Nearly a decade ago, Anthony Bourdain first publicly talked about building a Singapore-style food market in New York City. The much-anticipated project was slated to open on Manhattan’s Pier 57 and feature stalls from vendors inspired by his travels around the world. However, after several years of planning and countless setbacks — then, ultimately, his untimely passing — the celebrity chef’s vision never came to life. That is, until now.
Recently, the plan has been revived — and reimagined — by two of the main players from the original Bourdain Market team: Urbanspace, which has built an empire of successful food hall concepts, and KF Seetoh, Singapore’s famed culinary expert and founder of Makansutra and the World Street Food Congress. “It’s been my life’s work to celebrate hawker food,” said Seetoh. “I take pride in advocating for street food culture and traditions. Showcasing it in New York is a dream come true.”
Described as the first authentic Singaporean hawker center in the United States, the yet-to-be-named 10,000-square-foot venue will open at 135 West 50th Street in early 2022. Seetoh, who was instrumental in Singapore’s iconic hawker culture gaining UNESCO status in 2020, will handpick the market’s 18 food vendors to ensure authenticity and representation of distinctive traditional dishes — such as Hainanese chicken rice, chili crab, and nasi lemak — alongside progressive regional fare of the newer generation hawkers. “We will keep it real, like how you would see in hawker centers in Singapore,” said Seetoh.
While the collaboration between Urbanspace and Seetoh originally formed in 2015, when they teamed up with the late Anthony Bourdain, their new marketplace concept is more of a celebration of the UNESCO recognition that generations of hawkers have earned over the decades, plus the love affair Singaporeans have with their culinary culture.
The goal of this unique venture is to share authentic street food across different cultures while supporting small businesses through meaningful personal connections. “Seetoh’s knowledge of hawker culture is unparalleled, globally,” said Urbanspace founder and president Eldon Scott. “Our market will be a truly special place for New York, and extends our mission of celebrating curation, community, and entrepreneurship.”
Bourdain once remarked, “I remain hopeful that New York will someday have such a market… this resource that New Yorkers deserve.” In just a few short months, New Yorkers (and visitors to Midtown) will be able to get a taste of this dream turned into reality.