An air of anticipation pervaded the concrete-clad two-level space of Urban Hawker when I arrived on the first day around 11am, hoping to avoid the crowds. The stalls were curated by KF Seetoh – guide writer and friend of Anthony Bourdain, who had a hand in the idea – to resemble a Singapore hawker center, where street food is served in the food court.
I noticed that three of the 17 stalls weren’t finished yet, as I was stoked about ordering things, and then went back to pick them up for a gang of friends to try. We could be seated at a bunch of tables, counters and kiosks scattered all over as well as the pocket park right across the street.
Overhead lit neon signs create a carnival-like atmosphere throughout the hall, which runs from 50th to 51st Street in a building between Sixth and Seventh Avenues northeast of Times Square. We headed to the more traditional Singaporean hawker food, secondarily visiting those stalls that offered modern inventions. Here are 12 dishes you can try at the new Urban Hawker.
Hainanese chicken rice at Hainan Jones
I made a beeline for Hainan Jones, a stall that Seetoh himself shares, which specializes in Hainanese chicken rice, one of the most popular street vendor dishes. I grew up on an island off the southern coast of China, and New York City actually has many coffee shops specializing in different versions of it. This look ($19) was a revelation: steamed chicken so spicy, rice soaked in broth so rich, and chili sauce so orange and subtle, that the dish was exceptional. I can eat it for lunch every day.
Lontong in Paddy
Next was Padi, who hails from a full-service Malaysian restaurant in Singapore. It offered one of my favorite Malaysian and Indonesian ingredients, Luntong. Like a creamy white lead, pressed rice emulsions are placed in a thick yellow chicken broth with a hard-boiled egg and fish cake with crackers on top. At $10.90, it was one of the best deals at Urban Hawker.
Stingray fried rice in Mr. Fried Rice
One stall, Mr. Fried Rice, specializes in multiple variations of the dish such as tom yum and salmon teriyaki. The stingray fried rice ($17), though, was one of the best dishes we’ve tried and a very Singaporean – fish wing heavily covered in dark batter that bursts with sour, salty, sweet and fishy flavours.
White Bee Hoon at White Restaurant
White Restaurant descends from a restaurant that was established as a street vendor shop in 1999. Its specialty is white beesAnd the A dish of soft rice noodles (“bee”) in a pale broth said to be simmered for eight hours. The dish is heated with eggs, squid, and shrimp and comes alive with the addition of chili sauce. (Most of the things we tried at the Urban Hawker were well seasoned but not as spicy as we had hoped.)
Mortabaq and Meat Biryani at Mamak Corner
The kiosk that got us excited the most when lunchtime customers started to crowd was Mamak’s Corner, which serves Indian food as adapted to the Malay Peninsula. Everyone is probably familiar with roti canai (flat bread with a small serving of chicken curry), but this dish is a whole class of recipes that include marjoram ($13), roti folded around a stuffing of ground beef and eggs with chunky pistachio chutney pieces. . Mutton biryani ($16) was also fantastic, like a lamb curry poured over pilaf rice, with the elusive flavor hinting at camphor. Dosas was also available, but we were already feeling full.
Chicken with Peanut Sauce and Roti John at Ashes Burnnit
Ashes Burnnit is a chain specializing in burgers and other sandwiches, including chicken breast drizzled with peanut sauce ($13) that was very good and very filling. Roti John Also interesting ($12) is a gut-wrenching dough filled with beef omelette and various sauces, the appearance of which scared us a bit before we tried it. It proved to be almost impossible to eat.
Sardine puff and many buns at Lady Wong
We were craving some sweets and Mrs. Wong gave them to them. This bakery prepares cakes and pastries with tropical fruit themes, Japanese, Chinese and French dishes. After enjoying a sampling of delicious and spicy sardines ($4.25), we tried a wonderful cake made with passion fruit and calamansi, a Filipino lemon ($6.85); Steamed rainbow cakeAnd the with a gel-like texture of mochi ($3.25); and pandan cake ($3.25) which was a cheerful shade of mint green.
We left immediately after the hall crowded at around 12:30, not only because curious diners were attracted on the first day, but because the stalls were understandably slow in producing orders, and long queues formed while other customers waited. Their dishes to be delivered.
Each kiosk offers 10 or more items – compounded waiting times – unlike traditional Singaporean hawker kiosks, which often only offer one or two specialties. Minor issues will undoubtedly be resolved, but even on its first day, Urban Hawker serves some of the most interesting and sometimes delicious food court eats in Midtown.