A Singapore-style hawker centre has opened in New York for the first time, bringing flavours from the Southeast Asian island’s mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and other cultures to an American food court.
Urban Hawker, in midtown Manhattan, features 17 vendors handpicked by the food hall’s curator, KF Seetoh, with 11 coming directly from hawker centres in Singapore. Each stall specialises in a well-known dish such as chilli crab, oyster omelettes, Hainanese chicken rice or nasi lemak, a fragrant rice dish.
“I came across Singaporeans who had been living in the United States in New York for like 20, 30, 35 years, and they still miss Singapore food,” said Seetoh.
“Street food in Singapore is not something you burn or deep fry. It’s fairly complex. They take six hours just to prepare a meal to get it ready at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m.”
The idea for the food hall was born when Seetoh met late U.S. celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain in 2013 in Singapore at a street food event. Bourdain was enthusiastic about the idea of a New York hawker market.
Seetoh later approached Eldon Scott, president of Urbanspace, a property manager who curates immersive public markets, who quickly agreed.
“The amazing thing about him saying yes was that he’s never been to Singapore,” Seetoh said.
Seetoh hopes that this hawker centre will be the first of many in the country.
“It’s just like exporting grandmother’s deliciousness, the food that I grew up with,” he said.
“Food was good but something was missing without plastic plates, cutlery, and sweltering heat,” said Magdalene Sim, a Singaporean, on social media. “The queues were the same though.”
Customer Julie Lee, on her third visit, raved about Hainan Jones’ chicken over rice. “Everyone should give it a try. So much flavour, so tender,” she said.
- Reporting by Roselle Chen; Writing by Richard Chang; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien