Dim sum is one of those things that I always want to eat, but rarely do. Chinese restaurants in New York City with dim sum are madhouses on weekend mornings (when dim sum is typically served in the States), and it’s best to go with a big group in order to maximize pushcart access and dumpling variety. But rallying a bunch of my hungover, bacon, egg, and cheese-craving friends for anything but an American-style brunch early on a Sunday morning is never an easy task.
Thankfully, a friend of mine recently recommended Nom Wah Tea Parlor, where it’s totally acceptable to eat dim sum anytime, regardless of the day of the week or who’s coming along. Though new to me, Nom Wah is the oldest dim sum restaurant in the city and a New York City institution. It opened at 15 Doyers St. as a bakery and tea parlor in 1920, but lost its lease in 1968 and was forced to move into the building next door. It has been at 13 Doyers ever since.
Below: Pell St & Doyers Street circa 1901.
The dining room appears unchanged since the move, which, of course, is a major factor in Nom Wah’s appeal. Although it’s sparse and tidy, everything about the interior is straight out of the 1960’s, and entering the restaurant feels like stepping into another era. Even the lighting fixtures and big, aluminum fans in every corner are original. The fans are also essential during the summer, as Nom Wah’s loyalty to its history extends to a lack of air conditioning.
I know that one of the best parts dim sum is the fact that you can just grab steam trays off carts as they pass by, without necessarily knowing what’s in them. It’s an adventure and I’m sure some diners are disappointed by Nom Wah’s made-to-order menu. I don’t care. Everything comes out of the kitchen hot, fast, and, for the most part, delicious.
Har Gao, formerly my favorite dim sum dish, was quickly forgotten once I tried Nom Wah’s Shrimp & Snow Pea Leaf Dumpling. These tender, little, open-faced pouches of minced shrimp and snow pea leaves are simple, but best described as crack-like. Equally addictive is the Rice Roll with Fried Dough, which is essentially a cruller wrapped in a wide rice noodle served with sweet soy sauce (SeriousEats has a great slideshow of these and other dumplings being made at Nom Wah). I dare you to say no to a savory noodle donut.
The last time I was at Nom Wah, our group of five made the mistake of ordering a House Special Roast Pork bun for everyone at the table. Each bun was about as big as my head and could have been an insanely cheap meal in itself at $1.50. It’s actually pretty easy to order way too much of everything at Nom Wah, but even after going overboard by about seven dishes during a recent visit, the bill only ended up being twenty bucks a person. I’ve been twice in one week, and I keep finding myself concocting excuses to wander over to Doyers (one of the tiniest, most hidden streets in Manhattan). It seems as though I’ve got some lost time to make up for, but hopefully Nom Wah will be around for at least another hundred years. -KATE DULIN
Further Reading: Nom Wah in The New York Times.
Food Images via Eric Isaac.