Terrain and Terroir: Indigenous Fine Dining and National Gastronomy in Malaysia


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Innovation Fellowships


Asian Studies


The foraged foods of marginalized indigenous Malaysians—Orang Asli—now command exorbitant prices in the fine-dining restaurants of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; backed by multinational corporations, non-indigenous investors, and a national tourism board. This project examines forest-to-table supply chains built on vulnerable ecosystems that intimately yoke two unlikely appetites in Malaysia’s deeply race- and class-stratified society: the cosmopolitan tastes of urban elites in Kuala Lumpur, and the economic aspirations of indigenous foragers in the states of Selangor, Perak, and Sarawak. How is jungle terrain transformed into edible terroir? Innovating on food studies in Asia which analyze formations of ethnic identity, this historical and ethnographic project considers the additional dynamics of class and aspiration in the production of a national cuisine.