Let’s back up a bit first. There’s a little, 200-foot-long street in Chinatown called Doyers Street that runs about a block and has a sharp bend in it—a notable characteristic in a city that’s mainly a straightforward grid. The first time I went there, I felt like I was on a movie set. It’s one of those places in Manhattan that seems so unreal and perfectly “New York” (and perfectly “Chinatown” in this case), that I was kind of in awe. It was just such a weird, oddly shapped, quiet street compared to others in the neighborhood. For whatever reason, my fascination with Doyers Street led me to do a bit more research to see if there was anything else special or historic about it, because chances are, there’s something special or historic about just about any area in the city. And boy, is Doyers a doozy.
The name goes back to Hendrik Doyer who bought the area’s property in 1791. Since then, there have been a variety of interesting establishments along the street, such as the current Chinatown branch of the post office which used to be a distillery and how numbers 5-7 were the original site of the first Chinese language theater in the city. Now, this small section sure has had its share of intrigue. For one, Chuck Connors, a Tammany Hall associate, worked out of his office that was on the same site of the current post office. And then there was a shooting at the theater between the Hip Sing Tong criminal organization and their rival group the On Leong Tong in 1905.
What really blew me away though was the fact that this street used to be called “the Blood Angle” (there it is again!) because of how many gruesome conflicts between Chinatown gangs there were there. Like we’re talking shootings, sure, but also hatchets were used a lot too. Yes, HATCHETS. There’s a note on Wikipedia that law enforcement officials in 1994 said more people died violently at this “Bloody Angle” than at any other street intersection in the U.S. Wow, right?
But we’re not just covering history in terms of the street. Oh no! Nom Wah Tea Parlour is located on Doyers, but it’s also historic itself! It opened in the ’20s as a bakery and tea parlour and has remained in operation to this day, which is a feat itself, but more so than that, it’s supposedly New York City’s first dim sum place! I can’t verify it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s been around that long. What’s great about Nom Wah is that it still has that vintage vibe, making it a visual stand-out from any other dim sum establishment around here. There’s patterned tiled flooring, vibrant red booths, old-fashioned counter seating, and bright yellow walls. It’s probably the closest thing to a diner in Chinatown.
When you get dim sum at Nom Wah, don’t expect carts being pushed around. Those wouldn’t really work in this space anyways. Instead, you order a la carte off the menu. If you’ve read any of my other posts about dim sum restaurants, you’ll know I have my favorite dishes, but my friend and I branched out a little bit as well when we dined here one evening. We ordered the following:
- Shrimp rice roll (steamed rice flour noodles with shrimp in a sweet soy sauce)
- Pork sui mai (steamed minced pork, mushroom, and shrimp in a wonton wrapper)
- Spring rolls (mixed veggies in a thin flour wrapper)
- House special pan fried dumplings (fried pork and shrimp dumpling in a homemade wheat wrapper)
- Fried shrimp balls (fried minced shrimp balls)
- Turnip cakes (pan-fried grated turnip, dried shrimp, and Chinese sausage cakes)
- Scallion pancakes (pan-fried wheat flour pancakes with scallions)
- Shrimp and snow pea leaf dumpling (minced shrimp and snow pea leaf greens in a homemade open-faced wheat wrapper)
Is your mouth watering yet?
You know it’s entirely possible that I was just super hungry when I finally sat down to eat here or I was just so in love with the whole ambience of the place or both, but eating at Nom Wah has actually been one of my top dim sum experiences in the city. Even without all of those things to help, I thought the food was really, really good. The shrimp and snow pea leaf dumplings aren’t something I would usually order, but they’re a speciality here, so I had to try (the roast pork bun is another house special that we didn’t get to this time). The scallion pancakes here are crispier than the kinds I’m used to, but it was nice having that crunch factor amidst the juicy dumplings. Oh, and speaking of texture. Have you ever had turnip cakes before? I love them dearly, and I ordered them so my friend could try them for the first time. They have such a special, soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture, and I recommend them next to you go to dim sum.
Oddly enough, Nom Wah only accepts card if it’s American Express, so be prepared. This would be a great place to introduce someone to, since you can seem like such a pro when dump all that cool knowledge you just learned on them all the while introducing them to some delicious dim sum. Oh, and if you want to seem extra cool? Take them to the intimate, speakeasy-ish, pharmacy-themed bar Apotheke just a couple doors down. Can’t find it? Look for the little hanging sign with an image of a bottle on it, and that’s the spot.
Shrimp rice roll, pork sui mai, spring rolls, house special pan fried dumplings, fried shrimp balls, turnip cakes, scallion pancakes, shrimp and snow pea leaf dumpling13 Doyers St
New York, NY 10013