Where to Eat Around the World ts

Hawker Chan, the world's most famous street food vendor in 8 countries.

Francesca Feresin
copertina hawker chan

Chan Hong Meng speaks again, the founder of Hawker Chan, who has taken his rice and chicken street food chain far beyond Singapore. Among Asia's most celebrated chefs, he may have lost the Michelin star, but he continues to attract gourmands.

Chan Hong Meng's journey to becoming one of Asia's most iconic chefs was not an easy one. The Malaysian-born street vendor started as an apprentice in a Hong Kong restaurant when he was just 18 years old. It took over two decades before he decided to open his own stall, appropriately named Hawker Chan, in 2009. At that tiny stall in Singapore's Chinatown Food Center, he served thousands of hungry customers his version of chicken rice, the city-state's national dish, which includes roasted chicken, seasoned rice, and soy sauce.

Hawker Chan 2023 07 21 10 32 41

In 2016, Chan was catapulted into the celebrity world when his stall was included among three street food restaurants awarded the Michelin star – a recognition usually reserved for the finest names in haute cuisine. The media dubbed his signature dish, priced at $2.25, as the world's cheapest Michelin-starred meal. During a recent visit to his restaurant, 78 Smith Street, Chan revealed to Insider that customers would wait in line for up to five hours to taste his food. "I became a celebrity overnight. The whole world knew about me and my food. It's a childhood dream come true," confessed the fifty-six years old chef.

Hawker Chan Shermainexk

However, five years later, Michelin removed Chan's stall from its selection. It was a shock for many food enthusiasts worldwide, but not for Chan. He knew his time in the spotlight would eventually come to an end. "When I lost the star, I didn't give up," said Chan. "Whether I have the star or not, life goes on. It doesn't mean I will get angry or cry," he added. Chan continued cooking and expanding his business. Just one year after losing the Michelin star, his fast-casual eatery on Smith Street earned a spot in the Bib Gourmand, a highly esteemed award among street vendors, which lists only the best food served at "reasonable prices." It is awarded by Michelin to restaurants with a "simpler style of cuisine" (and often more affordable).

Hawker Chan Eatbook

Today, Chan's chicken rice dishes are still highly sought after. Hawker Chan has since become a global brand, with dozens of stalls in Singapore and eight other countries, including Australia, China, and Kazakhstan. Chan estimates that his outlets serve a total of 1,000 meals per day. And he's not done expanding his brand yet: this month, he said he will head to India to host a pop-up restaurant and explore new opportunities. "I want people to continue eating my dishes for generations, all over the world."

Hawker chan 2023 07 21 10 35 27

After nearly 40 years in the industry, he is no stranger to criticism. Lately, both food critics and customers have noticed a decline in the usual standards. Insider previously reported that many Singaporeans believed street vendors often experienced a drop in food quality after receiving the Bib Gourmand. "If you catch Mr. Chan during his shift at the original stall, you'll find that the food is still excellent and the prices are low. But the other outlets are pretty mediocre: too expensive and honestly not up to standards," said local foodie Jeanette Lee. "Your humble recipe must be replicated well. I think they failed because they simply cut and pasted the product into the other locations," added renowned local food critic KF Seetoh.

Hawker Chan 1

But Chan reassures his critics that the recipe and the way he prepares his dishes remain the same as when he first received the Michelin star several years ago. "All the chicken is homemade, and only the sauces are prepared in a centralized kitchen and distributed to the outlets. The dishes are cooked on the spot. Some people like my food, others don't. I accept all criticisms."

Latest news

show all

We respect your Privacy.
We use cookies to ensure you an accurate experience and in line with your preferences.
With your consent, we use technical and third-party cookies that allow us to process some data, such as which pages are visited on our website.
To find out more about how we use this data, read the full disclosure.
By clicking the ‘Accept’ button, you consent to the use of cookies, or configure the different types.

Configure cookies Reject