So, Who Was Ngiam Tong Boon?

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Music – “On A Little Street In Singapore” from In The Mood – Vol. 2 by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, Glenn Miller, Ray Eberle. Released: 2012.

The name “Ngiam Tong Boon” doesn’t often come up in general conversation, so many people might not know what this gentleman’s contribution was to the world. I didn’t either, until I was in Singapore for a few days in 1986.

Downtown Singapore, 1986.  Photo by Sue Jimenez

Downtown Singapore, 1986. Photo by Sue Jimenez


Singapore is a city of contrasts; old temples and new 20th century architecture from I.M. Pei and centuries old traditions balanced by new customs. Singapore is a tiny island nation, located at the very tip of the Asian mainland.
Office building in downtown Singapore, by architect I.M. Pei, 1986.  At the time I was there, it was simply referred to as "The IBM Building", as it was built to resemble a calculator.  Photo by Sue Jimenez

Office building in downtown Singapore, by architect I.M. Pei, 1986. At the time I was there, it was simply referred to as “The IBM Building”, as it was built to resemble a calculator. Photo by Sue Jimenez


The Docks, Singapore, 1986.  Photo by Sue Jimenez

The Docks, Singapore, 1986. Photo by Sue Jimenez

Its cuisine is a meld of the cultures that influenced her: Indonesian, Malay, North Indian, South Indian, South Indian Muslim, Sri Lankan and Chinese.

Thian Hock Keng Temple, Singapore, 1986.  Photo by Sue Jimenez

Thian Hock Keng Temple, Singapore, 1986. Photo by Sue Jimenez

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781 – 1826), is credited with the founding of the City of Singapore around 1819 (now the city-state of the Republic of Singapore).
Statue of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, Singapore, 1986.  Photo by Sue Jimenez

Statue of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, Singapore, 1986. Photo by Sue Jimenez

Raffles was a British statesman and promoted Singapore as a free-trade city.
Raffles Hotel, Singapore, 1986.  Photo by Sue Jimenez

Raffles Hotel, Singapore, 1986. Photo by Sue Jimenez


Located just 85 miles north of the equator, Singapore is perpetually hot and humid, but such conditions permit the cultivation of lush gardens and it is known as The Garden City. Oddly, Singapore grows very little of it’s own food and most is imported from nearby Asian nations. Although there is local fishing and seafood, most seafood is imported to keep up with demand.

There are many excellent cookbooks on Singaporean cuisine, and I have several in my collection: “A Taste of Singapore” by Ghillie Basan and Terry Tan (2011), “The Food of Singapore” (edited by Wendy Hutton, 1995), “The Cooking of Singapore” by Chris Yeo and Joyce Jue (1993), “Zarina’s Home Cooking – Recipes from Singapore and Malaysia” by Zarina Ibrahim (1996), and “Singapore Home Cooking” (Culinary Division of Vista Productions, 1980).

So, you ask, what does Ngiam Tong Boon have to do with all of this? Well, in 1887, two Armenian brothers from Persia, Martin and Tigran Sarkies, built a colonial style hotel in Singapore and named it Raffles Hotel, after Sir Thomas Raffles. It became an icon of Singapore, and it was where I stayed in my brief sojourn in Singapore. At the time (there have been renovations since then), many of the rooms were named for the high-profile guests who frequented the hotel over the years: Ernest Hemingway, Somerset Maugham and others. It was at Raffles, at the Long Bar, that, according to most sources, the bartender there at the time, Ngiam Tong Boon, somewhere between 1910 and 1915 (the dates vary depending on the source) created the now famous “Singapore Sling” cocktail, initially called a Gin Sling.

The Long Bar in Raffles Hotel, where the Ngiam Tong Boon originated the "Singapore Sling" sometime around 1910 - 1915.  Photo Credit:  worldsbestbars.com

The Long Bar in Raffles Hotel, where the Ngiam Tong Boon originated the “Singapore Sling” sometime around 1910 – 1915. Photo Credit: worldsbestbars.com

The Singapore Sling at The Long Bar, Raffles, Singapore.  Photo Credit:  lashworldtour.com

The Singapore Sling at The Long Bar, Raffles, Singapore. Photo Credit: lashworldtour.com

Here is the recipe for the Singapore Sling from Raffles Hotel:

1 ½ ounces gin
½ ounce cherry heering
¼ ounce Cointreau liqueur
1/3 ounce Benedictine
4 ounces pineapple juice
1/3 ounce Grenadine
dash of bitters

Shake with ice and strain into an ice filled Collins glass. Garnish with maraschino cherry and a slice of pineapple.

Call it Сингапур-строп if you’re Russian, Singapur-praćka if you’re from Serbia, or Σιγκαπούρη-αρτάνης if you’re Greek….it will get you the famous Singapore Sling from Raffles Hotel, courtesy of Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon.

Ngiam Tong Boon, originator of the "Singapore Sling".  Photo Credit:  huneyzworld.blogspot.com

Ngiam Tong Boon, originator of the “Singapore Sling”. Photo Credit: huneyzworld.blogspot.com

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About vintagecookbookery

Cookbook lover and collector with a burgeoning collection of cookbooks. Reading and researching food trends, history of cooking techniques and technological advances in cooking, what we eat and why and cookbooks as reflectors of cultures is a fascination for me. As of November 7th, 2013, I hold the current Guinness World Record title for the largest collection of cookbooks: 2,970 at the official count on July 14th, 2013 (applaud now, thank you very much!) The current (unofficial) number is now 6,037. What next? More shelves!
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2 Responses to So, Who Was Ngiam Tong Boon?

  1. Sue Jimenez says:

    Thanks so much for that information, which I was not aware of. I have seen so many stories about the Singapore Sling, that it seems that like Caesar Salad, everyone has a different story! I just remember being thrilled to be sitting at the Long Bar in Raffles, in Singapore, years ago and having Ngiam Tong Boon’s famous cocktail! Thanks again.

  2. Ngiam Tong Boon had a son that he never got to know, Tee Yen Ngiam was born 10 days after his passing and he became a terrific bartender as well. Tee reinvented the Singapore Sling in New York. He worked as bartender and restaurant manager for a chinese restaurant on Park Ave So, in NYC until 1976.
    Grandson, Robert

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