When a friend recommended recently that I try a new place in New York specialising in Singaporean street hawker food, I had no idea what to expect. Chomp Chomp (first and second pictures) on bucolic Cornelia Street in the West Village is Malaysian chef Simpson Wong’s latest foodie foray. Here the former Kuala Lumpur banker – who opened his first NYC venture, the much-loved pan-Asian restaurant Café Asean, in 1996, followed by Jefferson in 2003 and Wong in 2011 – fuses Chinese cooking with Malaysian, Indian and Peranakan culture. And my palate has been pleasantly awakened to a whole new world of flavours.
On the evening of our visit the cosy room – with its Asian antique accents and a bustling bar area – was, quite literally, packed, the close-set tables filled with neighbourhood regulars, curious types who have read Simpson’s recent good press, and lovers of crazy flavour combinations. We consulted the menu and opted for a few semi-familiar-sounding items – juicy tempura cereal prawns ($9) and popiah ($8.50, third picture), Singaporean summer rolls made of ultra-thin pancakes filled with shrimp, snow peas and jicama – before handing our selection over to the knowledgeable waiter and sampling that day’s specials.
A calamari salad ($10) with tomatoes, cucumber, mint and galangal was a highlight thanks to the spicy-yet-sweet Malaysian-style dressing, as was the oh luak ($12), Simpson’s signature oyster omelette with chilli-spiced vinegar that sounded, frankly, rather unappetising but was in fact delectable, with soy, garlic and fish-sauce flavours coalescing to create a magical dish. Next up were more substantial mains of Sarawak laksa ($14) – a warming coconut broth studded with prawns, chicken and tofu and egg noodles – and asam fish ($15, fourth picture), which included chunks of white hake, okra and tomatoes stewed in a tamarind-tinged coconut sauce.
Chomp Chomp is an unusual cultural exploration well worth the trip for the theatre of wok-frying, steaming, flipping in the open-fire kitchen alone. Just be prepared to wait for a table, as no reservations are accepted.