Pancakes with Thai basil syrup and red curry cream. Egg banh mi. Bao burgers.
New York’s coveted weekend brunch scene is getting a lot more interesting. Simmering against the competition is a host of Southeast Asian-influenced brunches perfect for diners seeking more alluring and unconventional tastes at their morning meal.
Hailing from Malaysia, Bali, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, these menus use ingredients like lemongrass, galangal (an herb similar to ginger), Thai basil, kaffir lime leaves and curry alongside coconut, fruits like bananas and mangoes, rice and roti to create aromatic, comforting and bold dishes.
Here are five New York City restaurants incorporating exotic yet approachable Southeast Asian flavors in creative and delicious ways.
When Rasa owner Camie Lai was growing up in Malaysia, her dad would make her an enviable breakfast of creamy teh tarik (pulled frothy hot milk tea found in the country’s restaurants, outdoor stalls and cafés) paired with salted and buttered kaya toast (kaya is a Malaysian coconut jam that’s a caramel-y spread of palm sugar, coconut milk and eggs). Now her childhood favorites can both be found on her Greenwich Village restaurant’s brunch menu.
Rasa's Kaya Toast and Roti Canai | Photo: Marisel Salazar
Order those, then add a round of crispy, buttery roti canai (Indian-influenced flatbread found in Malaysia) dipped in sugar or curry sauce, followed by what Lai calls the “Malaysian bento box”: the classic nasi lemak (a curry chicken with salty fried anchovies), sambal (Southeast Asian hot relish made with chile peppers, spices and vinegars/lime) and toasted coconut rice.
The ultimate sweet and savory move at Greenpoint’s Balinese-inspired Selamat Pagi is the beef rendang, a traditional slow-cooked spicy beef stew made with coconut milk, lemongrass and galangal, paired with banana pancakes, which are topped with scattered coconut flakes and drizzled in palm sugar syrup.
But first, you might want to start with krupuk (deep-fried prawn chips) and sambals, followed by the deviled eggs with chile, shallots and kaffir lime, which have a “cult following,” according to owner Laura O’Neill, who’s also one of the founders of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream.
Manila Social Club’s chef Björn De La Cruz creates a hearty Filipino-inspired brunch menu at this tranquil Williamsburg establishment, complete with silogs (si means ”rice;” log means ”eggs”) paired with proteins like longanisa (Filipino sausage), tocino (cured sweet pork shoulder) and whole mackerel marinated in soy and calamansi (citrus fruit native to the Philippines) alongside delicious garlic fried rice.
Tocino Silog | Photo: Courtesy of Manila Social Club
The not-to-be-missed sweet star of the brunch menu is the colorful mango soufflé pancake, topped with a bright-purple scoop of ube ice cream.
Ngam chef Hong Thaimee’s comfort food-forward Thai brunch in Union Square includes indulgences like pumpkin pancakes with Thai basil syrup and red curry cream, eggs Benedict with lemongrass hollandaise sauce, and a burger laced with condiments like homemade sai oor curry paste, cilantro lime and red curry mayos, green papaya kraut, and sweet-and-sour peanut relish. More traditional dishes like the Authentic Old School Pad Thai and refreshing papaya salad with a surprising apple, pear and tamarind dressing keep the menu just balanced enough for more classical Thai seekers.
The vách ki ri spring rolls at the Vietnamese-and-French fusion spot Bò Cà Phê in Soho are made with melted Laughing Cow cheese. That might be all you need to know. The Bò Cà Phê brunch is a mix between a French breakfast (like butter- and jam-slathered baguettes) and a Vietnamese lunch (pho soup, banh mi). You’ll also find eggs bò bún (vermicelli noodles, fresh veggies and eggs instead of traditional beef) and the bao burger, a pillowy bao bun-wrapped burger topped with shiitake and truffle sauce.
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