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For Chinatown’s State of Mind Part I- Nom Wah Tea Parlor

I am not one for a staycation, an idea I presume was born to make those who are off from work but at home feel special. Depending on where you live there could be many things you would like to take part in but never have the time for. If you don’t have the money or the desire to go anyplace far away, a staycation may be for you. As for me I don’t really take staycations. For one thing if I am home and not at work the odds are much more likely that I am in bed with an unbearable migraine. Or as of late because I fell on Governor’s Island ( and sprained my elbow and ankle. Thankfully they are healing well.

For me a staycation is what I do on the weekends when I am feeling great and the weather is agreeing with me. I take my inspiration from my annual to do list ( and plan my weekends accordingly. When I decide to add an activity to my schedule that has not come from my to-do list it is usually due to a celebration of a loved one or an intense word of mouth review. I do try not to add to the list once I have posted it but that is only a dream. On the printed list I keep on me I am always jotting down just one more restaurant, just one more historical sight to see. This is how I ended up at Nom Wah Tea Parlor.

Last week was my mother’s birthday ( which is usually celebrated the way Queen Elizabeth’s II is, thus there had to be two celebrations (also like the Queen’s). During the week on her actually birthday there was an informal get together at my house for a pizza party with immediate family and close friends. This weekend however, we took our moving feast to Chinatown.

Having done my research I knew exactly how this outing would go. That’s a plus because no one else seemed to have a clue or want one for that matter. I decided it would be best to have one destination for our dinner. All signs pointed to that place being Nom Wah Tea Parlor.

At first I had never heard of it but that doesn’t really mean anything. I was not an expert in this part of town; in fact I had not been to Chinatown in quite a long while. Sure there were the handful of times I was right on the border, like when I visited Ferrara’s in Little Italy back in 2011 ( during my blog’s first year.

Mostly my Chinese food intake came from the local place near my home in Brooklyn where I began to question whether I liked this kind of cuisine any longer. Luckily my adventure in Chinatown would bring quite a change to what I thought of Chinese food and what it actually is.

We headed out (me, my brother, and my mother) late in the afternoon this past Sunday. A short distance later we were going over the Manhattan Bridge driving towards the parking lot I found that was perfectly located for my itinerary. Just because this itinerary was not written down did not mean I would carry it out successfully to the letter of my law.

First up we crossed the street to walk through Confucius Plaza. I wanted to get a photo of the beautiful statute of Confucius, the famous Chinese philosopher who established the Golden Rule “do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself”. He stands tall on the corner watching over the entrance gates to Chinatown. Despite the sun blinding me my photos turned out great. Now we could go to dinner.

The walk up the curvy street that becomes Doyers Street, where Nom Wah is located, looks like a movie set. You can believe this street has not changed much since Nom Wah opened its doors in 1920.

According to Eater NY, as well as many other sites, this street use to be known as “Bloody Angle” for many years due to the curve in the middle of the street where gangs could easily and surprisingly attack their revivals. “The block was so bloody, in fact, that law enforcement officials have said more people died violently at Doyers than at any other street intersection in the United States.” Wow that is impressive and frightening at the same time.

This image is hard to envision now as the street is lined with several hair cutting business, closed up old tenements, and a gift shop where I happily purchased my souvenirs. Gifts are just another component making this outing feel more like we left N.Y.C. than just home for the day.

At first Nom Wah was a bakery that also served dim sum. Dim sum is not a dish like I thought, it is actually the name of the service meaning small baskets or dishes of various foods are served at the same time. It is just like tapas if you have ever been to a Brazilian restaurant. I love a meal filled with a taste of everything.

To my knowledge the restaurant only changed hands of business from one family to another. The original owners, The Choy family, were in charge until they sold the restaurant to The Tang family, Wally Tang to be specific. He took over in 1974 but had been working his way up the chain since 1950. 

When it was time for Wally to retire, he gave his nephew Wilson, the business to run in 2010. For about a year renovations were being done all the while the restaurant was opened. Most changes occurred in the kitchen but the most modern transformation was switching from serving on carts and trays to the menus they now leave at the tables so that customers can easily mark off the items they would like. It is the easiest way to get your food; fast and correct.

The review in New York Magazine states “ordering is done through checklist and each item is steamed on command. Make sure to mark off at least an order each of “The Original” egg roll, scallion pancakes, and roast pork bun.”
We waited for about ten minutes for a great table in front. We had plenty of space and the restaurant wasn’t too loud or hectic despite how many people I saw entering and exiting.

The atmosphere was even better than I pictured. Everyone, guests and staff alike, were polite and helpful. The service was fast. One dish after the next appeared before I could take a bite of anything I had put on my plate. The food would remain steaming hot until the moment I had to accept defeat. Note to self- ordering when you are starving and the food around smells so good is highly dangerous. The Surgeon General really should put out a warning.

To share we ordered “The Original Egg Roll” because it’s a crime if you go to Nom Wah and don’t, two orders of spring rolls, an order of scallion pancakes, shrimp soup dumplings, fried shrimp and chive dumplings, brown fried rice with peas, and a handful of other dumplings that I cannot remember at this moment. I also couldn’t remember what we ordered when they arrived because most of the dumplings were brought over in the same basket. Oh well just another champagne problem.

Overall I couldn’t be more in love. I know people reserve that phrase for newborn babies and newlyweds but I use it strictly for foods and locations. I love them the same way. Nom Wah is no exception. For starters the food is authentic Chinese cuisine, not the American version that tastes oily and greasy making you regret it before the night is over.

Nope the food here is legit. I ate at least three spring rolls and could have sat there until the end of time eating that alone. They were crunchy, tasty, and simple. As for its cousin “The Original Egg Roll” it had an actual complete egg inside along with mushrooms and other vegetables inside its flaky fried crust. This could almost pass for a breakfast burrito in my book. 

To see how this “egg roll” is made lets take a look and listen to Wilson Tang’s description:

I wonder what crap has been inside of the egg rolls I have been eating all my life.

The soup dumplings turned out to be my favorite kind. They reminded me of the French Onion Soup dumplings I’ve had at Stanton Social ( with different ingredients.

The scallion pancakes were to die for!! They were completely different than any I have ever had. They were thinner yet crisper triangle pieces of joy. I can’t even figure out what was exactly was inside but whatever it is I am obsessed with it.

My least favorite was the shrimp chive dumpling. I believe it was the flavor of the wrapping and that they were steamed. This was surprise because I love both shrimp and chives but I guess I had just pictured something different. By that point I was still scooping up rice with my chopsticks when I knew I should stop. I was full to capacity as usual when I have a good meal.

Nom Wah Tea Parlor has been on fire this week. First I visited and then Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern stopped by as well. Nom Wah made it on his list of favorite places in his hometown of New York City. That is no small feat. While I am plotting my foodie cravings on the daily that is nothing compared to all of the countries and “bizarre foods” he has been eating for years.

One last fun fact about the location itself is that it has made his debut on both television and movie sets alike. My favorite TV show of all time “Law and Order” had filmed there as well as the movie “Reversal of Fortune”, the story of Sunny von Bulow, yet another topic I am interested in. I will be reading the book the movie is based on soon.

In its entire history, Nom Wah Tea Parlor had only expanded once, in 2015, to another city I love spending time in, Philadelphia. That location took me by surprise. But Philly is a great city for any foodie and this just proves that point.

As I typed this blog I found out that Nom Wah Tea Parlor will be expanding this time in New York City herself! The new shop will be opening in NOLITA on a property already owned by current Nom Wah owner Wilson Tang. He has certainly been quite a busy bee since he took over in 2010.

I guess if it is open by my mother’s next birthday we will be checking it out.

So now that we had very full and content bellies, where did we head next you ask?

Naturally to The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory for dessert!

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