Hawkers Asian Street Fare
Hawkers Asian Street Fare is a restaurant located on Mills Ave. It’s in the Mills 50 district area, where Asian restaurants are abundant. It is known for its low prices and tapas-style dishes. I had been here once before but it’s been close to 2 years. My first experience wasn’t amazing but I don’t recall it being horrible either. I remember when this location used to be Chinatown Restaurant but I never had the food there, so I can’t comment on that. On the exterior, the place is well maintained and has an obvious Asian influence. Parking is limited and I ended up parking on the street instead. Upon entering, there is a bar on the left and restrooms to the right. Hawkers serves beer, wine and sake. I was actually surprised by their beer selection for an “Asian” restaurant but ultimately, I selected a Malbec wine instead. It was packed this evening, granted it is the weekend.
All the tables had Chinese newspapers as the underlying decor. Very nostalgic for me, since it reminded me of when my family would cook anything with bones we’d have the newspapers on the table. (It made for easy clean up afterwards.) Definitely trendy appeal up in this place. My server was Megan, very friendly, prompt and courteous. She explained the menu well since there were some first-timers in the group. I usually have a very good memory when it comes to food, but I could honestly not remember what I ordered my last visit. I do recall purchasing two items, one definitely had noodles in it. That didn’t help me much, since quite a bit of the dishes had noodles. So my friends and I start to pick out some items. The laundry list of food we ordered were the Basil Fried Rice, Siu Yoke, Pot Stickers, Hawkers’ Delight, Roast Duck, Char Kway Teo, Korean Bulgogi Beef Skewers, Five Spice Fish Tacos, Roti Canai, and the Mango Sticky Rice.
I absolutely love basil. Well aside from fried basil. But basil used in Asian dishes? I absolutely love it. So, naturally the Basil Fried Rice appealed to me. The menu also lists Kim Chi Fried Rice, Chow Faan (which is literally fried rice), Yangzhou Chow Faan. Overall the flavor was fine. My friends said they thought the rice was too greasy. I probably wouldn’t use the word greasy, but it was more “damp” than how I would like my fried rice to be. Also, the flavor of the basil was not as prevalent. Overall, it was a good portion size.
One of the things Hawkers does, is that they bring out food as soon as it’s done. That’s a nice thing since you know the food you’ll be getting is hot. Then it’s kind of fun, playing a game of ‘what are we getting next?’. Next up, we have the Siu Yoke. An equivalent Filipino version would be lechon. I love me some roasted pork! There’s just something about that pork skin, crispy, flavorful, mmmm. (I love pork rinds, so it’s not that much of a stretch as to why I love the pork skin on Siu Yoke). The roasted pork was served with hoisin sauce. The pork was tender but very salty. I don’t mind salt at all, but this was just salty. Also, the hoisin sauce didn’t look right. The sauce tasted fine but it looked like it had been warmed up. The consistency was a bit off from the standard. The scallions on top were unnecessary. At the same time, the Pot Stickers were brought out. If you haven’t had Pot Stickers before, it’s essentially a dumpling with contents inside, in this case, it was chicken. You can either have it steamed or pan-fried. We elected for pan-fried because everything tastes better fried! Am I right, or am I right?! The Pot Sticker were decent although the sauce accompanying it, was very watery and lacked flavor. What’s the point of having a sauce if it doesn’t add anything? Just saying.
One of my friend’s insisted on having a vegetable dish. FINE! Some people can be so pushy. (I’m merely kidding. I’m super easy going when it comes to my food. Just don’t touch my bacon!) He selected the Hawkers’ Delight, which consisted of carrots, straw mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, napa cabbage, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, tofu, and broccoli. That’s a good bit of stuff and the flavor was good. Not bad I say, not bad at all. Unfortunately my next few dishes weren’t that spectacular. One of the food “razzies” would have to go to the “Roast Duck”. And yes, I’m air-quoting this “Roast Duck”. I was quite displeased with this duck. It was bland, the duck fat definitely wasn’t rendered properly. This was a lame duck for sure. Do yourself a HUGE favor. Don’t bother ordering the duck and if you’re insistent on eating some duck, go to Tasty Wok. It’s within walking distance (I suppose for some, that could be debatable.) I was just flabbergasted. I grew up eating duck, I even love eating the meat from the duck’s neck. Strange, I know but you have to realize I’m Chinese. The menu item says this duck is roasted to perfection. pffftt! Even the sauce accompanying it, was subpar. It was a golden color liquid, not much flavor either. At this point, I think they need some kind of saucier. Yes, it’s a bit dramatic of me but why have a sauce if it doesn’t add anything to the dish?
Usually, I’m so engrained to take pictures of my food but the next few menu items, I didn’t even bother. I had the Fish Tacos, which was alright. It was deep fried fish (go figure), soft shell tortillas. It wasn’t that much of a east-meets-west concept for me. At least this dish wasn’t bad, but I probably wouldn’t continue to order it. They really could have added more seasoning to it. As I’m eating, I’m looking around and there are a lot of guests in the restaurant. Most of which are not Asian. I’m not trying to insinuate anything BUT…. I just didn’t see many other Asian folks in this place. HMMM…Next up, we have the Korean Bulgogi Beef Skewers. The flavor of the skewers were okay although the meat itself was a bit of the charred side. Extra flavor, I suppose? Some portions of the meat were a bit tough. I have made chicken bulgogi many times at home and I definitely let my meat marinate. The beef here could have been marinated more. On the end of the plate, there were a side of kim chi. Sometimes, I’ve wondered if kim chi could go bad. And folks, my answer to you is yes. I can without a doubt say I’ve tasted bad kim chi. This kim chi was just overtly sour, not spicy and just awful. Worst. Kim. Chi. Ever. EVER! I am a big fan of kim chi, from its flavor to its nutritional benefits. I even buy the big jar of kim chi from Woo Sung. This kim chi was dismal. Avoid at all costs. One of my friends and I both stated we’re glad we didn’t get the Kim Chi Fried Rice. Sour fried rice just doesn’t appeal to me. I need something to get my mind of this horrible kim chi. The Char Kway Teo is within reach and ready to be consumed. I don’t recall ever having tried this noodle dish before but if the description states it’s “Malaysia’s most popular street fare” then theoretically, it should be good. Theoretically is the key word. Flat rice noodles, bean sprouts, shrimp, chicken… What’s not to like? Oh yeah, the lack of flavor. I’m glad the proteins weren’t overcooked but the overall flavor of the dish wasn’t that great. I was half tempted to ask for some fish sauce and some sriracha. Half of the dishes we ordered were “signature dishes” but I think they need to reevaluate some things. My belly is getting full and it’s not from good food. One last ‘small plates’ item to go. The Roti Canai. It’s a Malaysian flatbread served with a curry sauce. Oh God, another “sauce”. I hope this one actually delivers. And guess what? *pauses* Something that has some flavor!! FINALLY! It only took towards the end of the meal. Holy cannoli, we’re getting somewhere. The flatbread is very reminiscent of a chapati (an Indian flatbread). Warm, flaky, crisp flatbread dipped in a spicy, curry sauce. The consistency was there, the flavor was there, the color was there. I could recommend this although for $3 for one flatbread is overpriced in my book. If you have others that want more flatbread then it’s an additional $1.50.
At this point, most of the dishes didn’t deliver but I still don’t want to give up hope. The Sitcky Rice with Mango sounds good. Purple rice simmered in coconut milk, with mango pieces and mango ice cream. Sounds really good, doesn’t it? I do love me some mango. Well, they get points for presentation. Purple rice, how pretty! Now for the actual taste of it. Well, I could taste the coconut milk in the rice although the rice was very stiff. I found the black grains of rice very distracting to chew through. The mango pieces on top of the rice was tasty but the mango ice cream didn’t taste like mango ice cream. It was more like mango sorbet. Why does this matter? When you list a menu item, even the description should be accurate! If the dessert actually had mango ice cream, it would have worked better. The creaminess would have gone well with the rice. Between 4 people, only 1/3 of this dessert was consumed. Shows how much we cared for it.
So final thoughts on this place? I probably won’t be coming back here anytime soon. It’s such a shame, because I’ve read so many good things and heard so many good things. How can it be that the whole group and I didn’t find anything we really enjoyed? Hawkers really ought to kick up the flavor about 4 notches. I really feel like I got a good sample of the menu and no dishes really impressed me. Perhaps it was for good reason why I didn’t recall my last experience here.