Storm over popiah origin

PETALING JAYA - Local food connoisseurs have defended the popiah (spring roll) as a national delicacy after an Indonesian group claimed that it originated from Central Java.

Rebung Restaurant co-owner Datuk Chef Ismail Ahmad said the popiah was different from the lumpia, as it is called by the Indonesians, and was widely known to be a famous Malaysian delicacy by locals and tourists alike.

"Popiah was never Indonesian. If you go to Jakarta, you cannot find popiah there. Whereas popiah is easily available everywhere in Malaysia.

Generally, lumpia refers to spring rolls of Chinese origin, and is derived from the Hokkien word, lunpia. It is believed by many to have originated from the Fujian province in China, while its variants, including the popiah, are widely found in East and South-East Asia.

Chef Ismail said the confusion may have stemmed from the fact that many types of foods - originally brought by the Indo-Chinese when they came to trade in Malacca centuries ago - had been adopted into local culture.

Celebrity chef Datuk Redzuawan Ismail, popularly known as Chef Wan, said that neither country should claim ownership as each had different ways of preparing the dish.

"Malaysia does not own the popiah. We call it a national delicacy because of the way it is prepared, and how it caters to local taste buds," he said when contacted.

"Indonesia must understand that their popiah and our popiah are different. We should unite over such food, and not argue."

A small group of Indonesians calling themselves Forum Masyarakat Peduli Budaya Indonesia (Formasbudi or Forum for Society who cares for Indonesian Culture) held a protest outside the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta on Friday, claiming that the popiah was an Indonesian national cultural heritage.

Malaysian ambassador to Indonesia Datuk Seri Zahrain Mohamed Hashim uploaded two images of the protest on his official Twitter account @dzahrain, showing a crowd of demonstrators holding up placards and calling for the lumpia, which is the Indonesian version of the popiah, to be "saved".

Meanwhile, Indonesian ambassador to Malaysia Herman Prayitno said Malaysia should be free to enjoy its version of the popiah while defending Indonesia's right to protect the lumpia as a cultural heritage.

"Indonesia has the right to submit a claim to an authoritative body like Unesco to acknowledge lumpia as a world cultural heritage which originated from Indonesia with complete historical evidence.

"Malaysia also have the right to enjoy their own popiah," he said in a statement.