Former England footballer Rio Ferdinand has unwittingly sparked a cross-border food fight after suggesting that a rice dish was Singaporean, to the horror of Indonesians who claim it as their own.
Ferdinand made the food faux pas during a weekend trip to watch the Singapore Grand Prix, when he tweeted a picture of himself holding a plate of the dish next to the comment: “Nasi goreng lunch. Keeping it local in #Singapore”.
“Nasi goreng”, which literally translates as “fried rice” in Indonesian, generally consists of rice mixed with a sweet sauce and other ingredients such as chilli, vegetables and chicken, and often topped with a fried egg.
But the suggestion that the dish was not Indonesian caused horror in the archipelago, which is one of Singapore’s neighbours, and sparked a flood of angry tweets.
“M8, its Indonesian food, actually. There’s no ‘nasi’ and ‘goreng’ in Singapore,” Agung Prasetyo tweeted at Ferdinand, while others invited the former Manchester United player to their homes to try a dish of real, Indonesian nasi goreng.
This angry reaction was met with irritation in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia, which have a historically prickly relationship with Jakarta, with netizens claiming that fried rice is found in many countries in the region, not solely Indonesia.
There was particular annoyance in Singapore, with some suggesting that Indonesians’ defiant defence of a rice dish was a stark contrast to its refusal to accept the blame for forest fires on its territory that blanket the city-state with haze every year.
“Ohhhh nasi goreng can claim but haze cannot,” said Twitter user @HarisBRosli.
On Monday Ferdinand attempted to calm the bickering unleashed by his remark, commenting on Twitter: “Was there really uproar with my Nasi goreng tweet??!! Relax guys ...’local’ in SE Asia”.
It was just the latest battle over culinary and cultural heritage between the neighbours, whose long shared history does not stop the regular flare-up of petty rows.
In 2009 protests erupted outside the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta after Kuala Lumpur was accused of plundering the archipelago’s culture when a traditional dance from the Indonesian island of Bali allegedly appeared in adverts promoting tourism in Malaysia.
However it turned out to have stemmed from a misunderstanding — the ad was not a government-sponsored promotion for tourism, but rather a botched trailer for a television documentary about Malaysia.