Chicken Rice to become Singapore’s First heritage item on Unesco List

It hasn’t been confirmed yet, but Chicken Rice is likely to become Singapore’s first heritage item on the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage (UICH) list.

This would be Singapore’s second significant contribution to Unesco lists in recent years, ever since the Botanic Gardens was recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2015.

Image result for chicken rice
Image of chicken rice

But why chicken rice? Or why would we have food as our heritage item for that matter?

According to a National Heritage Board poll, the vast majority of 3,000 Singaporeans polled stated that food heritage was most defining of Singapore’s cultural heritage.

The Sunday Times conducted a follow-up survey of 30 respondents, and almost all chose chicken rice as Singapore’s representative dish, followed by rojak and chilli crab.

These results probably wouldn’t come as a surprise for Singaporeans – most of us would agree that Singapore food is a key aspect of our national identity.

Chicken rice, then, is the go-to food in hawker centres when spoilt for choice.

It also won us our first Michelin star: Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice Noodle received one Michelin Star back in 2016, and remains the cheapest Michelin starred meal in the world.

Image result for chicken rice michelin star singapore
Store owner Chan Hon Meng, 52, working at his stall, which cooks chicken rice in the Hong Kong style as opposed to the more common Hainanese style

Singapore or Malaysia?

However, since the rumours spread that Singapore was going to include chicken rice as its heritage item, there has been some unhappiness online.

Malaysians, and some Indonesians as well, have protested that Chicken Rice is not a uniquely Singaporean dish.

UNESCO requirements do not mandate that the submitted food has to originate from the country submitting it, which technically allows Singapore to submit the dish without any issue.

However, before we start a food war, perhaps we should admit that the origins of hawker dishes can be murky, and given their long history its difficult to determine which country it ‘belongs to’.

Joint Submission

A solution to the problem? A joint submission.

Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh said he believes Singapore and Malaysia should make a joint submission “to recognise our hawker food” as an ICH.

Heritage conservation expert Johannes Widodo, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, also agreed:

“A joint submission with neighbouring countries that have strong historical and cultural connections with Singapore… can highlight Singapore’s position as a global cosmopolitan city – the meeting and melting pot of the cultures of the world,” he said.

The National Heritage Board has indicated that the public will be able to weigh in on the choice, which will be made by next year.

At least in the meantime, we can be excited about some events celebrating Singapore food!

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