Once upon a time, Anthony Bourdain planned to bring a Singapore-style hawker market to New York City's Pier 57, near Chelsea Market and the Meatpacking District. It would have dozens of vendors of authentic Singaporean food, which comprises Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, and Indonesian cuisines. Sadly, Bourdain died in 2018, before he was able to realize his vision. His original partner in the enterprise, KF Seetoh--a Singaporean food critic and television personality who made appearances in Bourdain's various travel programs--finally brought the market to life in 2022, but on a much smaller scale. Rather than a hundred or so vendors on a pier, there are seventeen, and the venue, one of several food courts run by an outfit called Urbanspace, is located near Rockefeller Center. Eleven of Urban Hawker's purveyors came from Singapore; the remaining six are local, and on a recent trip to NY, my friend Daisy and I tried as many as we could.
Six of 17 is pretty good for one evening, huh?
Unlike some other of the city's food courts/markets, Urban Hawker has a good amount of space to dine-in. We chose to park ourselves at the far end of The Sling Bar. Singapore Slings in hand, we started our feast with an order of Hainanese chicken rice from Hainan Jones
|Hainanese chicken rice from Hainan Jones|
Having never eaten Hainanese chicken rice before, I had nothing with which to compare the version from Hainan Jones. But as a stand-alone dish, it was beautiful. The chicken was juicy and flavorful and the rice was schmaltzy. The accompanying cup of broth, to sip or use as a dip, was richly flavored. The tiny cups of sweet soy and chili sauce were both tasty, but I found myself gobbling down the chicken without needing to dip it into other flavors. The accompanying Chinese broccoli was good, but I would have preferred it to be hot.
Once the chicken was demolished, we went to work on an order of pineapple fried rice from Mr Fried Rice. I adore fried rice, but haven't had a good version of it since I was a kid. My Dad liked a tiny carry-out on Cold Spring Lane called Chung's, where we bought roast pork fried rice by the quart and ate it out of the container on the way home from the restaurant. I don't remember anything else from Chung's, but the rice was great, lightly sticky, just greasy enough, and full of porky flavor.
|pineapple fried rice from Mr Fried Rice|
|Singapore Chili Crab from Wok & Staple|
I suppose it sounds like I hated this dish. Not so. It was unusual and one of the dishes I've always wanted to try. I think the expectations I set for it were probably a little too high.
Posted on Minxeats.com.
|murtabak - flatbread with beef filling from Mamak's Corner|
Finally, we had murtabak, a ghee-laden flaky flatbread filled with beef, egg, and red onion, and griddled until crisp. It was served with a cup of a liquidy lentil curry to use as a dip. It was so delicious, and the switch to flavors characteristic of Indian food was a welcome change, but I was SO FULL at this point that I probably didn't appreciate it as much as I might have had we ordered it earlier in the meal. Still, we polished it off without complaint.
We had originally planned to finish off the meal with dessert from Lady Wong, a local vendor that specializes in cakes with flavors like mango and calamansi, and the gelatinous "cake" known as kuih. The texture of kuih, actually a firm custard, is hard to describe. It's smooth, cool, and bouncy, and quite delicious if fresh and well-made. My favorite has a layer of coconut sticky rice at the bottom. At this point, however, I couldn't fit another mouthful, so we passed on eating dessert at Urban Hawker. (I did pick up some kuih to snack on the next day.)
While I think we gorged ourselves like the champion eaters we are, there are many other vendors at Urban Hawker that need to be explored. I want some laksa from Daisy's Dream, a Roti John from Ashes Burnnit, stuffed bean curd from Yum Yubu...all of it!
135 W 50th St,
New York, NY 10020
Posted on Minxeats.com.