BKT row: When appetite for politicking threatens to swallow national unity

HERE we go again. UMNO Youth chief Dr Muhamad Akmal Saleh recently asked Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to sack Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing over several issues, including the inclusion of bak kut teh (BKT) as a national heritage food.

The inclusion of the food, according to the Russia-trained medical practitioner, was insensitive as not all Malaysians can consume the dish. Bak kut teh is typically pork rib stewed in a variety of herbs although some restaurants use kosher meat like chicken or fish.

PAS’ National Unity Committee has innovated the halal version of bah kut teh

Dr Akmal, who is also a state executive councillor in Malacca, has completely missed the point. A national heritage food does not mean that it has to be a dish that can be consumed by all Malaysians.

Other dishes that made the list announced on Feb 24 include mee kolok and nasi ambeng; traditional desserts like burasak, dodol kukus tahi minyak, kuih lapis, kuih karas and uthappam as well as appetisers such as jeruk tuhau and katira (a beverage).

The list is a reflection of the country’s diverse culinary traditions, encompassing popular dishes from the different ethnic groups. A mee kolok lover may not fancy kuih karas or someone who loves nasi ambeng may not like the taste of bak kut teh.

Nobody is forcing Malaysians to embrace all the food in the list, much less shove the dishes down their throats.

Similarly, while Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, other religions can be practised freely, too. In fact, the Government also allocates funding to churches and temples, a testament of the official recognition accorded to these faiths.

But nobody is forcing all Malaysians to partake in the eucharist or recite the Bhagavad Gita. To each, his or her own.

But perhaps Dr Muhamad Akmal prefers to stoke racial-religious sentiments to score brownie points to help his party regain the massive loss in Malay-Muslim support. If so, he’s sacrificing long-term national unity for narrow political interests.

And at some point, food which has traditionally kept Malaysians united will be a source of national discord, no thanks to selfish politicians with an insatiable appetite for scoring political points. – March 2, 2024

Main pic credit: FoodAdvisor

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