Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Chinatown’s oldest dim sum eatery, Nom Wah, opened in 1920. Originally a tea parlor and bakery, Nom Wah served only a limited selection of dim sum — Cantonese small plates from Guangdong — meant to accompany tea. For decades, Nom Wah was run by the Choy family, who moved the restaurant to its current location at 13 Doyers Street. In 1974, the Choys sold the business to their longtime employee Wally Tang; he turned Nom Wah into a full-scale dim sum restaurant with a vast menu of mainstays such as har gao (shrimp dumplings) and pork or shrimp shumai. Though the restaurant lagged by the turn of the 21st century, in 2010, Tang’s nephew Wilson took over.
The younger Tang updated the kitchen and did away with pre-cooked plates served on metal carts; now, each dim sum dish is cooked to order and served piping hot. He made few changes to the restaurant’s vintage aesthetic, however; the faded red and yellow awning, red vinyl booths, 1930s countertop, and antique stove harken back to an earlier era of Doyers Street, now often filled with crowds waiting in line for what is still one of Chinatown’s most popular destinations.
Try the eggplant stuffed with shrimp paste, the house special pan-fried dumplings, “The Original” egg roll, thick and fluffy roast pork buns, and the almond cookie that has survived since Nom Wah’s bakery days.Megan McGowan
Originating centuries ago as a series of small snacks to accompany tea, what we know today as dim sum is Cantonese. At one point, people thought eating while drinking tea would make them overweight, but eventually, the cleansing properties of tea became known and teahouses started adding the dishes that are now called dim sum. Each dish arrives with three to four bite-sized items, intended to be shared with the table, and many of them are served in the stackable round bamboo baskets that they were steamed in. The most ubiquitous dim sum items include pork and shrimp dumplings, shumai, and buns. Rice flour rolls, pork ribs, turnip cakes, and chicken feet with a sweet and savory sauce also rank as standards on dim sum menus. It’s typically eaten on weekend mornings, though its rise in popularity means some restaurants now serve it at all hours.
Dim sum restaurants are most often characterized by pushcarts stacked with ready-made options and circulated by servers around the dining room. The food, kept warm by steam, arrives tableside for diners to take their pick. But historic Nom Wah Tea Parlor changed the format in 2011 after renovating to refresh the restaurant: Now people select dishes from a photo-heavy menu, and the food is made to order. Some other dim sum restaurants also cook this way, and Nom Wah’s Wilson Tang insists that it’s better — less waste, fresher food.Serena Dai