Singaporean Hawker Food
Singaporean Hawker Food
Far off the beaten path of Singapore, in a leafy, tranquil stretch far north is a sleepy little neighborhood that has one nationally celebrated landmark: Chomp Chomp, widely regarded as one of the best -- if not the best -- places to find the best hawker/street food vendors on this tropical island nation.
Singaporeans across the country enjoy making pilgrimages to Chomp Chomp to feast on its unique and unparalleled sampling of the country’s hawker food. And Chef Simpson Wong, who first introduced New Yorkers to his global approach to cooking in 1996 when he opened Café Asean, a fine pan-Asian restaurant in the West Village, followed by Jefferson a New-American restaurant in 2003 and Wong, an Asian-locavore restaurant in 2011, now brings the flavors of Chomp Chomp to life today in the West Village.
At Chomp Chomp, Chef Wong will be showing New Yorkers an authentic taste of Singaporean hawker food -- which is akin to street food, though in Singapore, street food vendors have been housed in open-air food courts called hawker centers for decades now. His menu is a litany of Singaporean specialties, many of which are incredibly hard to find in the United States.
Chomp Chomp’s decor, designed by Thomas Dang Vu, is pure old-school Southeast Asian chic. Antique wooden Chinese doors, similar to ones that functioned as doorways into Singapore’s pre-war Peranakan (Straits Chinese) homes, adorn the dining room’s rustic open-brick walls. Bamboo blinds partially shielding the sleek open kitchen, an elegant dark-wood bar and sepia-toned lighting complete the feel of an old Singaporean supper club, even before the buttery sounds of vintage Shanghai cabaret and jazz come on.
As the chef and proprietor of Wong, Cafe Asean and formerly of Jefferson, Simpson Wong exemplifies the contemporary chef who is adept at integrating his many global influences. A native of Malaysian with Chinese ancestry, Wong had lived, traveled and studied cuisine throughout Asia and Europe.
A self-taught chef, Wong learned much from helping his mother prepare meals for his father's timber company in Malaysia. They worked in remote reaches of the rain forest, where trips to the market were rare. His mother grew many of her own fruits, vegetables and herbs, and cooked them freshly picked. She instilled in Wong an appreciation for fresh, organic produce and clean, simple flavors that characterize his food to this day.
Throughout his early professional life, Wong dreamed of opening his own restaurant. As a banker in Kuala Lumpur, and as a United Nations liaison in New York City, Wong dedicated his off-hours to further educating himself in all things culinary. He absorbs everything, in four-star dining rooms, at lunch counters and from sidewalk vendors and markets in all of New Yorker neighborhoods. He learned new techniques from friends in the restaurant industry, and read cookbooks voraciously. Wong put this heightened knowledge to direct use in catering for art galleries and film projects.
In 1996, Wong finally realized his dream and opened Cafe Asean, a cozy West Village restaurant serving Vietnamese, Thai and Malaysian dishes. The New York Times reviewer Eric Asimov raved that he be loved the fresh, direct quality of the cooking. After 18 years, diners continue to embrace Cafe Asean till today. Despite this early success, Wong continued to travel, to learn, and to refine his skills.
The notebooks in which he obsessively recorded his experience and ideas were the foundation of Jefferson, which opened in early 2003, where he served a New American menu that brought together diverse influences not just from Asian but from all regions of the world. Jefferson garnered a superlative two stars from William Grimes of the New York Times, who wrote that Wong has a refined palate, and he pays close attention to texture and interplay of unusual flavors. At Jefferson was also voted the Best Neighborhood Restaurant by New York Magazine in 2003. Wong and Jefferson have been featured in multiple media fronts, including Martha Stewart Living TV, CBS The Early Show, and Sex and The City, as well as on the pages of The New York Times, Time Out New York, to name but a few.