By Ava Stryker-Robbins
This story is part of the West Side Rag’s expanded coverage of the Morningside Heights community from West 110th to 125th Streets.
The Expat opened in 2019 to pay tribute to New York City residents who have come from afar and built new lives for themselves here.
“The concept of The Expat was to embrace the reality that so many of us in NYC face,” co-owner Andrew Ding, himself an expat from Australia, shared in a phone interview with West Side Rag.
“We originally went into this project wanting a space that feels comfortable no matter where you’re from. We are very, very happy that that is what it has become,” Ding said. “Anyone and everyone can feel comfortable here.”
A great amount of inspiration for the cuisine came from Ding’s upbringing. In Australia, which he describes as a “melting pot of multiculturalism,” it was normal to “walk into any pub and get good Asian food. That’s something I used to take for granted,” he said. “But that’s not the reality here.”
Ding decided to open a restaurant that would allow that concept to exist in NYC. “It works so well. Getting a good Pad Thai with a beer or a craft cocktail. It doesn’t have to be just something you get at a Thai restaurant.” The Expat also serves a variety of other dishes, including curries, burgers, tacos, salads, and more.
The Singapore Noodles, The Expat’s second bestselling dish (after Pad Thai), is a thin, rice-noodle, stir-fried dish with yellow curry. It contains “serious veggies” including bell peppers and celery, plus chicken, tofu, and/or shrimp.
“When you go to Singapore and ask for Singapore noodles no one knows what they heck you’re talking about,” Ding said. This dish was developed in Hong Kong after WWII, but given its name because “Singapore is also a melting pot of cultures.”
The most important aspect of any recipe is the spices, Ding said. “Because fish is fish, chicken is chicken, and beef is beef. It’s all about what else you put in and how you cook it,” he said. “I lean heavier into making sure the curry stands out. I try not to be too polite with how intense flavors are. If the dish is supposed to be very fragrant and strong-flavored, that’s what you’re going to get.”
Ding wanted to include the Singapore Noodles on the menu because, to him, it is the “epitome of comfort food.” Though he was not initially a cook, he says moving to the U.S. about 20 years ago forced him to learn his favorite recipes from home, as it was the only way he could enjoy them. Prior to opening The Expat, Ding and co-owner Josh Frank trained in Singapore. They did an intensive clinic where they learned to create Southeast Asian flavors.
Both Ding and co-owner Josh Frank were originally classical musicians, though they both also own several other restaurants in the city. Ding played the viola and Frank played the trumpet. Ding emphasized that music is not too different from cooking. They’re both “all about the process…knowing the parts and how to make all the ingredients work, and balance. I’ve really enjoyed the relationship between the two disciplines.”
Both Ding and Frank hope The Expat will continue to be “a local living room for the community that we live in.”
The Singapore Noodles cost $16.
The Dish: Singapore Noodles
The Restaurant: The Expat (Morningside Heights, 64 Tiemann Place at Claremont Avenue)
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