TV host Anthony Bourdain is looking for good Singapore hawkers to whip up chicken rice and laksa at his street food hall in New York by early next year.
Set up by the chef-turned-TV star and his business partner Stephen Werthen, Bourdain Market will be in Manhattan and will feature international street food.
Bourdain refuses to give specific names, but says he hopes to convince good hawkers from Singapore to go to New York or send representatives there.
"It is essential that we have good chicken rice, laksa, char kway teow and perhaps nasi lemak and bak kut teh. If we don't have those, we are nothing," the 58-year-old says over the telephone from New York. He has raved about TianTian Hainanese Chicken Rice in Maxwell Road Food Centre in 2008 on his show, No Reservations. He also sang the praises of Sungei Road Laksa in Jalan Besar and Hill Street Char Kway Teow in Bedok South Road when he was here in 2006.
Makansutra founder KF Seetoh says Bourdain Market is working with Makansutra and the World Street Food Congress "to realise this project". He adds that more details will be given at the congress here in April.
The food hall, which will have at least 50 stalls, will feature cuisines from around the world, including Indian, Peranakan, Chinese, Korean and Mexican.
Drawing inspiration from Singapore's hawker centres and Hong Kong's dai pai dong (open-air food stalls), the hall will look and feel predominantly Asian.
Bourdain says: "I want to have what people in Singapore and Hong Kong enjoy as a birthright. It is ridiculous that Manhattan does not have an exciting and diverse street food culture, like much of Asia."
He is assembling reputable hawkers and food vendors around the world. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that at least one vendor, New York City- based Xi'an Famous Foods, has confirmed it is coming on board. It sells hand-pulled noodles and lamb burgers.
Apart from the food hall, writing an upcoming cookbook and "raising a feisty seven-year-old daughter", Bourdain also visits places off the beaten path on his Emmy-award winning travel series, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.
The series started in 2013. He is shooting the fifth season and visiting countries such as Madagascar with film director Darren Aronofsky. In each episode, he delves into the country's culture and social issues and, of course, digs into exotic food.
He says one of his best culinary experiences in season three was in Lyon, France. He says: "I had dinner with one of my heroes, Paul Bocuse, and pretty much ate the greatest hits of his career." Bocuse is a prominent French chef.
Bourdain also enjoyed street food, including those stalls in Punjab in northern India. He says: "I am amused and feel sad for people in America who heard that we had been in India and shook their heads and asked, "Don't you get sick? Aren't you worried about the street food?". I ate spectacularly well in India."
He also dined at a free vegetarian community kitchen, which is open to all diners regardless of their caste status. He enjoyed the diverse flavours of vegetarian food there. The self-confessed carnivore quips: "India is the only place that I can eat vegan food for any substantial period of time. Elsewhere, it's torture."
However, he has yet to get used to seeing livestock slaughtered in front of guests, which is what the Maasai people in Tanzania do. "There's a lot of blood and death involved in hospitality. If you are a guest of honour, something dies."
However, the straight-talking host takes these sometimes unsavoury experiences in his stride in his quest to unearth authentic cultural experiences.
"I'm not a critic. I don't feel any obligation to offer an unvarnished and direct opinion of the food," he says. My first obligation is to be a good guest, to tell the story and share that experience."
The third season of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown premieres on Feb 10 on TLC (StarHub TV Channel 427) and is on every Tuesday at 10pm.
This article was first published on Feb 3, 2015.
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