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When asked to name a national dish, nothing uniquely limited to Malaysia comes to mind. Dishes like satay, nasi lemak, rojak, chicken rice, ais kacang can be equally claimed by Indonesians and Singaporeans and beloved Tamil Muslim staples like roti canai and teh tarik can be found in India. Malaysian cuisine is often discussed as ethnically diverse and hybrid, and recipes and cookbooks often attribute this to its rich history of maritime trade, migration, intermarriages and colonialism. Local cookbook writers are fully aware of the wide diversity and thus, such books are likely to hone in on particular ethnic or regional foods, home-cooking or street food. Abroad, Malaysia is better known for its array of ethnic-inflected street food. But one man, molecular gastronomy lecturer chef Darren Teoh, wants to disrupt the discourse of authentic Malaysian cuisine by de-culturalising it. Teoh brings modernist approaches to local ingredients, preferring to emphasize and feature indigenous plants and herbs, re-presenting the familiar in unusual and creative ways. This paper analyses the discourse of Malaysian national cuisine in recipe books, food blogs, restaurant reviews and suggests that a shift to “modern Malaysian” cuisine may provide a novel approach to deconstructing traditional conceptions of Malaysian cuisine.
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Gaik Cheng Khoo (former ANU lecturer and now research affiliate) teaches film and cultural studies at the University of Nottingham Malaysia. Her research focused on independent filmmaking in Malaysia, food, identity and space, civil society and lately, Korean migrants in Malaysia. Publications include Eating Together: Food, Space and Identity in Malaysia and Singapore (co-authored with Jean Duruz, Rowman and Littlefield, 2015), co-editing Malaysia’s New Ethnoscapes and Ways of Belonging with Julian Lee (Routledge, 2015) and various book chapters and journals. See “The Cheapskate Highbrow and the Dilemma of Sustaining Penang Hawker Food.”SOJOURN 31.1 (2017): 36-77. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/657994