The role of street food trading in many countries is a major portion of activities which employ the great deal of low-income people. In Malaysia, this activity is recognized by the authorities and the society although at many times it has been considered as a problem since hawkers are conceived to muddle up streets, create traffic congestion and are found unhygienic. Today, the range of facilities has improved significantly with the support of the authorities. Hawkers have been provided with trading sites, stalls and other facilities that help to improve their participation.
Nevertheless, street hawkers remain as one of the protrusive features of the urban environment. Despite of the efforts to relocate hawkers into centralized locations, street hawkers still exist and at times creating many difficulties to the authorities to deal with, though their contributions to the urban environment in terms supplying various types of goods at reasonable prices are undeniable. Therefore, it is obligatory to discuss their sustainability in the urban environment in regards to their roles in the community.
This paper will look into the issues of street hawkers’ sustainability in Penang based on an article “The Cheapskate Highbrow and the Dilemma of Sustaining Penang Hawker Food”
The first issue to be began with is the ban on foreign cooks to preserve the ‘local taste’. As in the article “When it comes to Penang hawker food, bee sor is not about class distinction (Bourdieu 1984), since that food is affordable to everyone. Instead, it is about pride in clinging to a regional or state identity that distinguishes itself from hawker food from other parts of Malaysia and from Singapore.
This pride associated with being able to identify what is “authentic Penang hawker food” is best captured in Ooi Kee Beng’s phrase “cheapskate highbrowness” . In this case, what is the exact meaning for ‘authentic food’ and how should ‘authentic food’ actually taste? What do hotels mean when they claim they offer authentic cuisine? Can a foreigner cook local dishes? Or are hotels running the risk of false advertising about their authentic cuisine? Many restaurants have been disappointing about claiming to offer authentic flavors. However, some restaurants are also found where foreign chefs are able to create a genuine ‘local taste. So what does authentic really mean? In fact, there might be no such thing as truly authentic food, but achieving a taste that comes close to matching the guest’s expectations is a fair definition of what authentic taste should mean. However, even allowing that ‘authentic’ can have a pretty broad meaning, that does not give hotels carte blanche to use the term to promote restaurants that most definitely are not. Whether or not you want to make your restaurant ‘authentic’ or ‘fusion’, the ultimate aim is to meet guests’ expectations.
In terms of cooking the ‘local taste’ food, in the article “Call to ban foreign cooks in Malaysia elicits mixed reactions” , there are many various reactions from restaurant and food stall owners about banning foreign cooks. Some of the owner expressed their contrary opinions that the cooks must be Malaysian because they thought the customers prefer to eat the food made by Malaysian. While others disagreed and one of them said that she used to hire local cook but the food they serve was not as tasty as those made by Indonesian cook. This is saying that not all local cooks can cook the best ‘local taste’ food. In addition, the foreign cooks are skilled to cook the traditional food of some families’ generation. Banning on them might lead to a lack of employees in the industry. “In Singapore, after the government took steps to reduce immigration, one wantan mee seller could not find local workers, whether citizens or permanent residents, to help her even when she offered S$100 per day, substantially more than the going rate of S$60-S$70 (Loh 2015)” .The foreigners seem to not have many range of job mobility due to their visa condition. Moreover, the tasks of being in the kitchen approximately ten hours per day including the time of cleaning up and preparing the ingredients for the next day is quite harsh for the locals who have more options on jobs. They rather work on the ‘air-conditioner’ environment with even a higher income when they are educated. In another western countries such as Germany and Australia, most of the locals work in a restaurant, they aware of the advantages of their fluency in the language they were born with, so they rather apply to be the waiters or waitresses than work in the kitchen. The ‘so-called’ main cook in the kitchen in most of Vietnamese restaurant in Germany is the one who produce the menu along with the recipes and they will teach other cooks or cook assistance the skill to keep the food as ‘authentic’ as possible. Also, there are also some restaurants that the owners only hire the cooks to follow the recipes which were made by their family and passed from many generations. This issue is believed to have happened the same in Penang. It is also not necessary when the cook have to be the local. In terms of being local juridically, when it comes to the control and examination of the cooks working at food stalls in Penang the cooks will provide the license of residence to the Inspector Department. Thence, what if the cook is still originally foreigner granted a residential license by marrying a local? This will become the matter of legally accepted, no more the matter of cooking traditional food and preserve the local taste.
“Cooking happened to be something that they were good at doing or something for which they developed a knack over the years through accidents, mishaps and experimentation. If the government gives out hawker licenses to help lower income people start small businesses, it seems fitting that entrepreneurial hawker food operators who can afford to pay for migrant work visas should not use the work of holders of those visas to sacrifice standards” Related discussions in the article will chase upon the sustainable strategies employed by hawkers, their roles as in business industry and supplier of the goods to the policies of local authority and the public towards their entity. All of which are important for them to handle, survive and to sustain their families’ heritage as well as the urban environment. It is found that street hawkers are involved in this activity for a long period of time making it a full life time occupation while opening the stalls and cooking is treated as the main income source for their family. Positively, street hawkers have a crucial role in this economy as the supplier of cooked food, to the consumers. while maintaining its importance as a channel of multi retailers that are available in most urban environment today, behaving like supermarkets or department stores though at a lower level. Local authority policies and actions affect the survival and sustainability of street hawkers. The efforts should be embedded in the council policy towards street hawkers to license them to guarantee a more effective monitoring practices in the future. Relocating these hawkers in the attempt to formalize their activities should also be carried out with greater attention to the needs and demands of the public who appreciate the accessible and convenient locations of street hawkers to their residents.
Moving to the term “preserving the taste”, in the article, Khoo Gaik Cheng said: “Taste is also subjective, for one man’s meat is another man’s poison. What tastes good might depend on one’s first experience of a dish or have been shaped over the years by one’s habit of eating at the same stall and building up a relationship with its owner-cook.” When the food is served to a majority of customers from all walks of life, from other regions including the tourist from other countries, the taste requirements also vary when serving food to a certain level, they have concerns about a particular problem, the change in taste or in the ingredients is unavoidable. One of the chefs in a Chinese restaurant said that the guests wanted to taste authentic food, but it is necessary to make a little change in order to match local guests’ expectations for flavor. Sometimes, he needed to adjust the sour taste of the sushi rice, but still retained its original flavor. This was the most challenging part when making small adjustments to suit the local market. In addition, there is a significant difference between Western and Asian tastes. Most of Vietnamese dishes when they are served in Germany, the restaurants always have to adjust the taste of the food. For example, Vietnamese people always use fish sauce to increase the flavor of the broth in pho, but fish sauce itself have a very strong smell. Some of Westerners will not dare to eat if the restaurant preserves its characteristic and original flavor. Therefore, to attract more customer, especially when selling Asian food in western countries, the restaurants only retain approximately 80 percent of the taste from the dishes.
Malaysia is the root of multiple ethnicities where vast majority of immigrants arrived to look for an honest living in this country. The cultures go with their cuisine where various traditional congregation usual accompanied by exotic scrumptious food, that supplement the food recipes. As time passed, these cooking are in some way liken with the local customs thus produce much more uniquely and diverse different types of dishes which cannot be found at anywhere else in the world. Food related tourism can allow tourists to achieve the desired goals of relaxation. It has also been found to be an attribute whereby tourists conceive the attractive destination. Food and beverage as products can either act as a motivator that add value to the image of the place of tourism. As a consequence, to preserve Penang’s food hawking heritage, it is compulsory that the state authorities should have a better understanding of the supply trend of hawkers before policies are regarded and executed. An in-depth study is also needed to procure an accurate evaluation on the sustainability of food hawking in Penang; and to restructure the occupation as a viable career options for the younger generation. In summary, whether or not Penang people want to make food to have ‘local taste’ or to preserve the taste, the ultimate aim is to meet customer’ expectations.