Shorty Tang

I have never met my grandfather, Tang Win Fat aka “Shorty Tang.” He died six years before I was born. I’ve only heard stories of him, of how great a chef he was, and how charismatic he was for his height (4’11’’). Whenever my father talks about his father, it’s always with the biggest smile on his face. He says my grandfather was a smooth-talker and a lover of Chinese opera.

Born in 1926 in Sichuan’s Nianchang, Shorty Tang started cooking at the age of twelve, working and sleeping in several restaurants. He would often sneak dumpling wrappers into the bathroom to practice shaping dumplings because in those days, Chinese kitchens didn’t teach everything to everyone.

At a young age, he and my grandmother were on their own in the streets of Nianchang because they weren’t raised in solid families. I have never met any relatives from my paternal grandparents’ side, and whenever I ask my dad about his parents’ relatives, he has no clue. In 1946, my grandparents left for Taiwan where Shorty became a street vendor and eventually opened a restaurant. In 1967, he came to America and settled in Queens, NY. In 1971, Shorty opened Hwa Yuan on 40 E. Broadway in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

At the time, there weren’t many restaurants serving authentic Chinese food, especially Sichuan cuisine, so my grandfather became famous for it. I’ve heard stories of how popular he was at the time, from my parents, grandmother, friends and relatives, but it was hard for me to believe that my grandfather was some kind of Chinese Master Chef, and that he was known for his signature dish: Cold Noodle with Sesame Sauce. Perhaps, it would’ve been easier to accept if I had met him. Then in 1976, he died at the age of 50.

In 2007, I was living and working in Georgia where every morning, I would read the NY Times’ Dining Section for interesting articles. In the April 1st edition, there was an article written by now NY Times’ Food Critic, Sam Sifton, called Food: The Way We Eat New York Noodletown. I couldn’t believe it! Sifton wrote an article about my grandfather, who had been dead for 34 years. It was about Shorty Tang’s famous Cold Noodle with Sesame Sauce.

My brother, Casey, was always a believer that our grandfather was this great chef, and thought that we need to tell his story and share our family’s dish with today’s generation. I wasn’t a believer until I read Arthur Schwartz’s New York City Food. There Shorty was on page 195 with the dish that people still loved and wanted after all these years.

So, my brother and I decided to write this tribute to him on my blog. We are very proud that my grandfather is part of New York City Chinese-American history. It’s a story that should be shared with other people to keep his legacy alive. But, if you ask me to share that sesame sauce recipe, it will always be a family secret.


42 thoughts on “Shorty Tang

    • Mike Bassman says:

      Noodles with hot brown meat sauce. I’ve been looking for them fruitlessly. Dan Dan noodles are the closest, but never found one with the same profile.

  1. IanG says:

    Thanks for a nice story. I loved the Empire Sechuan sesame noodles, which I am sure were descended from your grandfather’s recipe. My love for Sechuan food in general was formed then, and I cook a lot of it still – including sesame noodles.

  2. Ed Schoenfeld says:

    I knew and was fed often by your grandfather. In 1969 as a young man intent on learning about authentic regional Chinese cooking, I lived on the upper west side and frequented the ‘real’ Chinese restaurants that proliferated there, starting in the late 60’s.

    I was first introduced to Shorty Tang’s cooking by the restaurant entrepreneur David Keh, at his restaurant at the SE corner of 95th Street and Broadway. The restaurant was simply named Sichuan, and it was the 2nd NYC restaurant exclusively devoted to the cooking of that western Chinese province. The first such restaurant, Szechuan Taste, opened a few years earlier and it was in Chinatown on the east side of Chatham Square. Mr Keh was a partner there. This uptown venture was his first solo eatery.

    As I remember him, Shortly spoke little English, was indeed called Shorty (he was 4′ 11″ – I’d guess), and could cook extremely delicious Sichuan classics. While the American community couldn’t get enough of his cold noodles, in fact most of his Chinese customers flocked to eat his ‘do ban yu’ – live carp braised in spicy bean sauce. A generous serving of gingery, bright orange sauce made with hot bean sauce, fermented wine rice, and minced garlic blanketed the fish. One could order either a whole live carp or choose the head or the tail end of the fish. A wonderful variation called for the fish to be served over a bed of quick boiled lo mein noodles – yum!

    The ‘kung pao’ (hot pepper) and ‘yu shiang’ (fish-flavored aka garlic sauce) sauces he made were classic and better made than most versions of those items one encounters today. After Shorty moved to 30 East Broadway as a chef/partner (or so it seemed), he had great success. While his untimely demise seemed sudden, his legacy continued: Hwa Yuan continued to be popular for years and provided a living for many…….and good cooking for all.

    It was great to see his photos and see him remembered after all this time. He was one of my heroes!

    • Ed, thank you for your kind words and the history. I just learned so much from your comment. My father actually made “do ban yu” last christmas for the first time in 30 years. He hasn’t made the dish since the restaurant days because he says it is so labor intensive but it was remarkable. Everyone raved about it that night, it was like unlocking a dusty treasure. My father, Jerry Tang says he remembers you and says hello.

  3. Rich Turyn says:

    Hwa Yuan Szechuan Inn at 40 East Broadway was indeed one of the top Chinese restaurants of the 1970s. It was the only place that offered the Chinese version of Smithfield ham (if not the Southern item itself) as an appetizer. Though more low-key, it was every bit as good as Say Eng Lok (“4 5 6”) at Chatham Sq. I believe that Hwa Yuan closed in about 1992, after an allegedly OC shooting there one evening. In this age of celebrity chefs, we may pine for the days when excellent cooks simply did their work without hype or preening self-promotion.

  4. Andrew Pinkowitz says:

    In 1970 I was studying Intensive Chinese at Columbia University. Part of the program, run by Loretta Pan, was to go to dinner at a different Chinese Restaurant every Friday night. I believe that your grandfather opened a restaurant on the Upper West Side before he opened Hwa Yuan which was located on Broadway between 84th & 95th Street. I was privileged at that time to eat the best noodles (so-called “pulled noodles”) I have ever tasted. It was my first exposure to Szechuan Cuisine and the first restaurant of it’s kind. Shortly thereafter, the first Empire Szechuan opened on Broadway and 97th St.

    Before Hwa Yuan on East Broadway, there was another restaurant associated with your grandfather which was on Chatham Square. As I recall the East Broadway place was the final destination.

  5. paul turits says:

    your grandfathers place was our families favorite for many years. my daughter was raised on his famous sesame noodles. grandfathers noodles were and are, the flagship of noodles. we always compare them to any other that we eat. loved you article. a sterling tribute to your grandfather…..

    Paul Turits

  6. mike says:

    amazing story thanks for sharing. one day ill try and learn more about our family’s restaurant which also served Shanghai cuisine. it was located in Harlem.. 125th on the west side… one day..

  7. Eric Chiang says:

    Hey Gilley, what a great tribute to your grandfather! He would be proud to have his grandson becoming a great chef too 🙂

  8. What a wonderful tribute to your Grandfather. Thank you for sharing. I wish you good fortune and lasting peace.

    and I LOVE your slogan “Don’t fear the tofu”….awesome!

  9. 97th and Brtoadway was the destination for many of Juilliard’s most famous musicians. I had the cold noodles with sesame sauce there many times with Bobby Mann of the Juilliard String Quartet in the ’70s..

    There are so many recipes for this dish on the internet that they have driven out the genuine taste. Thick, thin. Peanut butter. Sesame Paste. Black Tea. No tea. Roasted Szechuan Peppercorns. Not. Sugar. Honey.

    You would be doing a service to those of us who owe so much noodle delight to the memory of your grandfather by providing the real recipe, especially for those of us on the West Coast who don’t have access to the many New York versions.

    If you don’t want to post it, but would email it, that would be great.

  10. Amy Danto Hundert says:

    Your father is Jerry? Wow! I wonder if he remembers me. Every time we’d go downtown to eat at Hwa Yuan (at least once a week!) Jerry always came over to us and said to me, “Has anyone told you that you look just like Peggy Fleming?” Without fail. Every time. It became a running joke — I think he may be the only person who ever thought that about me. I was flattered.

    For my 25th birthday, more than thirty years ago, my husband made my birthday party there — ten of us sat at one of the large, round banquet tables in the back and put away so much food and Tsing Tao — the memory puts a huge smile on my face. I would love the recipe for the cold noodles, along with every other New Yorker who misses your grandfather and the delicious food he served. Thank you so much for this lovely tribute to him.

  11. Bill Harris says:

    In 1971 during a hiatus from college I stumbled upon Hwa Yuan while wondering around Chinatown and had to introduce everyone I knew to it. My father, a culinary explorer had introduced my family to dim sum in the late 50’s on Sunday mornings, upstairs at 23 1/2 Pell Street — we were the only Westerners in the restaurant and our friends thought we were mad to eat Chinese food for brunch. As I grew up I followed his lead, seeking out new food experiences wherever I could. Hwa Yuan was where I took my wife on our first date, and we had a most exquisite dinner that, of course included “Shorty’s” cold noodles, the sizzling rice soup and the dish served on a hot pan with noodles, scallops, chicken and beef. My wife and I are still on that first date…she moved in that night and we just celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary! Your “ode” to your grandfather has brought back such wonderful memories! Thank you!

  12. Jay says:

    What a great story and great pictures. The man all the way to the right in the top picture looks like the owner of the great Szechuan Cuisine at 30 East B’way, no? I didn’t see him much but his daughter (“Shirley”?) was terrific. Please let me kn0w. Thanks.

  13. Adam Green says:

    As a boy, I had a friend whose family ate at Hwa Yuan every Sunday, and I went along with them often. In my memory, it was the most delicious food–Chinese or other–that I’d ever eaten. It was also, of course, my first exposure to cold sesame noodles, the discovery of which was only matched by my first taste of hummus a few years later. I offer a fond salute to your grandfather.

  14. Adam Green says:

    I forgot to add that Hwa Yuan was the first place that I ever took a girl on a date. Dinner was great, and we made out after. So, more gratitude!

  15. Marty T says:

    Today’s Times article immediately brought me back to the 1980s. Although I did visit Hwa Yuan on a few occasions, I practically lived in Tang’s Chariot and Tang Tang. The food was incomparable. Your family was always very gracious and hospitable. My sister and I usually ordered the same dishes….Marvelous Beef, Lake Tung Ting Shrimp and, on occasion, Do Ban Yu. In honor of the Chinese New Year, Tang Tang was closed to the public for one day. A special buffet luncheon-dinner was enjoyed by family, staff and friends. I was honored to have been invited on two occasions. I recall tasting many wonderful dishes which were not on the regular menu. Around the time that the Chariot closed, there was a rumor that it was to re-open in ‘The Lipstick Building’ on Third Avenue @ 53rd Street. Unfortunately, that never occurred.

    Does your family still operate a food establishment in New York?

    Their restaurants were a very important part of my life.

  16. Mark says:

    Today’s NY Times has a mention of Shorty in its review of Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan (in Flushing, Queens), which led me to Google, and then this site. If only everyone had an ancestor who affected so many people is such wonderful ways. You are fortunate, and thank you for setting up this page for others to share their memories. To simply say that Hwa Yuan was “one of the first” or “among the first” Sichuan restaurants in New York is to miss the point. Hwa Yuan, through your grandfather, completely transformed the way that New Yorkers (and, by extension, everyone who back then knew a New Yorker)(meaning everyone) looked at Chinese food, or considered what was “good” Chinese food. In 1976, like an earlier poster, I was at Columbia and was invited to Hwa Yuan for dinner with some classmates. This involved a 45 minute trip first on the 1 train, then switching to the N in Times Square, and finally walking from Canal to East Broadway through Chatham Square. Once there, the dishes started flowing, including the Cold Sesame Noodles, fried pork dumplings, dry-sauteed string beans, twice-cooked pork, shredded pork and beef in garlic sauce and shredded pork and beef “home style.” Although today one can get all this (except, perhaps the “home style” meats, which were distinguished by a slight sweetness and shredded carrots, as I recall), at any Sichuan restaurant, back then they were a revelation. It is 35 years later, yet I can easily summon the memory of the effect of cold beer washing down that remarkable food. The impact of Hwa Yuan, and your grandfather, was profound. If there is an afterlife, surely anyone such as he, who made so many people happy and left such an astounding legacy, is smiling down upon you.

  17. M Kuhn says:

    Thanks for the memories. I moved to New York in 1977. My family ate dinner at Hwa Yuan every Sunday night, if not more often. There was no restaurant that served food anywhere as good. Thinking about Wonderful Taste Chicken, Cold Noodles with Sesame Sauce and String Beans with Ground Pork makes my mouth water. The recipe for the Sesame Sauce published in the Times a few years back is pretty close to the real thing.

  18. Jay says:

    Love that picture of the folks with Say Eng Look in the background! My mouth is watering. Is the other picture taken in front of Szechuan Cuisine? The fish filet was one of the most delicious foods that I have ever eaten. The memories of it bring tears… No one answered my query about Shirley. Hello?

  19. Maria Fialkov says:

    I can still taste those cold noodles! 30 East Broadway was my favorite, and much frequented ‘hang out’. I would even stop by when driving from my NJ job to my Long Island home, just to take those noodles home! Since moving, I have searched all over for those noodles, all to no avail. I now live in Florida. I will be going to NYC in two weeks. Where can I get those noodles?

  20. The fabled Szechuan Inn on E. Broadway, one of the first authentic Szechuan restaurants in the city…I still look for the same flavors in other places, but have never found them.

  21. Frank Fiorentino says:

    I am hoping to taste Shorty Tang’s Noodles with Hot Brown Meat Sauce one more time before I die! Hwa Yuan is indelibly etched into my memories of NY in the 1970s. My friends and I ate there every Friday night for more than 10 years.

  22. AH says:

    I absolutely loved your father’s restaurant. I’ve been to San Fran, Boston, Paris, Mainland China, Hong Kong and many other places. Nothing, absolutely nothing compares to the greatness of the Szechuan Inn. I am so fortunately that I dined there for many years.

  23. Judy says:

    Posting this comment sort of late, but I just read your blog and had to respond. My parents were devotees of Hwa Yuan and ate there every Wednesday night at 6pm throughout the life of the restaurant. If I wanted to see my parents (and have a great meal) I would just show up at Hwa Yuan and there they would be. We celebrated all out family events there including birthdays and anniversaries, or for no reason at all, and were thrilled to be invited to the fabulous New Year banquets. I can’t walk past 40 E. Broadway without thinking of those years and all the wonderful food and people there. Hwa Yuan is iconic for many New Yorkers. It will never be replaced.

  24. Pingback: Pasta Recipes - Cold Spicy Sesame Noodles |

  25. My wife and I looked for the hot brown noodles in meat sauce for decades. Dan dan noodle not even close. Lets not forget the baby shrimp with peas. Oh how i miss that restaurant.

  26. Pat Cullinan, Jr. says:

    My favorites were the sliced pork kidney and the ginger shrimp. One night, a waiter said, “Oh, you close your eyes when you eat the shrimp!” Sure I did — I was in heaven.

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