GEORGE TOWN: Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has defended the controversial decision to bar foreign cooks at Penang hawker stalls as the ruling is meant to preserve the state's culinary specialities. He refuted suggestions the ruling was discriminatory and undemocratic pointing out that hawker stalls in Malaysia are expected to be owner-operated. He said the ruling did not bar Malaysians from other states from getting hawker licences to do business here and neither did it forbid foreigners from owning restaurants nor cooking in restaurants. He said there was an expectation that visitors want to eat food cooked by locals when dining in Penang which is famous for its street food. "The unique taste and flavour of Penang food should not be put at risk by foreign workers doing a job instructed by their employer," he said in a statement today. The ruling comes into force in 2016 giving hawkers a year to prepare while failure to comply reportedly results in having their licences revoked by the local authorities. The ban does not cover foreigners assisting in managing orders, preparing ingredients and clean-up work. This comes after a Penang Island Municipal Council's July 25 to Aug 31 poll this year found 87.45% of 14,810 respondents were in favour of the move. A similar poll conducted by the Seberang Prai Municipal Council found 85.3% of 1,591 respondents in favour of the move.