to the Malaysian economy. 
While more than 50 per cent of the population eat an Asian type of breakfast such as nasi lemak, nasi goreng, kuih, roti canai and dimsum, 26.1 per cent enjoy a westernized breakfast, usually consisting of bread, cereal, and milk. One possible explanation of the importance of the westernised breakfast style could be viewed because of the marketing of breakfast products such as cereals and biscuits in supermarkets and restaurants. An alternative explanation is that the English and Continental structures due to colonisation is a dimension that is rooted in the Malaysian breakfast culture.
All in all, multiculturalism challenges the food identities that we know. While we enjoy the various dishes that have been passed on from generation to generation, we enjoy immensely the food that is shared by our fellow citizens. In this, the recognition of the Malaysian breakfast as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO would meaningfully make the Malaysian breakfast one of the hallmarks of our nation’s identity.
In addition, the recognition will help elevate our Malaysian breakfast to an international platform, facilitating cross-cultural appreciation, and understanding while contributing to its sustained vitality. 

About the author: Dr Elise Mognard is Associate Professor and programme director of Masters and PhD Food Studies of the School of Food Studies and Gastronomy, a part of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Leisure Management at Taylor’s University and Professor Dr Jean-Pierre Poulain is the Chair of “Food Cultures and Health” and holds a double affiliation with the University of Toulouse in France and Taylor’s University.

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