Crispy chicken skin skewers, and other culinary adventures from Hawkers' new menu
Ick and eww all you want. When I take a roasted a chicken out of the oven, I tenderly, excitedly pluck a blossom of crispy fatty skin from the tush and pop it into my mouth. Thanksgiving turkey? The Gindin side of the family fights over the wings because they're covered in crispy poultry fat.
So it won't shock you that – in the midst of a disciplined diet – I ate an entire skewer of crispy chicken skin. As you can see in the photo above, that means I destroyed my waist-reducing efforts. I do not regret it. The crispy chicken skin on this skewer had been cooked over a yaktori grill at more than 1,000°F, then powdered with a dash of fiery chuan jerk seasoning. It came to the table, part of a trio, served with a grilled lime; I squeezed the citrus over the skewer for the tangy, smoky juice.
Crispy chicken skin skewers are one of several new dishes on the menu starting Wednesday, April 16, at Hawkers, a small and growing Orlando-based chain of Asian street food restaurants. The original location, in the Mills 50 District, has been my family's go-to since it opened as an earnest independent in 2011. You could say I know the menu intimately. Honestly, two of the servers pretty much know what each of us will order before we tell them. When the owners invited me to join a media tasting of the upcoming menu additions, I jumped in line. Following is what I found, in addition to those crispy chicken skin skewers.
Hawkers' Dim Sum Crunchy Balls
Here's a fun hashtag, #dimsumcrunchyballs. Luckily, they merit the publicity that hashtag helped them get. One of my favorite new Hawkers menu items, the dim sum crunchy balls are a better-than version of a staple in dim sum restaurants -- Chinese restaurants that serve breakfast and lunch via roving carts stocked with small plates of food. For these, the Hawkers cooks grind up shrimp, pound out the air, form the bouncy product of that into tennis-size balls (I believe mixing in some pork, based on the menu description), cover them in strips of spring roll batter, then deep fry them. I ate an entire one. Again, so long to that diet. Even though it's fried, I will order this again.
Hawkers' Tiger Salad
Now here's a Hawkers dish that will honor my diet. It's delicious, and it will become my new go-to. Does that mean I won't sneak a forkful, then a plateful or two, of the yaki udon my family always gets? It does not mean that. I am enthralled with that yaki udon; I end up eating more of the just-spicy-enough chicken-and-noodle combo than anyone. I go wild for the bits of scrambled egg; I guess it must absorb the sauce in some fab way. I may also dip my chopsticks into the roast duck bao, the chilled sesame noodles, etc. But I'll feel both virtuous and satisfied eating the Tiger Salad. It's a refreshing, flavorful and delightfully low-fat dish. The crux is thin slices of poached octopus. It's served on a salad of mostly cilantro leaves. That doesn't necessarily sound like it would taste good, but it does. The herb is tossed with slivers of green onion, carrot, cucumber and celery, together with a just-right rice wine vinaigrette.
More New Hawkers Menu Items
You've read about the stars. Here's more of what members of the media sampled during the recent Hawkers Asian Street Fare tasting. None got me as excited as the three items above, but we favored different dishes, so delve in and see what you think.
Those are the basics. Now go try out these foods and the classics, and have fun on social media. I promise you, #dimsumcrunchyballs is taking on a life of its own.
Extra! Here's an Ancient Rona-Hawkers Video.
Extra! Extra! Back in 2011 or 2012, I made this video about Hawkers for a local cable channel. Some of the foods are gone, but since the roti canai and curry laksa (an absolutely amazing spicy soup chock full of ingredients) are still available, take a look -- and then head over for dinner.