Nigel “Moon Man” Sielegar is a pretty busy guy. In addition to running the Moon Man Indonesian desert stand at the Queens Night Market, and helming the award-winning Corse Design Factory, he teaches at SVA, and still finds time to eat his way across Queens. Be sure to stop by to say “‘Hello, Moon Man’ this Saturday night!” I’m not quite sure where he found the time to answer Seven Questions, but I’m glad he did!
1. Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in Queens?
I’m originally from Surabaya (for those who don’t know, it’s the second largest city in Indonesia). I moved to United States when I was 18 for college. I lived in Chicago for a good 5.5 years before I moved to New York in 2007. I’ve been living in Queens ever since and I love it here.
2. What do you like most about the neighborhood you live in?
To me personally, Queens (or in my case, the border of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst) is the model of a perfect neighborhood. The diversity of people is unbeatable, within the same block you can hear multitude of languages being spoken by passerby. Race, religion, and skin color don’t matter much. Everyone respects each other’s culture and embrace the myriads of differences. There’s a system of coexistence that you just can’t find in other places.
As it is true everywhere else in the world, when the culture is rich, the food is rich. The choices and quality of food in this neighborhood is incredible, and you can find anything from down to earth dumplings and kebab carts, humble family restaurants, all the way to fancy steakhouses all within walking distance. You can’t find this anywhere else in New York.
3. It was really cool to see Moon Man and your delicious kue pancong in the Times writeup of the Queens Night Market. Tell me about the genesis of Moon Man? How did you come up with the name? Did you create the concept just for the Night Market?
Moon Man started as an incidental project.
I run an award-winning design firm in the city called Corse Design Factory, that specializes in design for businesses. That time, Queens Night Market was only on the second year, and I loved the overall concept as a whole. So I approached John [Wang], and introduced myself, to see if there anything we can collaborate on. Corse ended up being as one of the sponsors for the third year of Queens Night Market, we fixed up their website, built some bells and whistles for them.
At the same token, being someone who love to eat, I always wanted to have a food business on the side. So, I told John that I want to kick start a food business at the Night Market, and John was very open to the idea. I then asked my cousin, Wenny Purnomo, who runs a Japanese restaurant with her husband in New Jersey [to be] my business partner in this new endeavor. Since we both grew up in Indonesia, we agreed that we wanted to serve food that we loved when we were young that we just can’t find here. Of course with both of us having design background (Wenny graduated from an architecture school in Indonesia), we wanted put our own spin on things. After multiple test kitchens, we ended up with the menu that we have at Moon Man.
As far as the name (and the entire visual language) goes, I wanted to make “the anti ethnic food” branding. The formula for any ethnic food branding, has been taking a terms from their language, and just introduce that as a name for the establishment. The complete opposite of that would be to just use something nonsensical. So after a few rounds of Mojitos in the neighborhood Thai restaurant, I settled on calling it Moon Man.
4. What’s your favorite thing about Queens Night Market?
Growing up in Indonesia, we can find food practically anywhere. There are warung (the Indonesian terms for “food stall”) and kaki lima (literally translates as five feet, a term for food cart in Indonesia) everywhere. There’s something charming about those types of establishments that I definitely missed here in the United States. It’s a living proof that you really don’t need a lot of money to eat well. You just need to know and understand what you eat.
The Queens Night Market for me, is a New York translation of that system. It’s a place where everyone, the young and the old, the rookie and the seasoned cooks, the group of friends and the families, all celebrate what they love about their food and serve up their humble creation for even more people to enjoy.
5. Did you grow up eating/making kue pancong? Have you always been into cooking?
Kue pancong is a Jakarta name for this coconut pancake. In my city people call it kue rangin, certain parts of Java call it bandros, and they are pretty much the same thing. I did grow up eating them. This used to be my after school snack when I was a kid. Sadly, this snack is so hard to find even in Indonesia these days. Many of the vendors just don’t sell this anymore. Partially because there hasn’t been much innovation happening in this area of food business.
I also grew up in a family where my parents don’t cook. They are so busy with their business, it’s just easier to buy food than to cook at home. This makes me and my siblings know food really well, because we eat out all the time. So, our taste buds are really well trained, and make us to appreciate food that much more.
6. Even though you have your own design firm, teach at SVA, and um moonlight as Moon Man, you still make time to eat around Queens. Your Instagram is killing me! Tell me about a few of your favorites these days?
Being a busy professional is the reason why I have time to eat around. With my responsibilities of running the firm, being a professor every Thursday evening, and Moon Man, there’s really not much time left for me to actually cook.
I’m honestly not sure if I have true favorites. I go to different places, try different things, and loving each one for different reasons. Warung Selasa run by Dewi in Indo Java every Tuesday, depending on the menu, is always a good reminder of Indonesian food from Surabaya. The hordes of Thai places in the neighborhood are great, and I go to different ones depending on which dish I’m craving for. Nepali Bhancha Ghar is always there with their jhol momo, and their BYOB basement, perfect for colder weather. For late night food, the al pastor cart on Junction Blvd./Roosevelt ave. is always there starting 10:30 pm, the Taiwanese restaurant that opens til 2 a.m., and the Korean food that runs 24 hours.
7. Dude! Thanks for reminding me that the al pastor folks don’t start until 10:30. I stopped by yesterday at ten. Tell me, what’s one misconception about Queens and/or its food scene that you’d like to see dispelled?
People who don’t live in Queens, don’t understand Queens. There’s this “brand image” of queens being a place that’s just messy, all over the place, and really far away. Partially, what they see on their dreadful way to the airport at odd hours is not quite the most picturesque view, and definitely not a representative of what Queens actually is. However, I’m really not going to argue that Queens is for everyone. This is a place reserved for the curious, the open-minded, and the adventurous. If they don’t have those traits in their DNA, I can see Queens not being palatable for them