GEORGE TOWN - The state government has proposed a ban to stop foreigners from being the "main cooks" of popular local dishes in order to preserve the authenticity of taste.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) and Seberang Prai Municipal Council (MPSP) have been instructed to carry out a study and gather feedback.
"They will get feedback from hawkers, food operators and the public before a set of rules is drafted. Among the action to be taken could be revoking the hawker's licence," he said.
The suggestion was made by Lim out of concern that the state's reputation for good street food would be affected if it was prepared by Vietnamese, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, Thai, Indonesian or Indian nationals.
"We need to ensure the authentic flavour of our char koay teow, assam laksa, chee cheong fun, Hokkien prawn mee, nasi kandar and nasi dalca.
"This is a way to protect the state's food heritage," he said at a press conference here yesterday.
Lim said a recent check at 100 food courts and hawker complexes by the MPPP showed that there were 119 foreign kitchen helpers hired by the hawkers, adding that the figure could be higher as some might not have the actual number of foreigners being employed.
A check by The Star at Cecil Street Food Court showed that even hawkers are for the ban.
Char kway teow seller Tan Bak Juah, 60, is of the opinion that "only a local" could fry the best plate of the flat rice noodle.
"I've been selling this item for the past 40 years, and I've never hired a foreigner.
"Even if we teach foreigners to cook, the taste will be different as it will be hard for them to control the fire and maintain our traditional flavour," he said.
Tan Boon Chye, 55, said he has two foreigners helping at his popiah and chee cheong fun stall, but they do not cook.
There are those, however, who oppose the proposed ban.
Wan tan noodle seller Vernie Lim, who employs a Myanmar national as her assistant cook, said the most important thing was the worker's attitude, and not his nationality.
"I know the feeling of being discriminated against, so I'd like to give my workers equal chance if they do well," she said at her stall in Macalister Road here.
A nasi kandar restaurant supervisor from India said the owner employed mostly foreigners to cook.
"Our boss will only be at the restaurant once in a while, and it is impossible for him not to employ foreigners as we need a lot of staff to run the restaurant."