Urban Hakwer, a Hawker Center in Singapore, opens in New York


A collection of dishes, including nasi ambeng, from Urban Hawker’s diverse range of vendors.
Photo: Adam Friedlander

Until this month, New Yorkers looking to experience the many delights of Singapore’s shawker hubs – the high-energy open-air bazaars packed with tiny storefronts selling world-famous and often sophisticated street food over generations – first had to spend about 19 hours on a plane. Now they just have to walk a half block west of Radio City Music Hall. Eleven of Singapore’s vendors have set up stalls in the new Urban Hawker, a kind of food hall and a collaboration between Urbanspace of New York and Makansutra of Singapore, a restaurant and media company founded by KF Seetoh, the greatest evangelist of the street food of the island country. Inside the 11,000 square foot space, which opens on Wednesday, local favorites such as Lady Wong and Tradisyon will sit alongside some of Singapore’s most famous peddlers, with many companies currently building execution that have belonged to the family for several generations.

In the 1970s, a chef named Joon Toh Kiang helped put traditional chicken rice on the menu at Singapore’s chic Mandarin Hotel, catapulting the humble poached poultry preparation to international fame. It is now Raymond, the sergeant’s son, who will run this American stand, which is currently the only place where you can find the Kiang family’s legendary recipe.

Peranakan cuisine, also called Nyonya, is a fusion of the Chinese and Malay communities with some influence from the Indian subcontinent. It’s probably best known in New York from long-running downtown restaurants like Nyonya and West New Malaysia and, more recently, Kopitiam in Chinatown. Inside Urban Hawker, Roy Tan – whose mother Daisy opened her first stand in Singapore when she was 60 – will share the family’s Nyonya recipes with a menu that focuses on famous Peranakan dishes like chicken curry, Nyonya laksa (curried noodles) and nasi lemak (rice cooked with coconut milk served with a myriad of sides).

This Singaporean Indian stand – manned by Shukor Tahir and his business partner Rajan Belani – was designed for New York. The duo will prepare a classic flaky roti prata (a late-night favourite) and a richly spiced nasi biryani with lamb or chicken.

Chef Kok Wai Hooi opened Dragon Phoenix in Singapore in 1963, and is widely regarded as one of the founding chefs of Singaporean Chinese cuisine. He is also credited with creating the modern version of the chili crab, adding sambal and tomato paste, among other things, to the original recipe. His son, Chris, brings Dragon Phoenix here with an array of classic stir-fries and chili crab.

Back home, the restaurant’s most popular item is nasi ambeng, a common dish of rice surrounded by a variety of hot and spicy sides like beef rendang and sambal squid – which will also be available at Urban Hawker.

The wok fried noodle dish known as white bee hoon is a Singaporean invention created by King Huak Tay in 1999. At Urban Hawker, the Tay family stand will serve their original wok fried rice noodle recipe , simmered with an eight-hour chicken. broth and topped with shrimp and squid, if desired.

It is one of the so-called Western hawker stalls, a unique hybrid of East-West cuisine born out of British clubs and Hainanese Chinese chefs during Singapore’s colonial days. Chef Joseph Yeo offers a menu of grilled meats – colloquially known as “chops” – with mashed potatoes or fries on the side.

A special fish sandwich, inspired by the otak-otak, from the Ashes Burnnit burger stand.

Nyonya laksa from Daisy’s Dream.

Hainan Jones Chicken Rice.

Roti prata from the corner of Mamak.

Photographs of Adam Friedlander

The Nanyang coffee here is made from freshly ground Robusta beans before being blended with condensed and evaporated milks for a smooth yet strong finish, just as is done at all six Kopifellas locations in Singapore. Owner Terry Neo will also offer toast slathered in butter and kaya – the coconut and pandan jam – for the morning crush.

The signature dish at this stand is shrimp noodles served like Japanese-style ramen with sweet and savory glazed pork belly and an onsen egg. “It’s not traditional, but you don’t lose the essence,” says founder Alan Choong, who will also be offering classic versions of Hokkien mee and an oyster omelet. “I wanted people to experience a Singaporean fusion dish and a traditional dish.”

Lee Syafiq, owner of this halal burger stand with four locations in Singapore, received one of his first-ever Outstanding Hawker Awards at the 2022 World Gourmet Awards in May. In addition to the smashed burgers, Syafiq is planning an otak-inspired spicy fishcake sandwich for Urban Hawker.

Chong You Chan runs more than a dozen food companies and counting. Its first stand outside of Singapore is this stand, which is inspired by the fried rice trend now hitting hawker centers, here mixed with ingredients such as tom yum seasonings and XO sauce.

Urban Hawker is located at 135 W. 50th St., nr. Seventh Ave.

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