There is a saying that if you want to try Chinese noodles you need to go to Shanxi province. That is where Hong Gao is from. Hong Gao is the owner of Taigu Noodles, which is a Shanxi noodle restaurant in Middleton.
Hong came to the U.S. in 1989. “But when we came here in Madison (1996), such a big city, it was hard to find a delicious Chinese restaurant. I couldn’t have Chinese noodles. It drove me crazy,” Hong says.
That was the beginning of Taigu Noodles. However, at the start, the restaurant wasn’t a hit. Following her customers’ advice, Hong decided to rename the restaurant.
“Because I am from Taigu, Taigu from Shanxi (province), and this kind of nostalgia for hometown has always been deeply rooted,” Hong says, “Simple but meaningful, then it should be Taigu.”
Hong’s noodles today are also rooted deeply in the memories of home. “When I was young, I lived with my grandmother, and my parents were not around,” Hong says, “(I) ate all kinds of noodles every day. Um noodles, 365 days a year.”
To make authentic Shanxi noodles, Hong says that one key point is to rest the dough for a period of time before reworking on the dough, while the ingredients are rather simple, only flour and water.
Another secret of Hong’s noodles is Shanxi mature vinegar, which adds a layer of mellow taste to Taigu noodles.
And her taste for nostalgia paid off. “One person told me that dumplings feel like home, and the noodles are better than home,” Hong says.
When not making noodles, Hong enjoys painting. Her art can be seen on the walls in her restaurant. She donates the paintings to her daughter’s high school and other area non-profit organizations. To Hong, painting became more meaningful in this way.
“Painting to me is like making friends. Very enjoyable,” Hong says. “People like my paintings and then with these paintings I am able to make a small contribution to the community, and I think it should be like that.”
After being here in Middleton for 24 years, giving back also helps Hong to connect with the city she now calls home.
“The whole community, from my children attending school here, graduating, to me opening Taigu (restaurant),” Hong says, “I think I have some deep attachment with Middleton. Really.”
It’s the attachment to her grandmother’s noodles that has become a way for Hong to offer Middleton a taste of her hometown. “So, I need to say thank you to my family. Thank them for making such delicious noodles,” Hong says. “The taste of hometown is very important.”