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Violet Oon restaurant apologises for ‘nasi ambeng’ dish after cultural appropriation claims

The restaurant has also changed the name of the dish from nyonya nasi ambeng trays to family trays.

 Violet Oon restaurant apologises for ‘nasi ambeng’ dish after cultural appropriation claims

The dish formerly known as nyonya nasi ambeng trays by Violet Oon Singapore. (Photo: Facebook/Violet Oon Singapore)

Local restaurant Violet Oon Singapore has announced that it has renamed one of its dishes after receiving backlash for originally calling it nyonya nasi ambeng trays, which led some people to accuse it of culturally appropriating the Javanese dish.

In its Wednesday (Jun 3) Facebook post, the restaurant apologised for “causing any hurt, anger or offence”.

The post read: “We insensitively used the name of a symbolic dish for a Nyonya interpretation that failed to articulate or acknowledge the rich significance and origins of Nasi Ambeng which originated from Java, Indonesia. As a brand dedicated to exploring the rich and diverse food cultures of Southeast Asia, we have fallen short by culturally appropriating this dish.”

The restaurant also acknowledged and thanked the people who have come forward to “explain the nuance and significance of Nasi Ambeng”.

The dish will now be called family trays, and the restaurant, owned by Singapore restaurateur Violet Oon, has also edited its original post to include an explanation of the origins and significance of nasi ambeng.

One of the people to call out the restaurant for using the name nasi ambeng is Hidayah Amin, author of Malay Weddings Don’t Cost $50 And Other Facts about Malay Culture and Kuih: From Apam To Wajik, A Pictorial Guide To Malay Desserts.

In a Facebook post, she wrote that it “takes more than the 'bunga telang' (blue pea flower) and the word ‘Nyonya’ or ‘Peranakan’ to stake your Peranakan claim.”

She added that a dish is not just about its raw ingredients, but also about the “cultural narratives of the people who made it.”

The restaurant’s original post announcing the dish was inundated with comments from people who wanted the name changed. One commenter, Aliah Ali, wrote: “Please stop labelling everything nyonya. We get it. You're very proud of your heritage. But do respect what's taken and improvised from other cultures. You're doing a disservice to its origins.”

Local chef Muhammad Imran Bin Sani, who used to work at Big Bern’s American Grill, told CNA Lifestyle that he could understand from the restaurant's point of view why it would want to make its own rendition of the dish. "However, naming these culturally acclaimed dishes as Nyonya dishes isn’t the best of ideas," he said. 

He also praised Violet Oon Singapore for "listening to the public’s criticism, acknowledging the mistake", apologising and renaming the dish. 

Source: CNA/sr