Nom Wah’s first location was not always about dim sum. The original restaurant opened as a tea parlor and bakery in 1920 at 13-15 Doyers St. Located in what was nicknamed the “Bloody Angle”. The nickname stems from street’s sharp corner and warring gangs who took advantage of this.
Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, Nom Wah Tea Parlor was first and foremost a bakery. Serving dim sum was a secondary priority. The most beloved specialty were the mooncakes, which caused lines to lead out the door.
Several years after Wilson Tang took over the restaurant from his uncle, Wally, he looked to expand the Nom Wah brand. In March 2015, Nom Wah opened its Philadelphia location at the edge of the city’s Chinatown. The menu has some differences: riffs on Chinese-American classics and rotating Cantonese favorites.
Following this initial expansion, Nom Wah opened its first fast-casual dining spot in 2016: Nom Wah Nolita. With classic items from the original Nom Wah Tea Parlor, new creations are also introduced. Transcending its roots, the latest venture looks to synthesize the traditional with modernity.
The unique culinary art of dim sum (Cantonese) or dian xin (Mandarin), originated in China centuries ago. The term translates to “a little bit of heart” or “touch the heart” in reference to its portion sizes.
During the times of the Silk Road, teahouses opened to accommodate weary travellers. Also, farmers, exhausted after long hours in the fields,
would head to the local teahouse for an afternoon of tea and conversation to unwind. Over the course of several centuries, the culinary art of dim sum would develop.
At one time, it was considered inappropriate to combine tea with food; in 3rd century AD, Hua To, an imperial physician, advised that eating food while drinking would lead to excessive weight gain. However, the Cantonese in southern China ignored this advice and transformed these quiet teahouses into lively eating experiences. In turn, this was how the term yum cha (meaning “to drink tea”) became synonymous with eating dim sum. As tea’s ability to aid in digestion and its palate cleansing qualities became known, more tea houses began adding snacks, leading to the birth of dim sum.