All About the Noodles
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When Hong Gao was growing up in Taigu, a county in China’s Shanxi province, she never ate rice.
“I remember noodles, dumplings, pancakes from my mother and grandmother,” she recalls. “But were we lived, you never ate rice. It was all noodles. Like our ‘cat ear’ noodles, [which] look like the shape of a cat’s ear.”
So imagine her surprise when she moved to the United States 23 years ago and saw the menus as the “Chinese” restaurants that populate the country. The ubiquitous dishes – things like General Tso’s chicken and pork fried rice – had no connection to her homeland’s delicious fare.
That’s why Hong and her family decided to take over the former Orient Express at 7610 Elmwood Avenue in the City of Middleton late last year. They changed the name to “Taigu,” a nod to their hometown and its food, introduced elegant decorations and Hong’s joyful paintings of everything from flowers to noodles, and revamped the menu.
Taigu now offers authentic, made-from-scratch, hand-cut noodles, rich scallion pancakes and chewy Shanxi dumplings.
While most Americanized Chinese restaurants make their sauces ahead of time, Hong and her extended family make theirs at the time of each order.
“We’re trying to bring our hometown Chinese food here,” she says.
The food is scrumptious, the décor is unique, and Hong bubbles with the type of gregarious hospitality that can’t be faked. But it has been a struggle to educate the dining public about this hidden gem, she says.
“We actually tried to do things like all other Chinese restaurants at first,” she explains. “But after three weeks we had a meeting and decided we would not do anymore of the premade sauces. We decided to make things from scratch. It’s better, but it just takes a little more time.”
“I always tell customers they will only have to wait five minutes longer,” she continues. “They say they have the time – what they care about is flavor.”
Hong says she loves meeting the people who come to grab takeout or sit and dine in-house. “I come here every day, and I enjoy making so many new friends,” she says. “I look forward to it every morning.”
But countless others pass the restaurant by, unaware that they are missing out on authentic dishes that share space on a menu also offering more traditional Chinese-American egg rolls and crab Rangoon.
Taigu can be reached by phone at 608-831-3458 or visited online at taiguchineserestaurant.com.