Given how important food is to Singaporean culture (eating is Singaporeans’ national pastime, after all), it may come as a surprise to many visitors from the equatorial isle to learn that Singaporean food is hard to find in cosmopolitan New York City. Even though NYC is a global village at the forefront of cultural trends, Singapore food barely registers a blip among the cornucopia of world cuisines.
Tellingly, one Singaporean restaurateur named his restaurant Malaysia Grill when he opened it some 20 years ago. That’s because while people knew where Malaysia was (“Somewhere in Asia?”), he says no-one knew where, let alone, what Singapore was.
Recently however, Singapore food has become somewhat trendy in NYC. The late Anthony Bourdain, who dreamt of opening a Singapore hawker-inspired food court in Pier 57, definitely helped boost the country’s culinary reputation. Singapore’s aggressive marketing of itself as a destination for food tourism might also be paying off…
Whatever the reason, New Yorkers’ curiosity about the country’s multicultural food culture has finally been piqued! And in the space of just a few years, several places dedicated entirely to Singaporean-style cuisine have sprouted across the city.
So whether you wish to satiate your cravings or exotic gastronomic fantasies, you will find it all in this Coconuts Guide to the Best (or should we say the only?!) Singaporean Food in NYC!
Bugis Street Brasserie (Times Square)
Inside the Singapore-owned Millennium Hotel in the heart of Times Square, is a little corner of Singapore. You can’t really tell from the décor or clientele, but it serves up several excellent renditions of local delicacies.
Up until 2013, the hotel’s restaurant used to only serve American food. Then Mr. Kwek Leng Beng, the chairman of Millennium and Copthorne Hotels, decided it was time to bring Singaporean food to the US market. That’s how Bugis Street Brasserie was born. And, according to the waitstaff there, the restaurant has become much more popular now since they introduced their Singaporean menu. Glad they took the plunge!
Baked Spare Ribs
This is one of the their most popular starters. The ribs themselves were bursting with flavor but what I loved the most about this was the crunchy topping – chili, scallions, and fried garlic.
Everyone at our table loved this one. The rice is smoky and aromatic. It’s got the perfect proportion of ingredients, including chicken, shrimp, vegetables and a fried egg. It comes with homemade sambal belacan (shrimp paste chili sauce).
Out of all the bowls of Laksas I’ve had in NYC, this one was the most chock-full of ingredients – vermicelli, prawns, chicken, fish cake, tofu, basil, and boiled egg, all floating in a spicy coconut broth infused with lemongrass.
Singapore Chicken Curry
Now that is a flawless rendition of curry sauce. The chicken was tender and the potatoes soft like butter. I needed a bit more spiciness, so I was given two kinds of homemade chili sauces – both exquisite.
I was super excited to find fresh barley water in NYC. This is a super healthy drink, served either hot or iced, and has actual barley and pieces of winter melon sitting at the bottom. Our friend Zenzele was initially disturbed by the cloudy texture, but was hooked after one swig!
Pisang goreng yang glamor (glammed up fried banana), drizzled with palm sugar and served with a strawberry and vanilla ice-cream – get in my belly!
The huge restaurant tends to be extremely quiet. It’s the perfect place for a Midtown power lunch. (Think big execs feasting while brokering deals in relative privacy.) Its dark wood-paneled walls and earthy color scheme give the place a warm vibe. While there’s a big New York City inspired fresco on one wall, a bouquet of orchids is the only nod to Singapore – the hotel owner’s homeland – besides the food. The only weird thing about the place is its hours; since it’s inside a hotel, Bugis Street Brasserie is only open for breakfast (7 – 10:30 am), lunch (12 – 2 pm), and dinner (5 – 9:30 pm).
FIND IT: Bugis Street Brasserie is at 145 West 44th Street New York, NY 10036
Yummy Tummy Asian Bistro (Flushing)
Opened by 57-year-old Singaporean Chef Richard Chan in August 2018, this eatery in the predominantly Korean part of Flushing is known for serving some of the most authentic Singaporean dishes in NYC.
After completing his National Service, Richard moved to NYC to study, then stayed on to work. Cooking has always been his passion, one he picked up very early from his family. He remembers cooking since age 15. Naturally, when he got to NYC, he continued to pursue his hobby, whipping up dishes to the great delight of his friends. “I just wanted to cook the dishes I missed so much from back home,” he says. “Hawker food is definitely what I miss most about Singapore, especially the mix of multicultural cuisines.”
Richard affirms he sticks firmly to his roots, not deviating from recipes to adapt to the American palate. “Our food is the most authentic Singapore fare in the whole of the city,” he says before adding: “Remember our motto – you have the tummy, we’ve got the yummy!”
Yummy Tummy’s chili crab, AKA Singapore’s unofficial national dish, puts all other versions to shame! They normally have Maryland crabs in stock but if you want the fleshier Dungeness crabs, call a day in advance to reserve it. You’ll be soaking up every last drop of this chili sauce with the cute little mantou buns.
Black Peppercorn Shrimp
Their juicy jumbo prawns, fried with black pepper sauce, are nothing short of wah-wah-wee-wah.
Grilled Sambal Skate
This is one my fav dishes in Singapore and Yummy Tummy is the only place in NYC (that I’ve found thus far) that serves it. Brought me straight back home!
Pork Belly and Preserved Vegetable Fried Rice
Simple yet yummy goodness! The pork belly was crispy and the preserved veggies gave it a tart crunch.
Bak Kut Teh
We adored these slow-cooked pork ribs and delectable little tofus immersed in a savory herbal bone broth. A warm and comforting bowl perfect for the wintry weather!
Newly renovated and boasting a bold white and blue striped façade, the two-story food-spot is often bustling with hungry Southeast Asian pilgrims seeking the real deal, especially around dinnertime and on weekends. It’s a great place for groups and the portions are pretty huge (perfect for sharing). Oh and they have copious lunch specials for US$9.50.
FIND IT: Yummy Tummy Asian Bistro is at 161-16 Northern Blvd, Flushing, NY 11358 | Instagram
Laut Singapura (Gramercy)
Opened in August 2019, this joint specializes in Singaporean hawker-style dishes. Salil Mehta, Laut Singapura’s chef (and co-owner, along with his wife Stacey), was born and raised in New Delhi, but has always had a passion for Singaporean and Malaysian food. Interestingly, he’s never been to either country, yet he somehow managed to teach himself how to cook Nyonya food from cookbooks. Nonetheless, he admits his best recipes are those he’s gleaned from the Malaysian and Singaporean “aunties” he’s met along his culinary journey.
Amongst the trials and tribulations of having a restaurant, Salil says the biggest comes from demanding Singaporean customers – he recalls being scolded for deviating from a particular recipe they are used to. But Salil says deviations are sometimes necessary to adapt to local preferences and also because some fresh ingredients can’t be found here. Moreover, he retorts, “there’s not just one way to make a dish… there are so many regional variations, so the word “authentic” is a tricky one.”
This is one of the most popular dishes here. They use Dungeness crab instead of the usual mud crab (because the latter is too tiny in the US). Chef Salil Mehta told us they keep live crabs in tanks downstairs, so they are as fresh as possible.
One of the heartiest, most lemak (coconut-ey) bowls in the whole of NYC. Cucumber strips and mint add nice fresh touch.
This is not your regular thick prata that is crispy outside while fluffy inside, but I personally liked it a lot. It has a good crispy-to-chewy ratio and it’s not too oily. The folded roti kinda looked like a deep-sea creature. The curry had a great flavor but I wish there were some potatoes or meat in there.
Singapore Hokkien Mee
Delicious mix of lai fun and egg noodles cooked in shrimp stock, with jumbo prawns, fishcake, chives and beansprouts. Carb-liciously yummy!
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Ubiquitous as a hawker food staple in Singapore, Laut Singapura’s Hainanese chicken rice was able to reproduce the delicate balance of pandan, soy, chili and garlic flavors. The chili sauce has been adapted to lower spiciness levels, however.
More inspired by Southeast Asian ingredients, rather than being a traditional Singaporean dessert, it was still pretty good. The mint-green-colored kaya, more liquid than granular, is poured over glutinous rice garnished with fresh berries and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
Another popular dessert on the menu is the Durian Sundae. The menu reads: “Buyer Beware!”
The long and narrow space features a very a large window at the end, giving you full view of pratas being spun in the kitchen. It was a bit dimly lit in places and people have mentioned it can get pretty loud. A plus point is its tables of varied sizes, making it possible to accommodate large groups.
A few Peranakan wood carvings add a nice touch to an otherwise not particularly Singaporean décor. Note that they don’t have a liquor license yet (expected in the coming months), so no Singapore Slings, folks!
Lion City Coffee
Brother and sister Chuin and Yeen Tham started Lion City Coffee in August 2018 to bring Singapore’s coffee culture to New York. But, Chuin says it is also “an homage to [their] late father who was a huge foodie and relished in recreating hawker delights at home in New York.” After immigrating to NYC almost 30 years ago, their father Mr Tham worked for many years in kitchens, first as a dishwasher, then working his way up to becoming a much-lauded chef at a Szechuan restaurant.
Neither Chuin nor Yeen have classical culinary training (Chuin’s an accountant and Yeen’s a lawyer) but they learnt to cook from their father and have become, in Chuin’s words, “glorified home cooks.”
Lion City Coffee functions as a pop-up, taking part in food fairs around NYC from Spring to Fall. For instance, they run a hugely popular stall at the famous Queens Night Market. On the menu are all the varieties of Singapore kopi (coffee) and teh (tea) and a select few Singaporean savoury specialties.
Fishball Mee Pok
A yummy bowl of flat egg noodles fried in chili and served with fish balls, ground pork, bean sprouts, and scallions.
Chai Tow Kueh
This Chinese Teochew dish is sometimes called Fried Carrot Cake in Singapore, but it contains no carrots. It’s made with shredded daikon (white radish) and rice flour. There are two versions of this dish – black (made with sweet soy sauce) or white (without), both topped with spring onions. LCC serves both and they are neither too hard nor too mushy (a tricky feat!).
This rendition of the famous Malay dish made up of coconut-milk rice is served with chicken, hard-boiled egg, fried crispy anchovies, and cucumber. A simple but tasty meal on the go.
It’s always a relief to find kaya that’s not bright green. Lion City Coffee’s homemade kaya is made with all-natural ingredients without any strange additives. You can buy some through their website.
Their kopi is roasted and vacuum packed in Singapore before it’s shipped out. Chuin describes it as a “dark roast Robusta that creates a full-bodied brew with subtle notes of dark chocolate, but without the bitterness of mainstream dark roasts.”
Resulting from a unique extraction and brewing process that uses traditional Kopi “socks” and steel pots, Singaporean kopi comes in many different forms, including kopi-c (with evaporated milk and sugar), kopi-o (black coffee with sugar) and kopi-o-kosong (plain Black coffee) and doesn’t use mainstream creamers or milk.
For all you non-Singaporeans out there, this handy towel can help decipher island’s enigmatic kopi lingo:
The bustling Queens Night Market is the place to be if you want to try food from every corner of the globe. Chuin describes the highly international market-goers as “very open-minded and willing to discover new foods.” Their most memorable experience was last Halloween: “Many of the market patrons, including some vendors, donned costumes and outfits and it was just such a fun and lively night!”
FIND IT: Look out for the Lion City Coffee stall at the Queens Night Market every weekend from April 2020 to October 2020. They sell their kopi and kaya on their website. (They’re also happy to arrange local pick up if you reach out via their Instagram.)
Chuin and Yeen are planning on opening a restaurant at a permanent location either in Queens or Manhattan, so stay tuned!
Perfect Taste (Lower East Side)
Opened by retired couple Jennifer Li and Lee Chong in September 2018, this tiny hole-in-the-wall specializes in just two dishes: Singapore Laksa and Hainanese Chicken Rice (as well as a slew of delicious coffees and teas). This is their first restaurant – they decided to open it after Lee’s retirement as a fun activity to keep them busy, spend time together and use their distinct skillsets (Jennifer cooks and Lee oversees everything else).
The kitchen is so tiny, they went through several iterations of dishes to find the ones that were both crowd-pleasers and do not require too many pots, pans or vents. Their limited menu is both a necessity and a choice, allowing the work to remain manageable and enjoyable. “If we were profit oriented, we wouldn’t find that here,” says Lee. “I do this because I love talking and meeting new people. My children live far away so I treat all my customers like my children.”
With a choice of chicken, shrimp, or vegetables, this hot bowl of laksa is wonderfully eclectic – generously laden with bean sprouts, broccoli, bok choy, fishcake slices, fried tofu, and half a soft-yoke boiled egg. It is served with a slice of lime to balance out the richness of the coconut milk. In the spiciness department, it ranks mild, so do ask for more chili if you need your fix.
(You can also find Singapore Laksa at a few Malaysian restaurants in NYC. Taste Good’s Singapore Kari Laksa is also extremely popular.)
Hainan Boneless Chicken and Herb Rice
We loved the homemade sauces, especially the awesome scallion and garlic sauce. The rice is cooked with chicken stock, not fat, making this a healthier version of this famous Southeast Asian dish. When they first opened, the dish was so popular it would get sold out before closing time!
The kaya is very fragrant and on the sweeter side. It’s not homemade but it’s still a great snack to savor with their wonderful frothy coffees and teas.
Atmosphere: The tiny space seats 10 people maximum, eating elbow to elbow, so you’re lucky if you get a place to sit. The place gave off retro diner vibes with its black and white tiles and stylish hanging lights. The service provided by Lee was warm and friendly. He chatted to everyone who came in, while Jennifer performed her culinary magic at the speed of light. Open 11 am–8 pm. Go early in case they run out of food!
FIND IT: Perfect Taste is at 51B Canal St, New York, NY 10002