If you ever have the chance to visit Singapore, you’ll likely come back changed. “Spicy” will mean something totally different; so will “fresh crab,” “roti,” and “noodles,” each dish more flavorful than the next. How you imagine dining in a food hall will also be transformed—in the United States, a food hall could mean anything from “mall food court” to “pricey global vendors selling $12 beers and $15 ramen.” But in Singapore? A food hall is a UNESCO-designated hawker center, one of dozens of open-air neighborhood gathering places across the Southeast Asian city-state, where locals and visitors alike dine side by side on Michelin-quality dishes (and even Michelin-starred dishes!) for absurdly low prices. It’s not uncommon to pay more for a beer—alcohol is taxed heavily—than for your meal.
Singaporean food culture is a point of pride, and incredibly multicultural. Each individual closet-sized hawker stalls—of which there could be hundreds in one center—specializes in a limited menu, and sometimes becomes renowned for a single dish, with a recipe passed down through generations. One uncle- or auntie-run stall may just serve stingray, the next could do Japanese comfort foods like katsu curry, the next, Singapore mainstay chicken rice, and so on. The best part of the experience as a traveler is putting your faith in the locals, who actively seek out queues to join in search of the best meal.
Anthony Bourdain was famously obsessed with Singaporean food and had dreams of bringing a hawker center to the U.S.—going so far as to scout a space in Manhattan—before he passed away. It felt like that vision was lost with the man himself. . .until some incredible news came out of Las Vegas: Famous Foods Street Eats, a “hawker-inspired food hall concept” created by Zouk Group (a big-deal Singapore nightlife and lifestyle brand), will debut as part of the new Resorts World Las Vegas coming to the Vegas Strip on June 24, 2021.
“Famous Foods will transport guests to an authentic Asian hawker market—an experience that’s never been replicated in the U.S.,” said Andrew Li, CEO of Zouk Group, in a statement. The group has recruited top Asian hawkers from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Thailand alongside well-known U.S. chefs like Marcus Samuelsson, James Trees, and the team from beloved Houston BBQ spot Blood Bros. to staff up 16 individual stalls. The focus will also be on “edutainment,” with videos and info boards at each stall giving background on the vendor, recipes, and the cultural significance of the food being prepared.
The 24,000-square-foot space will be decidedly shinier than a traditional hawker center—this is Vegas, after all—with plenty of neon signs and a 10-foot Lucky Cat sculpture made of gold coins. Resorts World will claim its spot on the northern end of the Strip, close to Circus Circus, but with a lineup like the one Famous Foods has already created below, we’ll happily hike in the desert sun to get our chicken-rice fix.
Six dishes we can’t wait to try
Shandong dumplings and hand-pulled noodles from Au Chun, a Michelin Bib Gourmand shop making fresh dumplings daily in Hong Kong.
Hainanese chicken rice from Boon Tong Kee, a Singaporean Chinatown stall-turned-chain serving the classic poached chicken with rice cooked in chicken broth.
Claypot from Geylang Claypot Rice, a 2016 Michelin Plate restaurant that cooks charred rice, chicken, fish, sausage, vegetables—you name it—in traditional clay pots some 40 years on in Singapore.
Char kuey teow from Googgle Man’s Char Kuey Teow, a popular Penang spot where chef Ah Guan uses charcoal heat to give the noodles-and-prawns dish a smoky wok hei or “dragon’s breath.”
Roti prata from Springleaf Prata Place, aka roti canai, aka South Indian flatbread typically served with curry dipping sauce—great for breakfast (or at 2 a.m.).
All the meats from Blood Bros. BBQ, a Houston-area restaurant that does Texas barbecue with a Chinese and Vietnamese twist.