On Feb. 12, 1958 — 55 years ago — The Hanford Sentinel dedicated a special issue to the opening of the Imperial Dynasty restaurant.
Larry McSwain, then managing editor, wrote: “The original Wing restaurant, the Mee Jan Low, was started in 1883. This special issue of The Sentinel marks a new phase for the Chinese Pagoda restaurant, successor to the Mee Jan Low, in the opening of a plush new restaurant serving American food, the Imperial Dynasty addition. It marks a revival for Hanford’s Chinatown too.”
Willetta Reagan wrote in an article for this special edition: “Once called a ‘ghost who has ignored the changing decades,’ China Alley is about to take on new life. At one time the center of beehive activity for a community of 500 Chinese, the Alley had faded into ghostlike obscurity in recent years. Expansion of the Chinese Pagoda, one of the top Chinese restaurants in the country, is the elixir designed to promote this new bloom.”
Before The Sentinel’s special edition, China Alley had begun to deteriorate because of the exodus of the Chinese from Hanford after World War II. During the 1950s, my father and his siblings purchased additional buildings located in an effort to preserve a dying China Alley. Naval Air Station Lemoore and Armstrong Rubber were starting businesses in the county — it was an opportunity for new beginnings in China Alley.
In 1958, the Imperial Dynasty opened its doors and gained reputation and honors, as Uncle Ernie’s wine collection and Uncle Richard’s cuisine acquired award-winning accolades.
After millions of meals had been served and just as many memories had been created, in November 2005 my family announced the Imperial Dynasty, which had anchored Hanford’s fading China Alley, would soon close its doors. On Feb. 18, 2006, the lights in the Imperial Dynasty went dark, thus ending the 123-year run during which my family had a restaurant business in China Alley.
I had often wondered what would happen when the day came that Auntie Harriet could no longer act as the matriarch — the glue — for my tribe. I wondered, too, if there wasn’t a restaurant business to unite us on a daily basis, if there would be a breaking of family bonds — a loss of historical continuum — and what would happen to China Alley?
Seven years later I am still struggling, trying to cope with the changes in what I have all my life loved most — strong family ties and a sense of the sacredness of the homeplace. Some days I feel drawn into a deep emotional mystery involving complicated interrelationships and unresolved feelings.
In 2011, China Alley gained national recognition when the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated it as one of the 11 most endangered historic places in America. The Associated Press picked up the story and Hanford’s historic China Alley was featured in hundreds of news publications around the world.
It felt like destiny. I let go of the fear of the unknown and opened my heart. I came home, back to China Alley. We opened the L.T. Sue Tea Room in March 2012.
It is my great good wish that the cycle that began on Feb. 12, 1958 and ended on Feb. 18, 2006 has been reborn and that the new year, the Year of the Snake, be the year China Alley takes on new life.
Shrimp in lobster sauce
This favorite recipe doesn’t include lobster. The sauce is similar to one often served with lobster or other shellfish in Chinese restaurants. It is often served as part of a multi-course meal for Chinese New Year. Serve with steamed rice.
1 1/2 lbs raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 tablespoons dry sherry
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons ginger, finely minced
2 tablespoons Chinese black bean and garlic sauce
1/4 pound lean ground pork (or turkey)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 egg, lightly beaten
Pat the shrimp dry. In a medium-sized bowl, toss the shrimp with the sherry and 2 tablespoons of the cornstarch. Set aside.
In small bowl, whisk the remaining cornstarch and 1/4 cup of the water. Set aside.
Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, add the shrimp. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes or until the shrimp are opaque. Transfer the shrimp to a plate and set aside.
If the wok is dry, add another 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, ginger and black bean sauce. Stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the pork and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes or until the pork is no longer pink. Stir in the soy sauce and remaining 1/4 cup water. Bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in cornstarch mixture. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and the egg. Stir-fry to combine. Cover and cook for about 2 minutes. Stir and serve.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.