Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, the season of gratitude, compassion, and friendship has officially commenced! The Brunch with Bear team loves nothing more than togetherness and teatime, and as many friends and family flock from afar to join you during the holiday season, we encourage you to take them on a very Bear-y adventure!
Since we enjoyed teatime so much last time, we are going out again for traditional Chinese tea—dim sum! Because there are so many different places to get dim sum in New York Chinatown, we went searching for a place that had a little more history and intrigue than the average seafood palace. A little bit of research led us to Nom Wah Tea Parlor, allegedly the first dim sum house in New York, and a very famous old bakery and teahouse.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor has been operating since 1920, when the lower part of New York, and especially Chinatown, was just a gritty, crime-filled pile of buildings. Located just at the bend of Doyers Street, Nom Wah now thrives in the heart of Manhattan Chinatown after a colorful history as a family-owned business. The closest subway station to Nom Wah, as any place in Chinatown, is at Canal Street on the N, Q, R, J, Z, and 6 trains. You can also walk from Grand Street on the B or D trains, and if you’re coming from Brooklyn, the East Broadway station on the F train.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor looks nothing like a typical Chinese dim sum house. In fact, I was explaining a typical dim sum house to one of my friends before we went out, because she had never experienced dim sum before. Once we got to Nom Wah, however, it became clear that everything I had said was pretty much a lie. It was quiet, it was clean, there were no crowds taking numbers and no carts with piles of steamed buns on them. Gone were the pink table cloths and the plastic-covered chairs, and gone was the onslaught of people yelling things—likely friendly and inviting things—in Cantonese.
Instead, Nom Wah is styled like an adorable old diner, with signed photos of glamorous old celebrities decorating the wall, and actual menus! Because our crowd was primarily vegetarian, I had been worried about finding meat-free options, considering how most of the time you have no idea what you’re eating at dim sum. Instead, we had a beautiful menu with pictures of each item and listings in both Chinese and English. We checked off our selections on a sheet of paper, like ordering at a sushi restaurant or playing Clue, and the food was delivered to our table directly after being freshly prepared in the kitchen!
Nom Wah, like most dim sum houses, is very reasonably priced and the food is very fresh and well-made. We went at an off-peak hour on a Friday, but I imagine that the regular clientele is a mix of regular neighborhood folk looking for their customary bakery items and New York newbies who are afraid of Chinese food but anxious to try it.
While I actually enjoy exposing my non-Chinese friends to the horrors and wonders of a proper Hong-Kong-style dim sum experience—“It’s fun! Just eat it! It’s good!” “NO!”—it was really refreshing and relaxing to approach the traditional teatime as just another regular brunch. Although many people would prefer traditional dim sum with all the carts and the crowds and the Cantonese yelling, Nom Wah was a wonderfully proper and reserved experience, especially for a group of people who had little-to-no experience with dim sum ever before. If you’re dying to take your resistant friend to dim sum, give this beautiful historic tea parlor a whirl! You will not be disappointed.