Chomp Chomp in NYC

Chomp Chomp 7 Cornelia Street (bet. Bleecker & West 4th), New York, NY 10014 (212) 929-2888

Photos: Thomas Dang

There is something about the heat—both food and atmospheric—while eating in one of Singapore’s open-air hawker food centers that is undeniably refreshing. As I reveled in sensorial amazement of its food culture, a friend who is a local said, “Half of Singapore cooks for the other half.” Singapore’s cultural obsession with food clearly existed long before the days of foodies, locavores, and other food-related synecdoche.

But I am not in Singapore; I am in New York’s West Village, smack at the start of winter and seated stealthily by the window of the newly opened Chomp Chomp’s dining room.

Hawker food is a phenomenon that may be quite unique to Asia. Part of its appeal is the freedom in eating and cooking without the stultifying pressures of Michelin stars or TV ratings. Vendors are typically families whose sincere fervor for what they do, can lead to recipes being as closely guarded as an Apple product release. There are no quasi-foods or alleged edibles chock-full of preservatives that if Armageddon hit, it would survive, wholly unscathed. Hawker food is just good, real food.

I initially wondered how this new food billed as “Singaporean hawker” might translate to the confines of a restaurant setting. Away from its elements, I likewise wondered if this new establishment might serve the culinary equivalent of beef with broccoli—the epitome of homogenized Chinese food, made accessible for the fortune-cookies-are-Chinese set.

As my time at Chomp Chomp unfolded, however, it became apparent that it may be in a league of its own. Among antique chomp chomp nycChinese wooden doors, filament pendant lighting, and white-painted exposed brick wall, the surrounds exude a minimalist yet rustic flair. The open kitchen is slightly covered by bamboo blinds, which separate sous-chefs from counter diners on metal chairs. More seating is available at the fully stocked bar, which seemed abuzz for an early Friday evening crowd. The rest of the room is filled with draftsman-inspired wooden chairs, with a utilitarian feel that’s almost necessary in New York City eateries.

Owner and executive chef Simpson Wong’s simple yet substantial menu covers Singaporean food’s fusion of Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, and Indian cultures. In keeping with the hawker food theme, dishes arrive steady-paced in colorful melamine plates and brought by friendly and attentive servers.

I started with the pasembur, a well-executed Malaysian salad containing crunchy shrimp fritters and juxtaposed with fresh shredded cucumber and mango, releases a balanced bite. But the real star of the dish is the cuttlefish sambal. Cuttlefish—like mussels and octopuses and somewhat similar in taste—is a mollusk that drives the sambal’s flavor. The latter, a thick paste that’s a little bit of a cross between guacamole and hummus in texture, unravels its character slowly.

Out of sheer curiosity after seeing it on the next table, I ordered the cereal-encrusted prawns as a “snack” (or extra appetizer). These came conveniently peeled but with the heads still on, and along with the chili sauce on the side, proved to be a good choice. The sauce was not ‘heat’ of the tongue-steeped-in-Novocain variety; rather, this was ‘heat’ that pounced on the senses, blended with flavors that played with one’s emotions. Suffice it to say, it left me wanting more.

My zest was timely saved by the asam laksa. The coconut and tamarind-based fish soup with hake and okra left me feeling, at this point, unknowingly transported to the tropics.

Fighting for objectivity while in a food-induced fugue state, I gathered my composure for the succulent barbequed stingray for main, which came alongside the calamansi sambal. The calamansi—a type of citrus similar to kumquat—in the sambal and the fragrant jasmine rice as a side, did not help my cause. It rounded out the meal, wooing the palate with each mouthful.

Skipping dessert, and surrendering to the fact that I’ve been taken on a trip—albeit short—to Singapore, I head out to a blast of New York’s pre-winter chill. Hit with a stark whiff of smoke from the pretzels being sold on the street corner, I plan my next visit back to Chomp Chomp.

Chomp Chomp 7 Cornelia Street (bet. Bleecker & West 4th), New York, NY 10014 (212) 929-2888

Vibe: Lively.
Sound: If you want less chatter, sit by the window for less acoustics.
Drinks/Wine: Small, but well selected. The Sauvignon Blanc pairs nicely with most dishes.
Price: $$ (moderate)

Roanne Monte
Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Larietta.com

I have lived (and still do) and spent time in major cities such as London, Paris, Tokyo, Singapore, most Australian capital cities and, of course, New York. When I am not traveling, working, performing, or getting involved in causes I am passionate about, I can be found in the kitchen dreaming up cupcake combinations.

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