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Singaporean Street Vendors Travel 9,500 Miles to Showcase Street Cuisine

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K.F. Seetoh and the char kway teow. Unfortunately, everything is tinted yellow because of the lighting. Photographs taken by Robyn Lee.

Singapore may enforce strict rules (no smoking, no gum-chewing, no jaywalking, no littering) but the country embraces the wonders of street food. No cigarette smoke in the air, just whiffs of coconut curry and crab. For those who favor street cuisine over the white tablecloth ilk, this is it. This is the mecca for your greasy hands.

Instead of embarking on a 19-hour flight, authentic Singaporean vendors did the trek themselves, arriving in New York this week. Last night's event, sponsored by Singapore Airlines among other companies, was arranged to mimic mini "hawker centers," the food huts where the 40,000-ish vendors set up shop in Singapore, and often stay open 24 hours a day. I knew the event would be good when Ed told me he feigned "Singapore ex-pat" status last year to score an all-access pass. Some of the street food showcased:

Char Kway Teow

"These noodles traveled 19 hours, so they need to loosen up. Oooh, ahh, yeahh. Relax guys," Singaporean chef K.F. Seetoh told his flat rice noodles with flair, proving his "chef personality" international title. Whenever it's time for another piece on Singaporean street food, Seetoh is the guy quoted. The bench in front of his station—similar to sitting options at "hawker centers" in Singapore—was packed with wide-eyed observers.

Hainanese Chicken Rice

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"That chicken has an insanely moist, almost gelatinous texture." Ed couldn't get over it. How do they do it? First the bird is boiled, then thrown into ice-cold water. Equally moist (and delicious) was the accompanying flat-topped mesa of rice, flavored with chicken fat and pandan.

Singapore Chili Crab

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The secret ingredient here: ketchup. Tubs of it were waiting to mix with garlic and hard-shelled crab for this fiery soup-like dish. Instead of a spoon, the crispy bread slice is meant for sopping purposes.

Laksa

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A curry broth spiked with ground, powdered laksa. It's peppery, has noodles and crunch (from bean sprouts), and so soothing. The kind of broth you gulp down after.

Chicken and Beef Satay

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Chicken and beef—on sticks! Because everything tastes better on a stick. The peanut dunking sauce had nutty hunks. But back to sticks. Satay: a fancy word for meat on a stick.

Fried Carrot Cake

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No carrot involved, just daikon radishes (part of the carrot family). No cake either. Normally when cake is advertised, but not provided, there's anger. But the savory egg dish was fluffy, light, and satisfying. So we'll accept the nomenclature tease.

The vendors are still in New York tonight, and will be repeating the menu at the Whole Foods in Bowery Culinary Center. Order $30 tickets for the event online, or by calling 866-462-2838. Tickets include copies of Timeless Recipes by Violet Oon and Makansutra, a guide to Singapore's best eats, by K.F. Seetoh.

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