On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Eating hawker food in clean places soon

As much as Malaysians support the Government's ban on all roadside stalls in the city, a loud sigh was heaved at the decision to relocate in stages the city's 36,500 hawkers to food courts within complexes.

The Malaysian flavour, character and colour of eating at roadside stalls, which fascinate and probably horrify outsiders, will soon disappear.

The ban on roadside hawking will be carried out in stages Kuala Lumpur first, followed by the states.

That means Penangites will no longer head for the Air Itam market for laksa, and the char koay teow roadside stall in Lorong Selamat will have to seek refuge at a nearby coffeeshop to continue business.

Old habits die hard. Some Malaysians argue that in Paris, for example, the city takes great pains to promote their roadside cafes and patrons prefer to sit outside regardless of the weather.

So why can't our local authorities impose cleanliness rules and enforce them strictly without having to ban street stalls?

It will probably take time for Malaysians to get used to the idea of  having to go to a shopping complex for teh tarik which will come in a  styrofoam cup.

And it will take even longer for many Malaysians to pick up the habit of using disposal bowls and chop sticks for bah kut teh. It may be more hygienic but certainly politically incorrect since they are  environmentally-unfriendly.

But the days of Malaysians eating at roadside stalls, declared rodent breeding grounds by the authorities, will soon be over.

Last week, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim ordered all new complexes to have food courts, saying the relocation of roadside stalls to such centres was a move to reduce littering and ease traffic congestion.

These measures would eventually be applied to towns and cities throughout the country. Anwar said roadside hawkers and petty traders were responsible for 500 tonnes (or 17 per cent) of rubbish collected in the city.

With 200,000 licensed hawkers and countless unlicensed ones in the country, the authorities probably have no choice but to call for an  integrated approach to solve the cleanliness and congestion problems caused by hawkers.

The decision to set up food courts with proper facilities in strategic  areas is based on various factors, including having water supply, proper refuse disposal, and ensuring that stall holders are properly dressed and hygienic.

Malaysians somehow place more importance on the flavour and taste of their food than on the hygiene standards of food vendors.

It will be difficult to argue against the merits of the national hawking policy, introduced by the Housing andLocal Government Ministry. Besides cleanliness and orderliness, the aspects of health, safety and beautification of the country come into play.

No responsible government can allow the existence of uncontrolled  roadside stalls by both locals and foreigners who clog the drains with  leftovers, leaving a trail of health headaches.

With the Asean Summit, Commonwealth Games and Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit all taking place in Kuala Lumpur over the next few years, thousands of visitors will converge in the city.

The last thing the city fathers would want to see is Malaysians eating nasi lemak at a roadside stall, which uses only one pail of water to wash 100 plates, next to the Petronas Twin Towers.

So, Malaysians have no choice but to eat roti canai with flimsy plastic forks and spoons.

It will be tough, and too much like eating in Singapore. It's just too clinical for my liking.