Jean-Georges Vongerichten may cook some of the most resplendent food on the planet, but the inspiration for the menus at his dozen restaurants, including his New York City flagships Jean Georges and Vong, often comes from the humblest sources. In fact, many of his favorite places to eat don't even have walls. Vongerichten loves the street food of Asia so much that he recently created a new restaurant devoted to it: Spice Market, which is opening in Manhattan's Meatpacking District this winter.
To research the menu, Vongerichten organized a 16-day, 10-city tour of Asia, traveling to Bombay, Cochin and Udaipur in India; then Kuala Lumpur; Saigon; Bangkok; Rangoon and Bagan in Myanmar; Jakarta; and Singapore. He brought along his friend, Spice Market's consulting chef, Gray Kunz, who may be the only European chef who loves Asian cooking as much as Vongerichten does. At Pho Pasteur, a soup joint in Saigon where the communal table is loaded with bowls of herbs, bean sprouts, red chiles and limes, the chefs rediscovered the gingery, star aniseinfused pho, a rice noodle soup with beef, which Vongerichten adapted with the very French addition of poached marrow. A sticky-rice and mango dessert in Bangkok was the model for a sticky-rice pudding; Vongerichten cooks the rice in a bamboo steamer, then sweetens it with coconut milk and sprinkles crispy, caramelized puffed rice on top.
Spice Market's South Asian colonial style, with latticed windows salvaged from India and comfortable white leather chairs, may not recall a street stall, but with a spoonful of Vongerichten's pho, you'll get the flavor of the experience.