Beth Cato's Reviews > Noodles Through Escargots

Noodles Through Escargots by Arianne Wing
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Aug 07, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2012, history
Read on August 07, 2012

In my hometown of Hanford, California, a great effort has been made to preserve China Alley. Hanford was a railroad town from the start--named after James Hanford, an employee of the Southern Pacific--and Chinese laborers resided in the area as early as 1877. This 85-page book focuses on the Wing family, and how they brought fame to my small San Joaquin valley town through their Imperial Dynasty restaurant. The story is mostly told through historical photographs dating back a century, up until the Imperial Dynasty's closure in 2006.

This book is a labor of love. That much comes across. The authors are deeply involved in the China Alley Historic District, even running a lovely tea shop there now--which is where I bought this signed book. I had hoped for a little more depth, maybe more personal biographical reflection on being Chinese in Hanford, but in truth, the book never promised that. The information it does have is fascinating. China Alley is a ten minute walk from my parents' house. I can't even say how many thousands of times I've driven past it in my life. I recall only going to the Imperial Dynasty once as a young child; it was too fancy a place for us. But it still makes me proud to read how famous the restaurant was--I never knew! It was such a familiar sight. I didn't know that Richard Wing was personal cook for Five-Star General George Marshall during World War II, and that his famous escargots were even requested by Ronald Reagan for his 1980 presidential inauguration.

The photographs are intriguing to me, as the China Alley of the late 1800s is still recognizable. I especially loved the copies of the menus from the past century. An early one from the Chinese Pagoda, one of the other restaurants run by the Wings in the Alley, had delightfully awful Engrish: " Allo time cook with numba one wegabel, meat, and otha ingredients. No can foolem. Customer allo time sasify. Allo time wely good flen. You tly." It's amusing to see how the prices have changed, too, and it makes me smile to think my grandparents likely ordered off that very menu when they were young.

This is a valuable historical record for anyone interested in central California, and I hope the authors continue to explore the otherwise forgotten cultures and stories of Hanford.
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