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Should Chicken Rice Be Part Of Singapore’s Intangible Cultural Heritage On UNESCO’s List?

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Some Singaporeans Think Chicken Rice Should Represent Singapore’s Intangible Heritage On UNESCO’s List

There’s no denying that Hainanese chicken rice is one of Singapore’s best-known dishes.

The dish is so widely loved that you can even get a Michelin-star plate of chicken rice from Chinatown’s food court. One could even call it our unofficial national dish.


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Our Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) recently ratified the 2003 UNESCO Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

A fancy way of saying that Singapore’s looking to preserve certain “intangible” parts of our heritage.

The good news is, chicken rice is a popular choice to make the list, according to an unofficial Straits Times (ST) poll of 30 people that is.

Let’s take a look at how they came to that conclusion. But first, what is this intangible heritage in the first place?

What is intangible heritage?

UNESCO’s aim is to preserve practices from around the world so that they can live on forever. A variety of things such as performing arts, cultural rituals and traditional crafts are considered intangible heritage.

Examples of intangible heritage include Yoga from India, Flamenco from Spain, and even beer culture in Belgium.

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The whole point of the list is to safeguard intangible heritage, by raising awareness as to why the items on the list are significant to the country’s heritage.

Without this list, there’s a possibility that certain kinds of intangible heritage may die out over the years.

Unlike landmarks like Botanic Gardens that will remain as long as they are cared for and protected, cooking an authentic plate of chicken rice takes skill, practice, and a family recipe that’s passed down through generations.

If chicken rice does land on the list, we hope the recipe won’t be lost forever, and will be safeguarded.

Chicken rice a crowd favourite, obviously

Eating is a huge part of local culture, so what better way to commemorate this than by having food on the list?

There’s no local dish that’s better known for being Singaporean than a plate of chicken rice.

We’d like to think that it’s not possible that there’s any Singaporean around that hasn’t tried or heard of the dish. Even foreigners pine for it, and rightfully so.

In a recent poll of 30 people conducted by ST to determine what people think should be on the UNESCO list,  the items that came out on top were:

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As always, chicken rice has come out on top as the crowd favourite. Of course, it’s important to bear in mind that this has no bearing on the actual results, and is just a suggestion of possibilities.

We’ve broken down why, or why not, every item polled deserves to be on the UNESCO list:

1. Chicken rice


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Mm, this seems like the clear winner to us too. Eating is so quintessentially the average Singaporean’s favourite past-time, it only seems right that we included it as a part of our heritage.

2. Folk tale of Sang Nila Utama

This one’s quite a solid point too. After all, it is the story of how Singapore came to be.

If your memory is a little rusty, this is the story of how Sang Nila Utama sailed to Singapore, and while on land found an animal that looked like a lion — giving us our first name.

Singapura, which means “Lion City”.

3. Traditional coffee powder grinding

Hmm, we don’t really know about this one. Of course, we definitely don’t disagree that this is a craft.

But seeing as Singaporeans aren’t really coffee-crazed or caffeine fulled, we’re unsure that this would be a great fit.

Perhaps this would be a better fit as a later entry on the list and not the first?

4. Rojak

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This one’s pretty iconic too, considering Singapore is considered a “rojak” — a local version of a melting pot.

Some would disagree and say that this is a Malaysian dish too. Which is fine of course, because Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh believes that Singapore and Malaysia could make a joint submission.

Great idea, linking up with our Malaysian neighbours would really reflect the idea behind “rojak”.

5. Dikir barat

Looks like there’s another item on the list that could be a joint submission, as it’s a huge part of Malaysian national culture, too.

Out of all the items on the list, this is the most relevant, considering it’s a musical form. Of course, at this point, these items are merely suggestions.

Over the next few months, MCCY will be polling more Singaporeans to determine our additions to UNESCO’s list.

Big plans for Singapore’s heritage

This just looks like the first step for MCCY’s plans regarding Singapore’s heritage.

They’ve launched a masterplan called Our SG Heritage Plan, which is basically aimed at promoting and preserving Singapore’s heritage.

$66 million has been put aside to fund this masterplan, which will also fund national museums and heritage institutions.

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Public feedback is being relied on as well, with 34,000 Singaporeans having been polled in the last two years.

Not to fret, if you feel like maybe you have a better suggestion than chicken rice, or just want to voice your opinion on other aspects of Our SG Heritage Plan, Singaporeans are welcome to do so.

We’re still growing

Considering Singapore’s younger than many other countries on the list, there’s a lot of pride to be taken in our already vast culture and heritage.

We’re excited to see what lands on the list, and definitely to see what new practices will be considered a part of Singapore’s heritage in a few more decades.

But for now, don’t mind us while we dig into a steaming hot plate of chicken rice.

Featured image by SteamyKitchen.

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