The majority of the Chinese pioneers who settled in what is now known as the historic China Alley district came from three regions immediately south and west of the city of Guangzhou in the Pearl Delta region of China. My maternal ancestors came from this area. My paternal family originated in Far Yuen, in the Guangdong Province.
In the mid-1980s I had the opportunity to visit my paternal family village with two of my aunties. Our ancestral home and village had been remodeled and modernized (indoor plumbing!). Auntie Harriet organized the quick trip. We stayed in Hong Kong for a few days, then Auntie Harriet, Auntie Bea and I took a train to Guangzhou and traveled from there to visit the family village in Far Yuen. We returned to Hong Kong for a few more days and then home.
I fell in love in the eclectic, majestic and beautiful Hong Kong, and I was excited we would be visiting the old family home, feeling those roots more deeply perhaps. When we boarded the train and Hong Kong faded away, the panorama turned lush and fertile, the land of southern China.
The morning following our arrival at Guangzhou, our cousin met us at the hotel and escorted us to Far Yuen, about an hour drive away. A montage plays in my head as I remember the excursion. The rich greens, golds and browns of the rolling hills — bicycles everywhere — oxen pulling plows and farmers walking alongside — our cousin becoming carsick — Auntie Bea unclasping her purse to take out a small atomizer and spritzing the car with Chanel No. 5 — me, falling into uncontrollable giggles.
As a teenager, Auntie Harriet had lived in the village for almost a year, and she was very pleased with the changes. We were ushered into the family home and greeted by many relatives. My aunties and I were led into the room where our extended family placed their ancestral altar. The matriarch of the house lit candles and incense. She spoke softly in our Cantonese dialect and Auntie Harriet quietly translated for me. Our ancestors were thanked for our safe trip and for our visit to the family home. All the ritual gratitude expressed, we were invited to the dining table.
Our family fed us a simple but memorable meal — freshly made noodles along with one of their chickens, stir-fried in a cast iron wok on an outdoor community stove. I remember picking up my chopsticks and wondering if my great-grandfather and grandfather ate in the same room and perhaps sat where I was sitting, but the rest of the visit was a blur. I was emotionally overwhelmed.
If my rabble-rousing great-grandfather hadn’t jumped into the Pearl River in order to escape political persecution, leaving all of his family behind — including a wife and five children — and if he hadn’t settled in Hanford and opened a noodle house in China Alley — who would I be? I knew Auntie Harriet was experiencing similar emotions. Both of us had tears streaming down our cheeks during the return back to the hotel.
These mornings when I open the Tea Room doors, I acknowledge my great-grandfather’s spirit by nodding toward the doorway of his noodle house. I am grateful I had the opportunity to have a bowl of noodles in my family village home, and somehow I know great-grandfather’s spirit is just as thankful.
Large platters mounded with noodles are often part of a multi-course meal for Chinese banquets. In Chinese cuisine, noodles represent longevity. My trip to our home with my aunties expanded and grounded my already strong sense of familial longevity.
I continue to be touched by the ties that bind a small village in southern China with Hanford’s China Alley from its beginnings to the present and the future.
Spicy chicken noodles
with ginger and eggs
1⁄4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon vermouth
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1-2 tablespoons sriracha sauce (or to taste)
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 lb. fresh Chinese noodles, or thin spaghetti
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
11⁄2 cups cooked chicken (breast or thigh meat, your preference), shredded
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced in to matchstick-sized pieces
3 eggs, lightly beaten
5-6 green onions, white and green parts minced
Mix the broth, soy sauce, vermouth, ginger, sriracha sauce, sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
Cook the noodles according to package directions and drain.
Heat a wok or large pan. When the wok is heated, add 2 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the noodles and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Mix in the sauce and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes or until thoroughly heated and glossy. Transfer to a serving platter.
Add the chicken to the wok and stir-fry until heated through. Arrange the chicken over the noodles and top with the cucumber.
Reheat the wok. Add the remaining vegetable oil. Pour in the eggs and lightly scramble. When the eggs are set, place them on top of the cucumbers. Garnish with the green onions 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.