Kuching one step closer to making it into Unesco Creative Cities of Gastronomy prestigious list

Traditions, cultures, historical past and values bring a symphony of flavours to Sarawak's culinary diversity.

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, July 1: The submission for Kuching to be recognised as the Creative City of Gastronomy has been done, taking Sarawak a step closer to being added into the Unesco Creative Cities Network (UCCN), which currently has 246 member cities.

The Culinary Heritage and Arts Society Sarawak (CHASS) chairperson Datin Dona Drury-Wee disclosed that the application report was submitted last Wednesday (June 30) after extensive planning and preparations that took some nine months, involving a wide base of stakeholders.

“This is the first stage. So, now we are waiting for them (expert panel or evaluation body from Unesco) to call us to go through the programmes and action plans in promoting and protecting our food culture and heritage which must be supported by efforts in attaining certain sustainable goals.

“Everyone is working really hard for this project. We are very excited actually,” she told DayakDaily when contacted today.

Dona expressed confidence that Kuching stands a good chance of being recognised as the Creative City of Gastronomy “because we have everything that they are looking for” in fulfilling all criteria required to gain the status.

“They are looking at it as a whole, including the use of indigenous ingredients, the heritage behind it, food hygiene, community engagement and so on.

“Education is a very big part which is why we are working with other stakeholders such as UCSI, Centex, Blue Point Culinary School and others,” she said.

In Sarawak’s application bid, it was noted that Kuching is a culinary melting pot, as the foundation for its food stands on the distinct biodiversity of Borneo that is fully appreciated, in a gastronomic sense, through the unusually close and symbiotic relationship that the indigenous people and the local Malays maintain with the forests, rivers and seas that have sustained them since time immemorial.

It added that the colonial past and influx of immigrant populations over the last two hundred years have also enriched Kuching’s food scenes with most if not all ethnic communities existing in Sarawak still preserving their cooking traditions and unique indigenous dishes that are rooted with rich cultures, history and influences that created them.

Today, a wave of young generation cooks and entrepreneurs as well as the creative economy have further expanded the local food industry across Sarawak in creative new ways, to keep evolving and delivering diversity of gastronomic experiences with their own twists.

Elaborating on the challenges ahead, Dona emphasised that it was necessary to get all the programmes and action plans implemented, which will need the strong support and involvement of the entire community from public and private sectors as well as industry players including newcomers in these tough times as Sarawak navigates through the new normal.

“After gaining the status, it will be subjected to review as we will have to do yearly reporting and submit a full report every four years to Unesco, showing our commitment and efforts made to keeping to our action plans and objectives, goals achieved, and a lot more,” she said.

Kuching or Sarawak as a whole will need to demonstrate that there is inclusivity and continuity of the food culture where knowledge, skills and traditional practices are transmitted from one generation to the next.

If Kuching is recognised as a creative city of gastronomy, it would mean that Kuching and Sarawak pledge to put more attention and efforts into safeguarding and promoting the city’s culinary history, culture and heritage.

Meanwhile, the application was initiated by CHASS which involves a broad coalition of stakeholders tasked with the promotion and preservation of the State’s gastronomic traditions, and the Society Atelier Sarawak which previously spearheaded a successful application to list Kuching as a World Craft City under the World Crafts Council.

The project is led by both municipalities – Kuching South City Council (MBKS) and Kuching North City Hall (DBKU) who are backed by a number of Sarawak stakeholders, including food professionals and their associations, non-governmental organisations, entrepreneurs, food researchers and scientists, artisans, educationalists, smallholders and agriculture specialists.

The State and Federal Ministries of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MOTAC) as well as the Ministry of Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development (MANRED) and Ministry of Local Government and Housing (MLGH) are also involved.

All stakeholders are eager to see Kuching being accepted into the UCCN, a recognition that will further boost the social, economic, tourism, culture and creative industries not only in Sarawak but Malaysia as a whole, both locally and internationally.

Introduced by Unesco in 2004, the UCCN initiative aims to foster innovation and creativity as a driver towards a sustainable and inclusive city.

The 246 cities which currently make up this network work together towards a common objective which is placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level.

To find out more on Kuching’s journey towards attaining creative city of gastronomy status, check out the website at https://kuchingcreativecity.com/. — DayakDaily