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Can New Yorkers say oh luak?
SIMPSON Wong didn't last two weeks in the New York F&B business when he started out in 1988 as a busboy. He was fired for not showing up at work on time, which he couldn't really help because he was still unsure of his way around the city. Plus, he didn't know "sodas" meant "soft drinks". He was 25 years old then and had just arrived from Perak, Malaysia, where he was born and raised.
Fast forward 15 years later, Wong counts Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Conan O'Brien and Ralph Lauren as regulars of the fusion food he designed for his second F&B venture Jefferson. It had gotten a very respectable two-star rating in The New York Times and was featured as the location for the wedding reception of Miranda and Steve on Sex and the City.
Wong, an indefatigable entrepreneur with a genuine love for food and company, has just opened his latest restaurant in New York's West Village called Chomp Chomp - no relation to the one in Serangoon Gardens.
It touts itself as New York's first Singapore hawker food restaurant and the menu comprises almost every popular Singapore dish: from char kway teow to nasi lemak to har zheung gai.
Admirably, he doesn't want to alter the dishes' names or tamper with the taste to ease them into the Western vocabulary and palate respectively. Oh luak, popiah and murtabak are called exactly that and taste how they would in Singapore.
Wong, 52, became an American citizen in 2003. He says: "I want to focus on Singaporean hawker food and I want it to be authentic. I've been thinking of offering zhi char as well so anyone who misses it back home can make a reservation to have it specially served here."
Wong, who lives in a brownstone with his cardiologist partner Henry Wu, believes Singaporean food is on the brink of getting world attention - which is one of the reasons why he's opened Chomp Chomp. The first restaurant he opened in 1995, Cafe Asean, serves mostly Malaysian, Vietnamese and Thai food and has become something of a West Village institution. He wanted a pure Singapore focus for Chomp Chomp to distinguish it from the other Asian restaurants in New York.
His strategy of serving authentic, unadulterated Singapore food seems to working. The New Yorker, Monocle, The Daily Meal and several other respected publications have given the restaurant the thumbs up. Meanwhile, customers have to queue for as long as an hour on weekends to get a seat in the small, dinner-only 1,000 sq ft restaurant that serves entrees for between US$12 and US$16. His heart is now set on creating an ice cream line with flavours such as roast duck and chicken rice. He's also collaborating with a donut shop to create a hae bee hiam donut and a kaya donut.
Chomp Chomp is located at 7 Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. Opens daily for dinner. Tel: 212-929-2888
READ MORE: Makan in the USA