As much as I love all kind of cuisines, I'm not all that familiar with Singaporean food—I had nasi goreng and hainanese chicken for the first time just last year. But now I'm officially obsessed: A mouthwatering combination of Malaysian, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian and British traditions, its flavors are bright, complex, and unlike anything else.
So I purposely went light for breakfast the morning of a lunch put on by the Singapore Tourism Board and featuring the country's top chefs Ignatius Chan, Malcolm Lee, and KF Seetoh. I wanted to be good and hungry for this feast, which boasted dishes like bak kut teh (pork rib soup), beef Rendang, and laksa.
The chefs attending the event as spectators—Jose Andres, Ming Tsai, Harold Dieterle, and Susan Feniger among them—were equally impressed. "There are so many influences from so many places, so it's a melting pot like America but even more because it's smaller!" said Andres between bites of Beef Rendang. "The flavours are so unexpected because it's a mix and match of so many cuisines. Delicious."
Feniger serves her interpretation of Singaporean street snack Kaya Toast at her Los Angeles restaurant Street. "We played around with it—added a fried egg and dark soy sauce. And now we're working on a cookie dish with pandan in it."
Chan recounted a story where chef Michael White (of New York City's Marea) recently visited Singapore and Chan gave him a tour of the best hole-in-the-wall noodle shops. "There was this one bowl of noodles with pork," said Chan. "And he was amazed that it was only $2.50! He loved this one dish that was served with broth on the side, maybe he'll use it as inspiration for a dish at his restaurant."
The admiration goes both ways: Lee cited New York restaurateur David Chang as a chef he looks up to. "He makes simple food focused on flavors and textures, nothing too fancy fancy," says Lee, who, along with Chan and Seetoh, will go on a tasting expedition in NYC next week.
Either way, I'm all for the cross cultural exchange: it's bound to be delicious.
CLARISSA CRUZ is the Fashion Features Editor of O, The Oprah Magazine. She is the former Style Editor of People magazine and has written for Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, Food & Wine, and Budget Travel. @clarissanyc1