A Hong Kong restaurateur has found himself at the center of a controversy after allegedly blaming the Muslim culture for the failure of his popular restaurant in Malaysia.
Mak Gui Pui, who owns the Michelin-starred restaurant Tim Ho Wan, shut down the operations of the restaurant’s Malaysia branches on July 4 after just three years of business.
In a statement to the local press in Hong Kong, he explained that the reason the restaurant failed was due to cultural differences.
The owner pointed out that his restaurants suffered losses because Malaysia has a Muslim-majority population that doesn’t consume pork. Incidentally, pork is the main ingredient in dim sum and dumpling dishes. He further stated that having a Chinese restaurant in Malaysia is like “operating a sauna business in a remote desert.”
His statements did not sit well with many Malaysian Chinese who believe that blaming Muslim culture for his losses is “irresponsible”.
In an interview with the Chinese Cross-Border Question and Answer project, Malaysian-Chinese journalist Wan Qing explained why Mak Gui Pui’s statements are generating such backlash.
According to Qing, many are upset because they felt Mak’s explanation was “off the mark.”
“Tim Ho Wan use of cultural differences as an explanation is an attempt to paint a picture of a cultural minority versus the Malaysian Muslim majority. At the same time, there is a sense of cultural superiority in the presentation.”
Qing offered other reasons for why the restaurants may have failed to touch base with Malaysian customers.
“The real issue is related to business strategy — if Mr. Mak has conducted market research, he should have known there are a huge number of dim sum restaurants in Malaysia,” Qing said.
“You can find BBQ pork bun everywhere at food stands. The selling point of ‘steam upon order’ is not appealing in Malaysia as the food culture is so diverse and dishes are always freshly cooked.”
Qing then pointed out what actual Malaysian netizens are saying on Facebook: “the price of Tim Ho Wan is too high, the quality of food is so and so, service is poor and the flavors of the dishes were not localized.”
She also debunked the owner’s claim that many in Malaysia do not consume pork.
“According to the 2016 census, there are about 6.65 million Chinese in Malaysia, which is equal to 23.4 percent of the national population. Mr. Mak’s claim that only 10 percent of the total population is Chinese is wrong. Of course, not all Chinese eat pork, but at the same time, not all non-Chinese are non-pork-eating Muslims.”
Qing added that it would have been more accurate if Mak Gui Pui simply admitted Tim Ho Wan failed to cater to Malaysian customers’ tastes than blame it on the Muslim culture.
Tim Ho Wan, which first opened in in Mongkok, Hong Kong back in 2009, earned its Michelin star the following year.