Dim Sum, Decoded: An Interview with the Wilson Tang, the Owner of the Oldest Dim Sum Parlor in the US

Coffee & Tea, Entertain, Etiquette, Regional Spotlight

Dim sum is taking the nation by storm, but it actually originated in China centuries ago. The Cantonese term which translates to “a little bit of heart” or “touch the heart” refers to its smaller portion sizes, which come in a small plate format.

To learn more about the cuisine, we interviewed Wilson Tang, the Chef-Owner of Nom Wah Tea Parlor, New York City’s oldest dim sum parlor. A first-generation Chinese American, Tang took over the nearly 100-year-old restaurant from his great Uncle Wally. We interview him to get his expert take on how to order, how tea fits into the dim sum experience, and why some dim sum restaurants have carts while others don’t.

 

Here’s what he told us:

 

Williams Sonoma: What are the 3-5 most popular dim sum dishes and which would you recommend for a first-timer?

Wilson Tang: Siu mai; har gow (shrimp dumplings); chicken feet; rice rolls, served with sweet soy sauce; fried sesame ball with lotus paste. 

 

Rice rolls of any variety for their texture; shrimp dumplings for the translucent skin and bouncy meat; steamed BBQ pork bun for the fluffy dough and slightly sweet filling. Normally, they are served as 2–3 buns in a steamer basket, but we serve ours as one giant bun—that’s how Uncle Wally did it, so we continue to roll with it!

WS: How does tea fit into the dim sum experience? Should it be drunk for a specific timeframe before eating?

Tang: Tea is considered as having a purifying quality; it is believed to help with digestion, especially if you fancy the fried items! Drink it throughout your dining experience. 

 

Photo Credit: Shaoyi Zhang

WS: Are there any particular dim sum rituals or rules that people don’t always know about?

Tang: Show appreciation when someone pours you tea—tap the table with your index and middle fingers. This form of thanks stems from a story of an Emperor who wanted to dine among the commoners, but didn’t want to be recognized, so when he poured tea for his companions, tapping their fingers was the Emperor’s companions showed thanks. And if your teapot is empty, leave the lid of the teapot ajar, and someone will come by to pick up your teapot and add water. 

WS: Is there any etiquette in ordering dim sum?

Tang: Order whatever you like! 

WS: Why do some dim sum restaurants have carts and others don’t?

Tang: It has to do with space and function: the larger venues are ones that you see that still use the carts to cover the ground of the space during the day. In the evening, they transform into banquet halls that can seat hundreds. When you think about it, having so many carts poses the issue of where you store them when you are not using them.

 

If you have a smaller space, such as ours, and especially in a city as tight as New York, where are you going to store them if you’re not using them during a dinner service or where you are you going to put them when you are finished using them for the day?

One comment about “Dim Sum, Decoded: An Interview with the Wilson Tang, the Owner of the Oldest Dim Sum Parlor in the US

  1. Dim Sum, Decoded: An Interview with the Wilson Tang, the Owner of the Oldest Dim Sum Parlor in the US | Good Foodly

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