This hearty sandwich will spice up same-old breakfasts — and lunches

Restaurants across the US are starting to re-open, but there is one popular dining category that remains out of commission: outdoor food markets. Places like Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — where crowds line up for pizza cupcakes and ramen burger s— create environments that are impossible to manage under Covid-19 restrictions. Smorgasburg is morphing into Smorg to Go for takeout only, but another wildly popular destination in New York, the Queens Night Market, remains closed.

John Wang left his job as corporate lawyer at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett to open Queens Night Market five years ago with the mission to recreate the stalls he remembered fondly from childhood trips to Taiwan. He has recently been meeting with the Department of Transportation on ways to bring it back, “but it’s hard to see how do it without eviscerating the experience. One-way traffic that doesn’t allow for people to hang out doesn’t seem very fun”, says Wang. “Plus the vendors’ business depends on volume.” On the busiest nights, 20,000 people would come to the market which had about 60 international stands from Argentina to Kosovo to Nigeria to the Philippines.

For fans like me who badly miss the market, the consolation is an energetic new cookbook, The World Eats Here: Amazing Food and the Inspiring People Who Make It at New York’s Queens Night Market by Wang and Storm Gardner (The Experiment Publishing; $20). There are profiles and recipes from vendors like Alberto Richardson of Treat Yourself Jerk Chicken whose smoker and Jamaican jerk recipe has been a major attraction at the market, and Maeda Qureshi who runs Pakistand, a pop-up restaurant whose profits support childhood education charities in Pakistan.

Another go-to vendor is Amy Pryke, a Columbia Business School graduate who parlayed a class project into her Native Noodles stand, inspired by hawker stalls from her native Singapore. Pryke specialises in thick laksa noodles in coconut broth, and that recipe is included.

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But there is another one in the book that she hasn’t yet served at the market: Roti John, a sandwich that personifies Singapore’s melting pot cuisine.

Ground meat is stir-fried with cumin, onion, and garlic then fried again with chilli-spiked eggs and loaded into a baguette. A final flourish of ketchup enhanced with spicy sweet sriracha takes it over the top. The omelette sandwich feels both familiar and adventurous with spices jammed in every corner of it — a tasty treat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

“I didn’t serve them at Queens Night Market because they’re best made to order,” says Pryke, who is opening a Native Noodles storefront in Washington Heights in the fall. “I have an academic background, so my focus was how do I bang out as many bowls as possible. But I saw that lines bring in more people, and people wait for something that’s worth waiting for.” She’ll serve Roti John on the lunch menu in her new spot.

For home cooks, Pryke notes that it’s very customisable: You can add cheese or spicy mayonnaise, or substitute sardines for meat.

Expert Roti John makers will spread the baguette halves on top of the eggs as they are cooking and flip the whole thing over in the pan. It takes some practice; I didn’t get it exactly right my first try. — Bloomberg

Roti John

Ingredients (Serves 2)

3 tbsp. ketchup

3 tbsp. sriracha

1 tbsp. sugar

2/3 baguette or 2 hero rolls, about 8 inches long

2 1⁄2 tbsp. canola oil

1⁄2 lb. ground beef or lamb or beef/ lamb mix

1 tsp. ground cumin

1⁄2 tsp. salt, plus more for seasoning

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 small white or yellow onion, sliced

6 large eggs

2 tbsp. sambal oelek (Southeast Asian chilli paste) or chopped seeded chilli

Large pinch of ground black pepper

 

Steps

  1. In a small bowl, combine the ketchup, sriracha, and sugar with 1 tablespoon of water; set aside.

  2. Split the baguette or rolls lengthwise but do not cut all the way through, leaving a small hinge like a hot dog bun. If using baguette, cut in half crosswise for 2 sandwich buns. Lightly oil a nonstick skillet with 1⁄2 tablespoon of the oil and toast the inside of the bread halves, pressing down with a spatula until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.

  1. In a bowl, combine the ground meat and cumin. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the skillet. Add the garlic and fry over medium heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the onion and cook over low heat until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the meat, raise the heat to medium, and stir-fry until cooked through, about 6 minutes. Season with salt.

  2. In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Beat in the sambal oelek, salt, and pepper. Pour the eggs into the skillet, covering the meat. When the egg just start to firm up on the bottom and sides, turn the mixture over with a metal spatula and continue cooking to desired level of done. Transfer to a plate and keep warm. Press the inside of each bread half into the pan to pick up leftover scraps.

  3. Pile the eggs and meat on the buns and spread the ketchup in the centre. Close the sandwiches, cut into four pieces and serve.