Malaysia’s cuisine heritage, drawn from the cultural diversity of its people, has potential to attract Muslim tourists from around the world looking for halal and unique food experiences.
Dato’ Dr. Mohmed Razip Haji Hasan, Director General of Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC), is passionate about the heritage value of Malaysian food and believes that Malaysian food can be a special touristic draw especially for Muslim tourists from around the world.
Focusing on the melting pot of the Southeast Asian nation’s demography, he opined: “Malaysia has a diverse population, and each state, each race, each ethnic group has its own unique cultural heritage when it comes to cooking. The food heritage of Sabah and Kedah, for example, are vastly different from each other.”
“Similarly, the types of meals served at dinner tables in Sarawak are not the same as the ones served in Selangor. It’s not just about unique ingredients, but also the unique cooking techniques employed in the preparation,” he further added.
A classic example to the point above would be the beef rendang, a typical Malaysian dish where the meat is slow-cooked with various herbs and spices over many hours until tender. Each state in Malaysia has its own traditional rendang recipe, ranging from the way the beef is cut, to the types and amount of herbs and spices used, even to intrinsic details such as the exact moment when the coconut cream is to be added to the process.
Simply put, a beef rendang found in Perak may taste different from a beef rendang originating from Negeri Sembilan.
“Malaysian food is not just about the taste, but the whole dining experience. Frankly speaking, Malaysian culinary arts is a story or representation of Malaysia’s culture, her people and their heritage.”
“The fact that various Malaysian food is easily available as Halal food is also a huge draw, especially for Muslim tourists from non-Muslim majority countries where Halal food is not as easily accessible as it is here.”
He believed that Malaysian cuisine had great potential to be a touristic draw and encouraged tourism industry players to work together to make Malaysia an attractive destination for Muslims.
“I see the opportunities where travel agents, tourist guides, hotels, and restaurants can collaborate to create packages that are catered to the niche Muslim tourist market.”
“They can work with Islamic Tourism Centre and the Department of National Heritage (Jabatan Warisan Negara/JWN), both departments and agencies under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia. Interestingly, JWN has also worked on an initiative to preserve our national heritage by compiling a list of cuisine which are ‘endangered’ or nearing extinction.”
“Tour operators can work with ITC’s Muslim-friendly Accommodation Recognition (MFAR) hotels where facilities such as Halal restaurants are available, besides having chefs and culinary experts that can prepare special Malaysian dishes.”
He added: “What’s special about Malaysia is not only in the diversity of food choices but also the fact that Halal food is easily available here. This is something worth highlighting to Muslims around the world because we understand that for Muslims, both locals and tourists, this (Halal food) is especially important to them.”
He said: “From a Muslim tourist’s point of view, when accessibility to Halal food is present in a particular destination, consequently it will make their visit here more welcoming, more comfortable, culminating in a positive experience of Malaysia.”
Dato’ Dr. Mohmed Razip expressed his views above while lauding the efforts of Datin Kalsom Taib and Datin Hamidah Hamid, for compiling beloved traditional Malaysian recipes in the book, Malaysia’s Heritage Cuisine. The book, which the duo co-authored, recently won in the Best of Asia book category at the Gourmand Awards.
“The fact that a book on Malaysian traditional cuisines won this award shows that the interest in our gastronomic culture is high. We should take the initiative to leverage on this attention and recognition by introducing Malaysia and our food to the Muslim world,” Dato’ Dr. Mohmed Razip said.