On the horizon are those halcyon days of fall. The days are warm, the nights are crisp, and the crowds and the smell of garbage slowly ebb.
It is the perfect time to visit a piece of New York’s past. No, I don’t mean the Tenement Museum! There are plenty of corners of the city that have hidden away from the passage of time. Take a trip to Chinatown to visit the Nom Wah Tea Parlor, which first opened its doors in 1920 and remains the oldest dim sum spot in the City.
While the current Nom Wah has undergone a few changes recently, it all remains in the family. The original tea parlor opened at 15 Doyers Street, one door down from its contemporary storefront. It was there that Ed and May Choy’s tea parlor quickly became a hit with those inside and out of the Chinese community.
The next chapter in Nom Wah’s history began in 1950 when Ed and May’s nephew, Wally Tang, moved to New York and began working in the kitchen. He was only 16. Wally quickly became head of the kitchen and bought the business from his uncle and aunt in 1976. During Wally’s rise, in 1968, the business made its move next door to 13 Doyers Street, where it still stands today.
Just as the restaurant has changed, so has its customer base. While Wally was working his way up in the family business, the federal government was dissolving the Chinese Exclusion Act. Signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited the immigration of all Chinese laborers and made deportation much easier. When the law was finally lifted in 1965, New York’s Chinatown became a stronger community and a portal of Chinese immigration to the rest of the nation. Chinese immigrants and business owners had more opportunities, not only in New York, but nationwide.
The dissolution of the Act also helped to change American attitudes toward Chinese immigrants; today, there are more Chinese restaurants in the United States than there are McDonalds. But not all of these restaurants offer Americans authentic Chinese fare. This is why we are so glad to find Nom Wah’s newest proprietor continues to offer food that satisfies customers of Chinese descent and those who are not. Wilson Tang, the nephew of Wally Tang, currently runs the Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Doyers Street. While he updated the kitchen in 2010, the restaurant remains mostly the same as his family has run it for generations.
But don’t take our word for it. Go have a taste of Chinatown’s past today.