Eataly, but Asian
Makansutra’s KF Seetoh has been getting around. He was in NYC schooling Julia Mokin on bbq stingray, talking coffee with Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan (hey, they used my Ya Kun Kaya Toast photo to illustrate this post), eating pizza (and I’m not sure what else because I don’t have the Gourmet Live app) with Erin Zimmer and who knows what else.
I loved Makansutra’s Gluttons Bay in Singapore (not pictured–that’s Gurney Drive in Penang) so if anyone could reproduce a hawker center here it would be Seetoh. In The New York Times he speculated: “Like Eataly, but with hawkers.” Yes, please.
Opening a hawker center with imported chefs, produce, whatever it takes, has always been my if I were a crazy rich person fantasy. But because I’m not extroverted I imagined it being more like Neverland, a culinary theme park for myself, select guests and a few child stars, not so much as a line-out-the-door Eataly. I’m not saying that a massive Malaysian food hall wouldn’t be the coolest thing in NYC (though I see that bombastic retail format being more mainland Chinese than Malaysian), it’s just that I wouldn’t want to share it with like eight million people.
Not that that could happen any time soon (plus, I can’t think of any good food puns involving Malaysia or Singapore off the top of my head). Yes, we may have banh mi at Pret a Manger now, but Americans are still eating Thai food with chopsticks and ordering neon-sauced, battered-and-fried sweet and sour pork nuggets (in fact, I ate some Halloween night at P.F. Chang’s). The closest most are coming to anything Singaporean are those yellow curry-powdered noodles that are to Singapore what English muffins are to the British Isles.
It’s going to take some time before char kway teow becomes the new pad thai.
Gurney hawkers photo from A Story to Be Told