From Singapore to New York City, Urban Hawker is the first of its kind Singapore hawker center in the United States.
Opened in September 2022, you can taste the most iconic dishes and comforting flavors of Singaporean cuisine at the heart of Midtown Manhattan.
Before we dive into it, here’s what you need to know about hawker and hawker food.
- What is a hawker?
- What is hawker food?
- Who founded Urban Hawker?
- What can you get at Urban Hawker?
- More Southeast Asian vendors
- Where is Urban Hawker?
- What is Urban Hawker’s opening hours?
- Have you tried Urban Hawker yet?
What is a hawker?
A hawker typically refers to a vendor or a person who sells goods, often food, in a public space, usually from a small cart, stall, or temporary structure. The term is commonly used in Asia and can refer to a variety of street food vendors. These individuals or small businesses operate in markets, along sidewalks, or at special events, offering a range of affordable and often locally popular food items.
“Hawker food” or “street food” often characterizes the cuisine sold by hawkers. In many Asian countries, hawker centers are popular, providing a centralized area where multiple vendors set up stalls, offering a diverse range of dishes. Hawker food is known for its accessibility, affordability, and the authentic flavors it brings to the local culinary scene.
Hawkers play a significant role in the food culture of many regions, contributing to the vibrancy and diversity of the local culinary landscape. While the term is often associated with street food, it can also apply to individuals who sell other goods or services in public spaces.
What is hawker food?
Hawker food refers to the diverse range of affordable and often local dishes sold by hawkers in open-air markets, food courts, or on the streets, particularly in Asia.
These vendors operate from small stalls or carts, offering a variety of dishes that are typically quick to prepare and meant for immediate consumption.
Hawker food is known for its delicious flavors, diverse options, and affordability, making it a popular choice for locals and visitors alike.
The types of hawker food can vary widely depending on the region, but some common characteristics include:
- Variety: Hawker centers often host a variety of stalls selling different types of cuisine, allowing patrons to choose from a wide range of dishes.
- Affordability: Hawker food is generally inexpensive, making it an attractive option for people looking for tasty meals at reasonable prices.
- Local Flavor: Hawker food often reflects the local culinary traditions and flavors of the region. It may include traditional dishes that have been passed down through generations.
- Quick Service: As hawker food is typically meant for on-the-go consumption, the preparation time is relatively short, and customers can get their food quickly.
- Casual Atmosphere: Hawker centers and street food stalls provide a casual and informal dining environment. People often gather to enjoy their meals in communal seating areas.
Examples of hawker food vary by country and region but may include dishes like:
- Nasi Goreng in Indonesia: Fried rice often served with various accompaniments such as fried eggs, chicken, prawns, and satay.
- Hainanese Chicken Rice in Singapore: Poached chicken served with fragrant rice, accompanied by chili sauce and ginger paste.
- Pad Thai in Thailand: Stir-fried rice noodles with a combination of ingredients such as shrimp, tofu, peanuts, and lime.
- Pho in Vietnam: A noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, and meat (commonly beef or chicken), topped with herbs and bean sprouts.
Hawker food is a significant aspect of the culinary landscape in many Asian countries, offering a glimpse into the rich and diverse food cultures of the region.
Who founded Urban Hawker?
KF Seetoh, founder of the World Street Food Congress and Makansutra, is the curator of Urban Hawker. His Singapore-based company, Makansutra, is dedicated to promoting and celebrating Singapore heritage street culture worldwide.
What can you get at Urban Hawker?
With 16 vendors that are curated in total, here’s what you can get at Urban Hawker. I’ve also included my comments in italics.
Wok & Staple by Dragon Phoenix
Back in 1963, the visionary Master Chef Hooi Kok Wai laid the cornerstone for Dragon Phoenix Restaurant, forging a unique Chinese culinary sub-genre that resonates across Singapore.
The national favorites, such as Sambal Chili Crab, Yam Basket, and Kyoto Pork Ribs, masterfully created by Chef Hooi, have now become staples in Singaporean Chinese eateries.
In the spirit of Chef Hooi’s culinary artistry, Wok & Staple takes center stage, committed to the preservation and promotion of Chinese cuisine.
Nestled in a casual-chic setting, it offers daily lunch sets and a Singapore-style omakase dinner, showcasing iconic culinary legacies.
I’m not sure how spicy is their sambal chili crab (perhaps it’s tweak to the New Yorkers tolerance level – which is like mine).
Back in 1999, Tay King Huak unveiled a hawker stall sensation known as White Bee Hoon—a delightful medley of rice noodles, fresh prawns, squid, vegetables, and chicken stock.
Renowned for its tantalizing smoky flavor, this dish has since become the hallmark of White Restaurant. The menu proudly features the original White Bee Hoon, as well as enticing variations like Spicy Mala, Pork Cutlet renditions, and delectable sides such as fried ginger wings and pork wontons.
With eight thriving locations in Singapore and a growing presence, White Restaurant’s culinary creation has evolved into a widespread delight across the island.
Their rendition of White Bee Hoon in Singapore stands out as my favorite. Excited to try this at Urban Hawker to see if there is any difference.
A delightful culinary journey began eleven years ago during a breakfast rendezvous at Tiong Bahru Market in Singapore when Daisy Tan breathed life into Grandma’s cherished recipes, birthing Daisy’s Dream.
Taking on this flavorful endeavor at the age of 60 as her retirement pursuit, Daisy skillfully prepared authentic Singaporean Peranakan favorites, including the coveted Ngoh Hiang—a closely guarded secret recipe passed down from her mother.
Starting as a humble hawker stall, the venture blossomed over the years into a full-fledged restaurant in 2012.
Steering the ship is Daisy’s son, Roy, and sharing the helm is acclaimed actress Selena Tan. Together, they have cultivated a dining experience that pays homage to family traditions and the rich tapestry of Peranakan cuisine.
I grew up having homemade Ngoh Hiang by my family. It’d be so comforting to try this at Urban Hawker as a Singaporean.
Mr Fried Rice
Established by the Cantonese Cze Char maestro, Mr. Chan Chong You, this culinary gem has blossomed with 13 locations spread across Singapore.
Renowned for its vibrant and made-to-order wok-fired fried rice, the menu is a testament to culinary excellence.
Indulge in an array of proteins, including the delectable Pork Chop and Teriyaki Grilled Salmon. The pièce de résistance, however, is the signature wok-hei egg fried rice, available in enticing flavors like tom yum, mala, XO, and more.
If you’re craving a change of pace, the menu also offers fried udon.
Anything that is wok-fired (aka Wok Hei), makes me happy.
Enter into the world of Hainan Jones, a tribute to the beloved Singapore Hainanese Chicken Rice, a true local favorite.
Delight in a variety of preparations—poached, roasted, and fried—each accompanied by fragrant chicken rice and a flavorful broth. Every dish is served with a side of lime chili, dark soy sauce, and minced ginger, enhancing the experience.
Crafted through a collaboration with Makansutra and esteemed Chicken Rice masters, Hainan Jones doesn’t stop at the classics.
The concept also introduces a comforting Chicken Porridge, adding a new dimension to the culinary journey. This dish is a great choice when you’re feeling chilly.
I’d go all out for the Hainanese Chicken rice at Urban Hawker.
Back in 2017, Terry Neo brought the vision of Kopifellas to life—a contemporary coffee shop stall boasting sleek branding and rich Nanyang Kopi flavors.
Fast forward five years, and with seven successful outlets in Singapore, Kopifellas is now making its mark in the United States with the launch of its Urban Hawker location.
Every day, they freshly grind Robusta beans, ensuring guests can tailor their coffee experience to their liking. Whether it’s breakfast or evening, patrons can relish the essence of Nanyang kopi or tea alongside a variety of toast options and soft-boiled eggs.
Kopifellas goes beyond coffee, offering a diverse range of teas and boba, with exciting plans to introduce Singaporean beers in the evenings.
Since I don’t normally drink coffee plus, Nanyang kopi is too strong for me, I’m going for the boba! Singaporean beers will be a great choice during summer in NYC.
In his twenties, Hawkerpreneur Lee Syafiq established this trendy hawker stall in Singapore, which quickly gained prominence in the culinary scene.
Now, three years later, Ashes Burnnit boasts four locations across Singapore, drawing in visitors seeking delectable offerings like the Grilled Satay Chicken Burger featuring marinated chicken thighs, Asian slaw, and the signature peanut sauce.
Another popular choice is the Crispy Fried Fish Burger, showcasing a breaded cod filet, Asian slaw, and basil miso aioli.
At the Urban Hawker branch, patrons can also savor the Singapore-invented Roti John—a spicy omelette and minced meat sandwich.
Burger in NYC? YES. Grilled Satay Chicken Burger in NYC? Double YES.
Self-proclaimed prawn noodle enthusiast Alan Choong ventured into his own prawn noodle stall at 23 in 2018.
Following five years of success at Pasir Ris hawker center in East Singapore, this ‘hawkerpreneur’ is now bringing his dream concept, Prawnaholic, to New York City.
Signature dishes include Prawn and Pork Rib Noodles, Wok Fried Hokkien Prawn Noodles, and Fried Oyster Omelet.
As a prawn & local food lover, I would be so excited to try all these dishes at Urban Hawker.
Back in 2014, childhood pals Hashim Ali and Sulaiman Rahman teamed up to bring Padi@Bussorah to life—a Malaysian restaurant that celebrates the joy of communal dining.
Within their expansive two-story Singapore establishment, friends and family come together, sharing moments over generous platters of delicious fare.
Now, Padi makes its mark in New York City with its second location, offering a taste of its signature dishes.
Indulge in classics like satay, beef rendang, and the distinctive mee rebus—an enticing yellow egg noodle soup complemented by a delightful sauce. It’s a journey into flavors and friendship that transcends borders!
Mee Rebus is one of my childhood favorite food. This will satisfy my craving at Urban Hawker.
At Mamak’s Corner, helmed by the talented Rajan Belani, discover the essence of authentic Singaporean Indian cuisine. Indulge in the vibrant flavors of Nasi Biryani, where saffron basmati rice meets a choice of chicken, lamb, or fish curry, accompanied by pickled vegetables and papadom.
Delve into the enticing world of roti with selections like prata, murtabak, and chapati, generously filled with savory chicken or lamb curry. For a delightful dosa experience, savor Thosai served with dhal and coconut chutney—available to tantalize your taste buds from breakfast to dinner.
Rajan, whose culinary journey commenced at Padi@Bussorah, is thrilled to bring the rich tapestry of Singaporean Indian cuisine to the heart of New York City for the very first time.
I love eating prata and Nasi Biryani, so those will be my first choice at Mamak’s Corner, Urban Hawker.
Breaking new ground at the hawker center, Smokin’ Joe, led by Joseph Yeo, is revolutionizing Hainan Western cuisine with the innovative use of a 100% charcoal Josper grill, all under the roof of Urban Hawker.
Experience a unique build-your-own concept where guests can pick a base, such as the flavorful Hainanese curry rice, and customize their meal with a variety of settings and protein choices.
Elevate your dish with a mouthwatering cheese sauce that adds an extra layer of indulgence to the mix. Keep an eye out for the distinctive neon sign booth that proudly marks the spot of Smokin’ Joe in the bustling Urban Hawker scene.
I’ve never tried Hainan Western cuisine before so this would be an interesting choice when I’m looking for something non-traditional.
More Southeast Asian vendors
A trailblazing Southeast Asian pastry shop nestled in the heart of New York City, with a singular focus on the rich Nanyang flavors.
Bringing the vibrant taste of Indonesia to your palate with their enticing rice and salad bowls.
For those seeking a cozy spot to unwind, Sling Bar awaits—a charming 30-seat cocktail bar that promises a delightful seasonal menu featuring gin-focused cocktails, thoughtfully paired with Malaysian-inspired bites.
Bringing the warmth of Filipino home-cooked meals to the table, Tradisyon offers a comforting array of Filipino comfort food.
Craving a unique culinary experience? Look no further than Yum Yubu, where rice is artfully stuffed into fried bean curd pockets, creating a flavorful sensation.
Dim Sum Darling
Meanwhile, Dim Sum Darling is your passport to a global culinary adventure, showcasing a diverse selection of dumplings and spring rolls that promise to tantalize your taste buds.
Sushi by Mr. Lim
Craving for sushi instead? You can get modern sushi with table service at Sushi by Mr. Lim. This is the latest addition at Urban Hawker.
Where is Urban Hawker?
Address: 135 West 50th Street, New York, NY 10020
What is Urban Hawker’s opening hours?
Urban Hawker is open from Monday through Saturday 10AM-10PM and
Have you tried Urban Hawker yet?
Urban Hawker is made possible with Urbanspace, the masterminds behind the city’s open-air food scenes, holiday pop-up and food halls all across the vibrant landscape of New York City.
So you see, it’s more Urban-style rather than a traditional hawker look that you normally get in Singapore.
Let me know your favorite dishes at Urban Hawker!
Photo credit: Urban Hawker’s official images by Jacob Williamson and Max Flatow Photography.