Daniel Ang always loved food. Eating is national pastime in his native Singapore, which is famous for its hawker centers—large open-air food halls with communal tables and food vendors competing for customers’ attentions late into the night.
When he came to the U.S. to study sociology, he missed the food that reminded him of home in Southeast Asia. Chinese food in America just didn’t cut it.
“Chinese food here is not Chinese food,” Daniel says. “It’s been adapted to Western taste. Nor is it like Singaporean food. Singapore has a mix of a lot of different Asian cultures. The cuisine is an amalgam of predominately Chinese, Malay, and Indian influences.”
While Daniel’s career path veered in vastly different directions over the years, from social work to sales, one thing remained constant. “I was always hungry for Singapore-style food, and the only way I could get it was to cook it myself,” he says.
The Lakewood resident has taken his culinary talent to the streets of Cleveland with the launch of Dang Good Foods, a food truck serving the taste of Singapore and beyond.
“I’ve been creating the menu in my head for the last six or seven years,” Daniel says. “I wanted to make something I was familiar with, that also would meld with an American palate.”
Starting a new food concept takes hard work, great taste, good marketing, and lots of luck. When I visit Daniel during his food truck’s official opening, a dutiful golden-hued lucky cat waves its left paw up and down to beckon customers from its perch in the side-front window. Daniel is hard at work arranging bao in bamboo steamers, stopping briefly to stir a pot of Singaporean-style chicken curry simmering on the stove.
“I’m guessing you won’t be doing a fish-head curry,” I say to Daniel, enquiring about Singapore’s unique national dish, in which a giant fish head emerges from the center of a spicy broth stew.
“Fish-head curry is going to freak people out,” he laughs. “I can’t do that out of a food truck.”
Daniel’s chicken version is still quintessentially Singaporean and differs from curries found in local Thai or Indian restaurants. “Some of the ingredients are the same,” he says, “but Singaporean curry needs candlenut to add a nutty, sweet flavor and thickness.”
Native to Indonesia and the tropics of Southeast Asia, candlenuts are similar in appearance to a macadamia nuts, but taste slightly more bitter. Daniel looked everywhere for them locally and finally found a supply at Asian Town Center on Superior Avenue.
“I bought a bunch of them,” he says. “This is part of the challenge I have. I might be able to get them for a short time, but because they are not often used ingredients, [stores] may not carry them regularly.”
His commitment to matching the flavor of Singapore as closely as possible has elicited positive feedback from his early fans. During my visit, the line of customers became longer and longer, with people staring longingly at the lucky folks already sinking their teeth into chicken curry, braised pork on steam buns and, well, other dang good food.
Daniel hopes his good fortune continues.
“I would love to have a restaurant eventually, but I’m enjoying the food-truck journey,” he says.
Find out where you can find Dang Good Foods next, by visiting DangGoodFoods.com.