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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 November 2006, 14:39 GMT
Malaysia dishes out to raise profile
By Jonathan Kent
BBC News, Kuala Lumpur

Penang cafe
Different cuisines have mingled in ethnically diverse Malaysia

Malaysia has announced that it is hoping to find a short cut to the world's heart through its stomach.

Its government is to try to raise the country's international profile by offering businessmen cash incentives to open thousands of Malaysian restaurants around the world.

Almost every major city on Earth has its own Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China or Acropolis - not ancient monuments but restaurants serving up a taste of far-flung cultures in an easily digested form.

But Malaysia, where the unofficial national sport is eating and which boasts some of the world's best food, barely features on the international culinary map.

According to the Malaysian government, which clearly keeps a close eye on such things, there are just 376 Malaysian restaurants to feed the six billion people who live outside the country.

So its government has set a target of raising that number to 8,000 by 2015.

Space drink

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak says the government will offer cheap loans, tax breaks and help with promotion so that, in his words, "Malaysia's name will be more renowned globally."

Malaysia is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Asia with large Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai and Eurasian communities.

The distinctive cuisines of each have mingled together here to produce an astonishing, yet relatively unknown, array of dishes.

Such is Malaysia's determination to achieve international glory through food that the country's first spaceman will perform zero gravity experiments with the national drink - "teh tarik" on a Russian-led space mission next year.

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