KF Seetoh standing at a table in the Hawker's Market
Pauline Frommer

New York City Opens the First Singaporean Hawker Food Hall in the Americas

New York City can't add the Taj Mahal to Times Square, plant Machu Picchu in Central Park, or tow one of the Galápagos islands next to the Statue of Liberty. Those UNESCO World Heritage Sites will be staying right where they are, thank you very much.

But in September of 2022 the city did manage to score one of that venerable organization's items off the Intangible Cultural Heritage List: It opened an authentic Singaporean hawkers' market.

Called Urban Hawker, the market is home to offshoot stands of 11 of the most celebrated food vendors in Singapore, plus 6 additional stands representing more foods that are sold there.

The project was originally dreamed up by the late, great Anthony Bourdain in 2013, who brought in his friend KF Seetoh (pictured), himself an iconic foodie TV star in Asia, to choose which master chefs should be included in an ideal food venue.

Located between Times Square and Rockefeller Center, Urban Hawker promises to become a go-to place for New Yorkers and visitors alike in midtown Manhattan.

I had the privilege and pleasure of eating my way through Urban Hawker market in the company of Seetoh. Here's where I think you should pig out, along with some insights from Seetoh about what makes the foods unique.


A barrista at Kopifellas in the Urban Hawker's Market
Pauline Frommer

Urban Hawker's only dedicated coffee stand, Kopifellas opens daily at 8am to offer local office workers their morning shot of caffeine—with a twist.

"To make the coffee beans go farther, Singaporeans have long mixed them with dried corn. And then everybody started to realize: It tastes better that way! It imparts a butteriness to the coffee that's quite nice," Seetoh told me.

Seetoh recommends getting your java lightened the traditional Singaporean way, with both condensed and evaporated milk. I found the result a bit too sweet, but Seetoh says that the baristas (pictured) who make each cup from scratch, can adjust the sugar levels.

The Hainan Jones chicken-and-rice stand at the new Urban Hawkers Market in New York City
Pauline Frommer
Hainan Jones

"I was the one to introduce Anthony Bourdain to chicken and rice, and it's the only time I ever saw him dumbfounded. He didn't speak. He just ate," Seetoh said to me.

Seetoh advised, "If you don't know what else to have, get the chicken and rice. It's the national dish of Singapore."

Clearly he, and Anthony Bourdain, have not been the only people to feel this way about this dish. At the soft opening of Urban Hawker, this chicken-and-rice specialist was the only stand that had a long line. It also had to close early—it sold out an hour before everyone else.

Hainan Chicken and Rice

After I tasted its star dish, I could see why. Each platter consists of perfectly cooked chicken (poached is the traditional favorite, but you can also get your bird roasted or fried), softly moist rice, a bowl of broth, lime chili, dark soy sauce, and minced ginger. You mix the components together for an uber-comforting, essence-of-chicken treat. It really is quite delish.

The neon sign at Smokin' Joe, a British-influenced Singaporean stand at Urban Hawker in New York City.
Pauline Frommer
Smokin' Joe

Singapore's culture is a polyglot one that is deeply influenced by those of its neighbors. This is especially clear in the nation's cuisine, which took ingredients, recipes, and inspiration from the foods of China, Malaysia, India, and Indonesia primarily—but not entirely.

The Smokin' Joe booth celebrates British influence with items such as baked beans, mashed potatoes, and a Brit-influenced curry.

It's that last dish, a plate of curry and rice topped with a delightfully runny fried egg, that Seetoh prizes, and I agree: "When yolk meets curry, magic happens," Seetoh enthused.

White Restaurant at the Urban Hawker Market in New York City.
Pauline Frommer
White Restaurant

"This is the first time White Beehoon has been served in the United States," Seetoh claims.

The dish, which was created by White Restaurant in Singapore, is another deeply wonderful, chicken-y one, It involves a stock that's allowed to bubble for a minimum of nine hours, vermicelli noodles, and an array of toppings like squid, prawns, and vegetables.

Though White Beehoon is now served throughout Singapore, it was invented, and most would say perfected, by the owners of this stand.

The Wok & Staple counter at Urban Hawker in New York City
Pauline Frommer
Other options

I couldn't try everything at Urban Hawker on my visit, and some of the stands had yet to open (like Wok & Staple, pictured above, which is an offshoot of Singapore's Dragon Phoenix Restaurant, birthplace of the iconic Sambal Chili Crab).

But with Seetoh's help, I can describe some of the highlights of the other stands, including:

  • Daisy's Dream: A Nyonya or Straits Chinese restaurant partially owned by one of the actors who played a featured auntie in the film Crazy Rich Asians. The specialty here is a very spicy noodle dish known as laksa.

  • Prawnaholic Collections: A prawny, porky ramen soup is the thing to get here. It's served in a broth created from prawn heads, fried anchovies, and a raft of spices that are simmered for hours.

  • Mamak's Corner: This Indian-Singaporean concession is known for its roti (flatbread) stuffed with an array of curries.

  • Sling's: Urban Hawker's bar! Its specialty is the gin-based, fruity cocktail known as the Singapore Sling. I did try one of those, and it was nicely refreshing.

A cheery bartender at Sling's Bar, at the Urban Hawker market in New York City.
Pauline Frommer
Easy to find

Urban Hawker (135 West 50th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues; UrbanHawker.com) opens every day at 8am, but only its coffee stand and Mamak's Corner are open at that hour. The other vendors open at 11am and stay open until 9pm, with Sling's Bar (pictured above) serving customers until 11pm.

The location is easily walkable from both Times Square and Rockefeller Center.