Malaysians outraged after pork soup gets national heritage

By Hoang Phong   March 2, 2024 | 05:31 pm PT
Malaysians outraged after pork soup gets national heritage
A bowl of bak kut teh, pork rib dish cooked in a broth flavored with various Chinese medicinal herbs, in Malaysia. Photo courtesy of Facebook/Malaysia Boleh SG
Malaysian netizens took to social media to express their outrage after their government has listed bak kut teh, a hearty dish of pork ribs simmered in herbs and spices, as one of "heritage" dishes in a Muslim-dominant country.

Bak kut teh, a popular meat and pork rib dish cooked in a broth flavored with various Chinese medicinal herbs, was added to a growing list of the country’s heritage food on Feb. 23 in a government gazette, along with nine other dishes, the Straits Times reported.

However, netizens in Malaysia where pork-abstaining Muslims make up more than 60% of the population have questioned whether the dish deserves national recognition, claiming a national heritage dish must be able to be consumed by all races and religions.

"Should a pork-based soup contend as a heritage dish in a Muslim-majority country?" one netizen asked.

An user on X, formerly known as Twitter, called it a "controversial choice" and said that bak kut teh shouldn't be considered a national heritage dish if half the population can't consume it.

According to Malaysian news publication The Star, opposition member of parliament Rosol Wahid also raised concerns about the probability of the move "[touching] on religious sensitivities."

He urged the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry to explain the decision.

The United Malays National Organisation's youth leader, Muhammad Akmal Saleh also expressed his outrage in a Facebook post, accusing Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Tiong King Sing of not considering "the sensitivity of the Malaysian people.

"It was better to acknowledge other cultural dishes that can be eaten by all citizens of Malaysia, regardless of race or religion. For instance, Chinese fried rice," Muhammad added.

However, some netizens supported the choice of bak kut teh, saying as the dish was created in Malaysia, it definitely should be part of the country's heritage.

Another argued that bak kut teh is well loved by foreign tourists who flock to Malaysia to try it.

It is widely believed that bak kut teh was brought to Malaysia, specifically to the area of Klang, by early immigrants from China’s Fujian Province.

Over half of Malaysia’s population follows the Islamic faith, which prohibits the consumption of pork.

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