Hot and sour soup

Traditionally, lily buds and cloud ear mushrooms are included in the list of ingredients for hot and sour soup.


It wasn’t the way I wanted to start a new year, but the worst is behind me.

I have always felt that it has been one of my great fortunes that for most of my life I was a member of a family-run business in China Alley, that began in 1883 and ended in 2006.

In 2012 I returned to China Alley, proud that Steve and I were now a part of what some consider a fading phenomenon – a mom and pop business. Then into the first few days of 2017, I found myself asking, what do you do when you are one of the two operators of a mom and pop business and your own real life, flesh and blood mom and pop need your help?

Mom had been ailing with the flu at home. I was able to check in with her over the phone during the workday and tend to her in the evenings. Still in rehabilitation from the stroke he had last June, Dad had developed a wicked cough that turned into pneumonia, which sent him to the hospital.

The day I received the phone call that Dad was being transported to the hospital emergency room, we closed the Tea Room early.

When Dad was admitted to the hospital, I had to make a decision. I talked it over with Steve and made lists of priorities.

In this day and age, a mom and pop business has to stay on top of the game in order to stay open alongside the chains and big box stores. I needed to take care of my parents and Steve couldn’t run the Tea Room alone. Damon, my brother, was going to come up from Ventura to help. Then he came down with a coughing virus of his own.

I had to make the decision that millions of parents around the world make when their children are sick. That thought reminded me of how quickly time passes. It’s as though I blinked and suddenly here I am, the adult child taking care of older parents.

Although I worried about the Tea Room, I needed to follow my heart. I needed to take care of Mom and Dad as much as they needed me to take care of them.

Eight days later, Dad was released from the hospital and Mom was on the mend. Today, I want to thank all of you who continued to support us – and China Alley – when we couldn’t be there, and to thank those who echoed what was in my heart – family comes first. I am sincerely grateful for your support.

This morning I wandered around the Alley thinking of all of the flesh and blood mothers and fathers who made family their priorities. I thought of all of the women – wives who were plucked from their villages in China and planted in Hanford’s Chinatown, working alongside their husbands to make a better life for their children. I thought of all the Mom and Pop businesses that once dotted Chinatown.

My gaze lingered, as it so often does, on the doorway of my great-grandfather’s noodle house. A jumble of thoughts crowded my mind. Priorities. Family. Whooping cough. I recalled once again the whooping cough Dad contracted when he was three months old. My grandmother was already busy helping my grandfather with the restaurant and raising five other children.

My great-grandfather quarantined himself with his grandson. Dad thrived, but Great-grandfather came down with whopping cough and succumbed to the disease. Great-grandfather gave up his life so my father could live.

I whispered his name. “Gong Ting Shu.” Then I said what I knew needed to be said. “Thank you for taking care of your grandson. Again.”

I returned to my car and left the Alley feeling grateful for just about everything, and very happy that I would soon be returning to our own mom and pop business and to our loyal and compassionate friends and clientele.

I’m not sure what has kept me so far clear of wintertime colds and flu viruses. Vitamins? Tea? Yoga? But I do know I’ve been drinking a lot of Chinese brothy soups, especially the one I’m sharing this week, Hot and Sour.

The soup is typically made hot (spicy) by white pepper and sour by vinegar. There are several variations of this soup. Some are kind of like an egg drop hot and sour soup, some are more meat oriented, and others just broth. This version calls for tofu and uses cellophane noodles. These noodles, also known as glass noodles or bean thread noodles are made from ground mung beans.

Traditionally, lily buds and cloud ear mushrooms are included in the list of ingredients. I have those Chinese classic components in my pantry, but I’m pretty sure many of you do not. This recipe uses ingredients that can be found in our local grocery stores. Usually I use a firm tofu, but this time I used a soft (not silken) block because that is what I had on hand. Typically, Chinese black vinegar is used in the soup, but I am offering several substitutes to try.

Arianne Wing is the co-author of “Noodles Through Escargots,” and co-operator of the L.T. Sue Tea Room and Emporium, benefiting the restoration and preservation of China Alley. She may be reached at

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