The Nom Wah Cookbook Recipes and Stories from 100 Years at New York City’s Iconic Dim Sum RestaurantBy Wilson Tang with Joshua David Stein Intro: Welcome to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City sitting at her dining room table, talking to cookbook authors.Wilson Tang: Hi my name is Wilson Tang. I'm the owner and operator of Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Manhattan's Chinatown and I have just released our first cookbook, The Nom Wah Cookbook celebrating 100 years in Chinatown with stories and recipes from my family's restaurant.Suzy Chase: My goodness. It's such a thrill to have you on my podcast. I remember coming to Nom Wah in 2010 because my son was in nursery school at the time. And we'd drop by for dumplings, which were his favorite thing after I picked him up in Tribeca. Nom Wah holds such a special place in my heart. We go there for family celebrations and when the lockdown happened here in the city, we stocked up on frozen dumplings. So enough about me now onto you. Growing up as a son of immigrants, your parents expected you to have a white collar job. Can you describe your time at Morgan Stanley in the World Trade Center?Wilson Tang: Yeah, absolutely. I kind of enjoyed my time there. I love the fact that it was very structured. I loved having a set schedule of sorts and getting up in the morning, putting on my suit and my shirt and my trousers, my leather shoes, and being part of a bigger machine. And I think that was a great prerequisite for me to ultimately becoming an entrepreneur and a restauranteur as I am now, but it was definitely a rite of passage it was something that I needed to prove to my immigrant parents that, hey, your kid has made it. I went through the schooling system, graduated with my degree and here I am first born in the U.S. from my mom and dad and working in a prestigious company in the World Trade Center and just kind of breaking the stigma of immigrants, having low level jobs and not knowing the language and I proved to them that I made it happen and it was a really good experience. You know I did enough of it just to learn the ropes and I was ready to move on and to do my own thing.Suzy Chase: Talk about how your parents didn't want the restaurant life for you.Wilson Tang: The restaurant life was definitely not something that they wanted me to do. My dad had ran restaurants, had his own restaurants, did his own restaurant supply distribution and he knew that it was really hard work. I mean it's a seven day operation, breakfast, lunch, and dinner and he did not want, you know I'm his only son, I'm the only child, to be getting into, the restaurant business, especially when they work so hard to put me through school and, wanted all the spotlights that living in the U.S. can bring. And going back into the restaurant business. You know, this is more than 10 years ago, but they were not happy about it.Suzy Chase: So it's the quintessential story of the American dream, Uncle Wally Tang worked his way up from dishwasher to cook, to waiter, to owning Nam Wah. I am dying to hear about Uncle Wally.Wilson Tang: Uncle Wally is a man of few words. He is where I kind of learned about patients and kind of seeing things through and just putting your head down and work hard and the fruits of your labor will come eventually and he's the perfect example of that starting from, you know, like you said, dishwasher to ultimately owning the business and the real estate. So I look up to him a lot. He really taught me a lot growing up about just what hard work can do. I think that's a very similar story for first-generation immigrants. People that came in the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's especially when they don't know the language, they don't know the American culture and just trying to learn and work and make a living to support their own families.Suzy Chase: In the summer of 2010 you met up with him at The Red Egg. Can you tell us about that conversation?Wilson Tang: Absolutely. My uncle knew that I had hospitality in my DNA. You know, he sat me down at this place. It's closed now called The Red Egg on Centre Street and it was kind of like your modern take of dim sum. And he presented Nom Wah as potentially looking like Red Egg, meaning just a more modern decor. And my answer to him was like, wait a second this is not actually what I want to do. I mean, I would keep Nom Wah the way it looks now, it's kind of like a throwback. It looks like a Chinese diner of last century. And I was, no, I would just keep it the way it is because I think it is one of my jobs to keep old New York old and, and this was my opportunity to do so. So, you know, he pitched me to taking over the restaurant 10 years ago. My response to him was like I actually would be honored to take on this new role in good ole Nom Wah, just the way it is, you know, a little, a little elbow grease, we clean it up a little bit, fresh coat of paint. Uh, you know, we put in like a computer terminal and like an upgraded the air conditioning unit and we were ready to go.Suzy Chase: The old cash register. Isn't that still there?Wilson Tang: It's still there. I mean, it serves as a memory of the past and we have it on display at the restaurant next to our old chamber stoves. And it's, a kind of a throwback, walk down history or memory lane for a lot of our customers. And it's just very intriguing for our new customers to see that, wow, this place has been here for a long time with the old cash register and the old stove and the old steamers behind the register,Suzy Chase: And the tin ceilings and the light fixtures and the floor. I cannot tell you how many photos I've taken for Instagram of the floor.Wilson Tang: Yes, it is. It's quite an elaborate tiling. And you know, to this day, I'm not sick of seeing it because it's, they just don't do it like that anymore. There's no replica of, of that anywhere. And it's just a memory of what old New York looked like. And these things are vanishing as we speak so it's really an honor to run an old restaurant and, and keep it going until who knows maybe my son wants to take it over, but as for now, I'm just a gatekeeper and, hopefully it lasts another hundred years.Suzy Chase: So I want to ask you about one more thing inside the restaurant that built in cabinet, where you store glasses and teapots. It's the most beautiful shade of baby blue. I always take a picture of that when I'm there too.Wilson Tang: Yes. It used to be green, to be honest with you and through the decades, the color has been change a couple of times. In 2010, I had an interior designer, friend of mine that basically told me, hey, you should paint it this color it'll kind of match the stools where the counter seating is. And I just kind of went with that. And that's probably one of the more modern upgrades is the actual color of the tea cabinet.Suzy Chase: So tell us a little bit about the rich history of Doyers.Wilson Tang: Yeah. Doyers Street is one of the original streets of Manhattan's Chinatown. The other two that intersect it are Pell and Mott street. That's really where Chinatown began and through the decades it grew outwards from those three main blocks. And, you know, from just stories of that, my uncle has told me it's seen a lot through the past hundred years from being the core of Chinatown, to being a place where rival gangs would meet to do their work to being...Suzy Chase: To do their work!!Wilson Tang: How do I say that nicely, right? Or to kill each other, but to it being a post office later on in the 1900's to kind of like a nightlife destination, pre-COVID, with our neighbors Apotheke and now Chinese Tuxedo. So it's gone through a lot of different variations, but I love going to Nom Wah really early in the morning where time is almost at a standstill it's quiet, you'll see moms dragging their kids along, taking them to school. You'll see the men with their hand trucks of meat and vegetables going from the distributor to the restaurant and to when the sun hits people are just going about their business and it's kind of like a short cut through Chinatown. It's really a special block. It's one of the shortest, most unique blocks in New York city, I would say.Suzy Chase: And I love how during COVID you were just able to block it off.Wilson Tang: Yeah. So that was actually very key for us when the city and the department of transportation came up with their open streets and open restaurant programs. I was definitely one of the first to sign up. Doyers Street was the first street in Chinatown to be closed off to vehicle traffic and then we were able to apply for the open restaurant component, which allowed us to set out tables and chairs and umbrellas and it made it really look like as the kids would say a vibe. And it really kind of gave us some hope with COVID through the summer. We did decent amount of business people knew we were around and it was great for the summer and into the fall.Suzy Chase: So this cookbook, isn't just about the stories and recipes from the restaurant. It's also a legacy piece for yourself and a love letter to Chinatown. You have so graciously shared stories of various business owners in Chinatown, and I'd love for you to chat about Paul Eng of Fong On. One of those places that's been on my to-do list for years.Wilson Tang: Again, like what you said about the cookbook. It's not about the restaurant, it's not just about the restaurant or about my legacy, but really about the mom and pop stores that make Chinatown unique. And Paul and David of Fong On is definitely a key component in the fabric of Chinatown. And, you know, now Paul, the youngest brother has taken it over and has quite the setup on Division street in Chinatown where they do fresh soy milk and fresh tofu and rice cakes. And it really is a treat to go and check it out to try their savory tofu. And you can see all of the machinery in the background on how they make the tofu and the soy milk so it's definitely a nice little trip to take down to Chinatown and visit.Suzy Chase: So every time I'm at the restaurant, I'm always trying to take a peek into the kitchen to catch a glimpse of where the magic happens. I'd love to hear about your dim sum chefs.Wilson Tang: Absolutely this component of the business near and dear to me, you know, the dim sum profession is really a dying art and not many people are entering this line of work because it's just a lot of components from some hand to all the different types of marinades, to the art, of working a wok, to the steam station and to make rice rolls. It's just a very complicated profession. The guys in the kitchen really have been with me since the beginning. You know my head chef has been with my uncle actually back in the 80's and right now we make a lot of stuff on premise, but we've also, the business has grown where we have a secondary, a commissary kitchen to produce all the varieties of dim sum that we have and to also supply our second and third stores in Nolita in New York and also Philadelphia, it's a work of art. It's a labor of love. That's really what dim sum means a touch of heart. And you know, they're also getting older and we're figuring out innovations on how we can keep this art alive. Part of it is going to mass production with machines. We have machines and make them some potstickers and dumplings now but also just like training, like constantly looking for new people to come in and learn and help out, sad but, you know, it's also hard to find like young folks to learn it. So anyone listening to this podcast, that's interested in learning the art of dim sum, or is in the restaurant world wanting to change gears, please send me a message or find me on Instagram and send me a DM something, because we are constantly looking for people to join our team and to keep the art of dim sum alive.Suzy Chase: I think this is one of your favorite dishes, the original egg roll.Wilson Tang: Yes.Suzy Chase: So your uncle swears, he invented it and it's not like any other egg roll I've ever eaten. Can you describe it and tell us why it's one of your favorites?Wilson Tang: It's one of my favorites because it is indeed a labor of love. We have stopped making it at the current time, just because we're not doing the volume that we were doing and this is one of the items that is very labor intensive, because it involves making crepes of egg. And we're talking about hundreds of them every day with a 10 inch skillet. And we would take the beaten eggs and ladle a scoop of the egg into a skillet to form the crepe. And we would just smack the crepe of eggs out of the pan onto a paper towel. And we would just watch these crepes pile up until they're like a foot high. And then once these crepes are cooled down, we will wrap our chicken and vegetable filling into the crepe of egg. And when an order comes in for that, we gently batter the egg roll and we kind of just pop it in the fryer real quick and then pull it back out. And the result is a very aromatic, crunchy, and just full of flavor and textures. You can put like hot oil, you can put plum sauce, but it's just a very special item that my uncle swears that he invented the egg roll and we've had another menu since he's been working there. You know, it, it's just that one very special item and we call it the OG egg roll. Um, if you get an egg roll at any kind of Chinese takeout, restaurant is typically made with a prefabricated wrapper, almost like a spring roll and they just roll in the filling and then just drop it in the fryer, so this multi-step production is really what makes this special and tasty and a top seller for us for many years.Suzy Chase: Ok, this is a dream come true for me. So I want to go over my top dishes at Nom Wah. And can you give a really short description of these? And I might add these are all in the cookbook, too. Awesome. Okay. The shrimp shumai.Wilson Tang: Shrimp shumai, amazing product and if you were reading the cookbook so this is part of the shrimp master filling. And this is basically shrimp, there's a little bit of squid and our proprietary marinade, and it is beaten in a mixer into a pasty consistency. And we use a yellow wrapper, and I think there's illustrations in the book on how to turn and twist the shumai into the shape of the cup of your hand and patting down with a butter knife on top to get the filling into the wrapper really tight and squeezing your hand into a fist and really pressing the shrimp mixture into the wrapper until it looks like an open face dumpling.Suzy Chase: And then there's a little green pea on top.Wilson Tang: Exactly. Then you put a little green pea on top just for color and contrast, and also something that is a reminder that that was the shrimp one, versus like the chicken one or the pork pork and shrimp one.Suzy Chase: I did not know that. So second on my list is the chicken shumai.Wilson Tang: The same kind of way we make it, all made by hand this one, we take ground chicken with our marinades and ginger. This is actually one of the top sellers for us at the restaurant. Our dim sum is primarily shrimp and pork so having a chicken one is really cool and it kind of breaks up the normal a little bit for us.Suzy Chase: Okay. The next on my list... Your wait staff is always like are you sure you want four orders of this? Because we have a 14 year old now. And we're like, yeah, I swear to God, we want four orders. The crystal shrimp dumplings, har gow, is that how you pronounce it?Wilson Tang: Har gow yeah. You know, like most dim sum restaurants are judged by the quality of their har gow and this is because the skin is super hard to perfect. Your formula has to be precise, to enable the skin to be translucent. So we used to make this by hand and we sold so much of it that we finally in 2015 ordered a machine that makes it.Suzy Chase: Yeah. I think my kid pushed you over the edge.Wilson Tang: Yea if you order four orders, you know, can you imagine rolling dough and then marinading the shrimp mixture and then the dough, literally it is cut into pieces, a couple of ounces per piece, and with a cleaver, it is pressed against the table to form the rapper skin.Wilson Tang: And this is one of the hardest things to perfect, but we had exhausted the way we made it by hand because we had so much volume that we finally went into making it by machine.Suzy Chase: Okay. Steamed spare ribs.Wilson Tang: Yeah. I love that Chinese steam ribs are more like riblets and through the marination with the black bean sauce and the salt, and the sauces that we use this item is so special because it's tasty, is juicy and I just love being able to kind of gnaw the cartilage and some of the meat falls off the bone. I grew up eating this and I remember. And we have this at the restaurant also is like a plate of this spare rib tips over like some rice noodles where the oil and the black bean sauce, like soaks up into the rice noodles. It is just so tasty. It is actually making me salivate right now talking about it. But it's another classic, it's up there with the shrimp dumplings and the shrimp shumai, these are your OG just classics from back on the Silk Road where people were kind of just getting these dim sum snacks through their travels. Like this has a really, really long history. These are the items that really are our signature when we talk about classic dims sum.Suzy Chase: Okay. I have a couple more the shrimp rice roll.Wilson Tang: So shrimp rice roll. I mean like any rice role is fantastic because it's basically rice that is broken down into a liquid form. We lay this liquid onto a steaming sheet to form the noodle and inside, you know, shrimp is one of my favorites because the shrimp that we use from Louisiana, has great texture and it's just got a good snap when you bite into it. But, you know, for those who don't like shrimp, it works well just on its own. The rice roll on its own, very silky smooth, and it tastes incredible with just some sweet soy sauce and chili oil, if you like, and even scallion and cilantro is a good choice for rice rolls, but shrimp is my favorite. The look of it is beautiful because the orange-y shrimp actually, you can see the shrimp inside the noodle when it comes out fresh. It looks amazing to me once you put the sweet soy sauce on it, and a little bit of a chili oil, I can't even, I'm speechless. It's so tasty, the texture, the silkiness of the, of the noodle is just a really good item.Suzy Chase: Okay. Something that I got so hooked on probably a couple of years ago is your salt and pepper pork chop.Wilson Tang: That's actually not your classic dim sum item. And the story for that is we wanted a bunch of items that can work for like dinner time too. And because dim sum traditionally is breakfast, lunch, brunch, and we incorporated that item, it's very Chinese American, to be honest with you, it's literally a fried pork chop cut to manageable pieces. And a little bit of a salt and pepper and secret ingredient a little bit of cinnamon. But I think that's the secret ingredient in that dish. This is definitely not dim sum item, but it made it onto our menu to add depth to a menu that never changes, but that could work for breakfast, lunch and dinner.Suzy Chase: Okay. So the last thing, every time we go there, we have to order, well, it's my husband and son, and they have to order like five of these, your sesame balls,Wilson Tang: You know dim sum restaurants and Cantonese cuisine in general are not big on desserts. So this is definitely a top seller because it's literally one of like three items that we have that are in the dessert realm, but how can you go wrong? Right? Like it's basically a fried ball of flour with sweet lotus paste inside. So it's crunchy chewy, sweet, the sesame seeds on the outside, give it an extra layer of texture. And I mean, those are all the keywords, right? Sweet, gooey, crunchy, golden brown color looks amazing. And this is, this is classic. I mean, that's a treat when we as a child growing up for dessert and even something that I would, that was served, um, when I got married, you know, that this was part of the dessert component of my Chinese banquet when I got married. So always forever in my thoughts this classic chewy sweet crunchy item.Suzy Chase: Now to my segment called Last Night's Dinner, where I ask you what you had last night for dinnerWilson Tang: We had tacos last night. Yeah, we do it actually once a week and pretty simple. We make a quick guac, pan tossed peppers and onions and ground chicken with some taco seasoning and then the hard shell tacos, some lettuce, tomato, and then we kind of do our own taco, fix it, taco bar. So the kids love that it's actually very easy for us to do we just mise everything out, and then we lay everything on the dining room table. And we just kind of take turns like almost like a taco buffet. And my daughter loves breaking the shell apart, almost making a taco salad. And my wife is more no shell. She just puts everything on a plate. And my son and I are just trying to pile up our tacos as high as we can. We'll challenge each other to see who finishes first. So yeah, taco night last night, tonight's hotpot. We've got hotpot going on tonight. Yeah. We've got all the different vegetables, all the sliced meats and, and a good broth going right now. So we went from tacos to hotpot.Suzy Chase: Okay. I'll be right over. So where can we find you on the web social media and in New York City?Wilson Tang: Our website has all the information of all our locations in New York, Philadelphia, even in Shenzhen, China, we have two locations there and you're able to purchase all sorts of gift cards, merchandise, our cookbook is all available online, to purchase at NomWah.com. If you follow us on Instagram, it's just @NomWah or you can follow me personally, my Instagram handle is @DimSumNYC. Tea parlor is located at 13 Doyers Street in Chinatown Manhattan and our sister location in Nolita, is more fast casual option is at 10 Kenmare in the heart of Nolita.Suzy Chase: This has been a complete thrill for me. Thank you so much, Wilson for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.Wilson Tang: Thanks for having me. I had a great time.Outro: Subscribe over on CookerybytheBook.com and thanks for listening to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book.