The covers of the new book “Noodles through Escargot” feature the Imperial Dynasty’s menu. When the book is held open, it gives the impression that its reader is picking items to eat while at the famous restaurant no longer open in Hanford.
This and many other small, unique details are what Arianne Wing and Steve Banister worked hard to include when they sat down more than six months ago to begin chronicling the history of the Wing family and the Imperial Dynasty.
“There are so many interpretations of my family’s history and the restaurant that eventually came to define their legacy, but none of those are told from our perspective,” Wing said. “So, this will be the first time our story has been captured between the covers of a book and told through our own voice.”
“Noodles through Escargot” tells the entire story from when Wing’s great-grandfather came to Hanford and opened a noodle shop in historic China Alley, to its eventual evolution into the Imperial Dynasty restaurant by her uncle and what’s coming up in the future for the family and the local landmark.
“The book starts with the noodle recipe used at the noodle shop,” Wing said. “Then, concludes with the recipe for our famous escargot, with our history and never-before-seen pictures in between. ‘Noodles through Escargot.’”
For 124 years, five generations of Wings left their mark on Hanford, its culture and history, with a food-service tradition that put Hanford on the map.
In its heyday, the family restaurant’s famed wine and dishes drew people from around the world — quite a remarkable achievement for a family that owes its origin to a political refugee in the early 1880s.
It’s not clear how Wing’s great-grandfather, Gong Ting Shu, ended up in Hanford after fleeing political persecution in China. In 1883, he opened the original Wing restaurant, Mei Jan Low, a noodle house in China Alley catering to Chinese railroad workers and field laborers.
When the Imperial Dynasty opened its doors in 1958, another Wing family restaurant, the Chinese Pagoda, had already earned a reputation for authentic Chinese food, serving chow mein, pork po lo pineapple and other dishes.
For the Wing family, opening the Imperial Dynasty was a way to “expand” and “elevate” the family’s restaurant by creating different flavors that would appeal to their customers. The story of the restaurant was featured in a 2005 interview with Wing’s uncle in The Sentinel.
What began as a modest noodle house serving a bowl of noodles for 25 cents upstairs turned into a five-star restaurant downstairs, dishing out sturgeon poivrade, savory lamb shanks, coconut ice cream and other one-of-a-kind dishes. The restaurant closed its doors in 2006 and one of its founders, Wing’s Uncle Richard, died last year.
“Writing this book has been like closure or a form of catharsis for me and my family,” Arianne Wing said. “The closure of the Dynasty and my uncle’s death was very hard, but putting this together has helped in its own special way.”
Wing had help writing the book from close family friend and local business owner, Steve Banister.
“This book truly has been a labor of love and I think its important to preserve the history of this family and the restaurant so that future generations will know it,” Banister said.
Wing is the president of Hanford’s Taoist Temple Preservation Society, the organization working to restore China Alley, and she said proceeds from sales of the book will be used for the L.T. Sue Herb restoration project.
“We eventually want to create a series of books that chronicle all aspects of China Alley,” Wing said.
The reporter can be reached at 583-2427.