Chomp Chomp Nation started out as a food truck, the brainchild of Robert Zuetell and Gina Galvan. “My wife had been to Singapore in 2005 working for Pizza Hut International”, Robert said. “She had tried the food, I had not but I was the one who kind of ‘Americanized’ it in a format and made it approachable for mainstream Americans like ourselves who don’t know what it is. It’s a new genre of food. We call it ‘Chinese food that’s been dragged through the jungle’. It’s been tropicalized. So what we did was Americanize it in this format, in a sandwich format. All Americans know a sandwich format—less rice, a little more ‘carryability’, you can walk around with it”.
With a featured segment on Food Network’s popular show Diners Drive-ins and Dives that praised the delights on their food truck, Chomp Chomp Nation’s culinary fame was assured. As Robert explained about the history of their truck, “We discovered we didn’t have enough money to fund a restaurant, not enough operating capital, so we looked at the food truck craze, went to the Orange County Foodie Fest and looked at 40 trucks with 400 people in line for 12 hours, 25,000 people showed up so we stood there in awe and said ‘what is going on?’. It was hot out, people were waiting in line for so long that I couldn’t believe it. It was the start of a craze, obviously. We jumped on that fad and got the first vehicle we could get. We wrapped it like a tiger, we wanted an event vehicle that was bright, bold and the insignia of Singapore has a tiger and a lion on it so we took some of that essence of Singapore”.
Their inspiration and name came straight out of Singapore. Robert said, “So the main genesis is that I was looking for something that was American and Singaporean. There’s a hawker center, a food court, in Serangoon called the Chomp Chomp Food Centre and I saw that in a hawker book I was studying. I said to myself, ‘that reminds me of Popeye Man in PacMan—-chompchompchompchomp—so I said, ‘this is American so the name will be Chomp Chomp’. That was my brilliant overseas idea to fuse Singapore and America in the same thing and then we made it ‘Nation’ because all of the expatriates from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia that live in America are starving for their food”.
He added, “Their flavor is really hard to find, there’s not enough restaurants that do it. So they’re a nation of lost souls looking for their food. That’s why we did Chomp Chomp Nation. Since then I’ve been to Singapore and enjoyed it and want to go back, went to Chomp Chomp Food Centre and did the whole experience. It was everything they say it is, it is the Disneyland of food! All Asians in that part of the world go to Singapore to eat as a vacation”.
In March, Chomp Chomp Nation achieved the goal that most food trucks aspire to, opening a permanent ‘brick and mortar’ location. Chomp Chomp Nation is located in the food court of Anaheim’s Wholesome Choice market. With plenty of seating, it is a good place to go and try Chomp Chomp Nation’s version of one of the most popular and delicious cuisines in Asia. Chomp Chomp Nation’s menu features a variety of dishes that meld Singaporean flavors to American tastes. As Robert explained, “We kind of hit the gamut on the menu, we have seafood, steak, lamb, we have chicken and vegetarian items so there’s something for everyone. We hit all the texture points, crunchy, sweet, salty, spicy and umami, all of those things that you want on your palate. We’re proud and stand behind our balanced sauces, putting a balanced flavor in your mouth”.
The Spiced Lamb Burger is one such item that is a great introduction to the flavors of Singapore. Ground lamb is mixed with Chomp chomp’s signature blend of spices including lemongrass, galangal (a root similar to ginger that is popular in Southeast Asia) and ginger to make a flavorful patty that is then grilled. It is then served on a brioche bun that is layered with a Mint Lime Yogurt Raita for a unique flavor. Topped with a handful of soybean sprouts, the taste is full of interesting flavors, well balanced but not spicy. The flavors are exotic but certainly approachable and make for a delicious burger. The plate comes with some excellent spiral cut potato chips.
Crab is very popular in Singapore, so Chomp Chomp Nation has two crab sandwiches on the menu. Robert got the idea for the crab dishes while he was waiting for a plane in Singapore, saying “One of the classic dishes is Chili Crab. I had that at Changi Airport in Singapore. It’s a bowl with a huge crab that is cracked in it, sprinkled with green onions,and cilantro on top with cucumber and onions on the side. It’s in this kind of gravy/cocktail sauce that is super-spicy. The dish itself is so hard to eat, it’s a finger dish with burning hot sauce on your hands picking crab meat out, but it’s delicious! It’s cumbersome and sloppy—it’s a lot of work! So I thought, ‘I can’t serve this dish on the truck!’ and that’s where I came up with the crab patty with the same flavors and the chili sauce on top. Then later on we came out with the soft-shell crab which is a whole crab, deep-fried with the sauce, so they are kind of similar yet different at the same time”.
Both sandwiches are absolutely delicious. The Singapore Chili Crab Cake is a generous portion of crab, mixed with Chomp Chomp’s spice blend and then grilled. The ginger, lemongrass and Kaffir lime leaves add an interesting flavor to the crab cake. An Asian Tiger Slaw tops the cake and the brioche bun is slathered with a chili sauce that provides just the right amount of heat. The Soft-shell Crab sandwich takes it one step forward, with the hard-to-find soft-shell crab lightly breaded and then deep-fried to perfection. The who crab is placed on the bun and provides not only a marvelous flavor but a textural treat as well. The chili sauce complements the flavor of the crab perfectly, providing a nice kick to the sandwich.
A sandwich that Robert described as a “Philly Cheesesteak without the cheese”, the Marinated Steak Sandwich is at once both familiar but exceptionally exotic. Marinated in a sauce with tamarind glaze, brown sugar, ketchup, spices and shallots, the thin sliced ribeye steak, the same meat used in the best Philly cheesesteaks in the City of Brotherly Love, is chopped and grilled. Served on the brioche buns with a nice topping of soybean sprouts, it yields a tender beefy flavor with a nice sweet tang to the sauce. It’s a nice hearty steak sandwich that has good flavor.
Another sandwich is the Singapore Sloppy Joe, a version of the popular comfort dish Beef Rendang. The beef is braised in coconut milk, Thai chilis and Pandan leaves, a tropical tree whose leaves provide a sweet taste and aroma to the dish. Served on the brioche bun, it is a refreshing take on the popular Singaporean dish. Chomp Chomp Nation isn’t just about sandwiches, however. Several versions of the popular Singaporean street food Satay Skewers are available, with chicken, beef, shrimp and tofu heading up the choices. All the satay skewers are served with a satay peanut sauce, the Tiger Slaw and rice cubes. Another interesting item that is new on the menu is the Crispy Wrapped Shrimp with a Sambal Chili Mayo.
Robert wanted some chicken wings on the menu so he let his creativity take over with them. “What can I do with the wings?”, he said. “I take the signature drink from the country of Singapore that everyone knows, make that punch and turn it into a sauce that makes a sweet barbecue sauce for wings, with chili so it makes a sweet and hot combo”. The Singapore Sling Wings did have the flavors of that popular drink found in bars the world over, made into a shiny glaze that provides the delicious coating for the meaty wings. This has to be one of the most delicious versions of wings around, sweet and spicy and definitely easy to eat.
Chomp Chomp Nation has shown that they can find tastes that appeal to everyone. With the extensive experience of both Robert and Gina as restaurant consultants whose are tasked by major restaurants and chains to create innovative, new menus and menu items to appeal to diners the world over, they certainly have foundthe food of Singapore a cuisine whose time has come and introduced it in a way everyone can enjoy. As Robert concluded, “These are the kinds of things we do as consultants to drive that innovation. Give it a little twist that makes it Americanized while it is still familiar in flavor to the people who have lived there or been there. That was our goal, they know it is different but it still reminds them of home”.
Chomp Chomp Nation
5755 E. La Palma
Anaheim, CA 92607