Hunan restaurant seeks to incorporate traditional flavors

Chef Liu strives to create homestyle Chinese dishes

Main chef David Luu  prepares a dish for Chinese restaurant, Hunan.

Main chef David Luu  prepares a dish for Chinese restaurant, Hunan.

China has a diverse natural culture across its land. As a result, Chinese people live in different areas and enjoy rich staple food. From the south to the north, the diverse staple food provides energy for human bodies. Moreover, they influence people’s feelings towards the change of four seasons and enrich the lives of the Chinese.

China has a lot of great and profound food cultures. The “Eight Cuisines” of China are Anhui, Cantonese/HongKong, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan, and Zhejiang cuisines.

Hunan has a long history in Fresno located in one of the small alleys in Fresno. During the early morning they clean up the front, set up the tables and chairs, and turn the “CLOSED” board to “OPEN.”

Spirit of Immigrants

Six years ago, Pan sisters came from Taiwan and settled in Fresno. Like most immigrants, they saw their life full of hope.

“All beginnings are hard.” Chinese people’s tastes are totally different than American. In the first three months they arrived in Fresno, the sisters could not only subject themselves to just eating a burger and fries. Moreover, they could not find any Chinese restaurants to solve their food problem.

Throughout the next three months without their usual homestyle flavor, the sisters started to search and visit every Chinese restaurant in Fresno.

On this search for a Chinese cultural restaurant, the sisters found their favorite, Hunan. From there they met owner of Hunan Chef Liu. Chef Liu has owned the restaurant since 2004 and befriended the eager sisters.

Shortly after the sisters became friends with owner Chef Liu, he decided to return back to Beijing, China, selling the restaurant to the two sisters. However, before he decided to leave, he was begged to stay by these new owners. The Pan sisters did not know much about restaurant cooking, so the restaurant could not run without him.

Now the former Chef Liu serves as a gourmet advisor at Hunan Restaurant, in charge of researching and developing foods.

About 85% of the customers who dined at Hunan were American. But in the last few years, more and more Chinese people have visited and settled in Fresno. The sisters decided to rebuild this restaurant with more Chinese elements.

Western-style restaurants like to dim their lights making the environment warm and sweet, meanwhile customers often feel they are in a ceremonial environment. This is not like the Chinese style. In China, the restaurants are overwhelmed with brightness; the bright lights drive the customers to eat and drink more.

Bringing Chinese culture to America is one of the things that the Chinese immigrants are proud of in Fresno.

In Taiwan, the sisters use to work on marketing designs for shops and companies. This is one of their fortes. They tried to build the restaurant between Chinese and American and make the decor western-style but consider Chinese-style as well.

This half-half solution seems to capture the differences; the sisters mix not only the brightness that the traditional Chinese like, but consider the light shape and sofa style Americans prefer.

The sisters bought chandeliers here in the U.S with the style as American. However, it mixed the elements of a Chinese lantern. They chose the classic “Chinese Red” cover.

Pan sisters along with Chef Liu run the restaurant.

Pan sisters along with Chef Liu run the restaurant.

Sometimes it is too hard to accept a brand new culture. The sisters found that some Chinese foods are hard to be accepted by American customers because of their unfamiliarity. Even so, more and more kinds of Chinese food had been accepted over the years, for example, “pan-fried dumpling” and “chow mein.”

This restaurant came out with an ingenious idea to separate two different cultures on two menus. They hand out the American-Chinese menu to American customers and traditional Chinese menu to Asian customers. The sisters hope that American customers would start to accept the real Chinese food so that one day they won’t have to hand out two different menus.

In the early history of China, when President Mao was still in power, President Nixon visited China. President Mao is from Hunan, so there are a lot of Hunan restaurants in the United States.

Homestyle Flavor

Taste is more important than anything else as far as food is concerned. The Chinese have never restricted themselves to a certain tedious food list. With their understanding of food, the Chinese are always looking for new dishes.

From the crack of dawn, the sisters come, each of their hands with two bags with fresh Taiwan style bread. Every week, those sisters drive their car all the way to San Jose, to buy the freshest Taiwan style bread to sell at their restaurant.

“Pineapple bread,” “scallions bread,” “Pork floss bread,” etc. Those are all kinds of bread that the sisters used to have when they were very young. Taiwan-style bread is very hard to make. The no-preservatives bread only stays fresh for two days so the chef has to quickly make the bread.

International travelers sometimes miss their traditional home cooked meals. Hunan’s spicy cooking style is completely different to the Taiwan cooking style. Experienced and accomplished Chef Liu helps the sisters to incorporate the Taiwanese food.

Fresno’s location in the Central California basin is rich in agriculture products. Although this is a good place for fruit and vegetables in the spring and summer, it is scarce in its vegetable varieties. Every autumn and winter, Fresno’s vegetables output is greatly reduced. During this time, the restaurant’s staff drives all the way to Los Angles for fresh vegetables with more coming from Mexico.

This restaurant spends a lot of time with its ingredients. Except for the homestyle bread and breakfast, the original dishes are also worth a try. The “stir-fried rice noodles with beef” is a big test of a chef’s basic skills, and it is also one of the most popular choices in the restaurant.

If you never seat down and experience every details of Hunan, you would miss the ingenuity. You would never know the stories behind this brilliant restaurant and never have this truly the feast for your eyes and palate.

If you want to visit Hunan it is located at the SE corner of Herndon and Cedar avenues. The address is : 6716 N. Cedar Ave.Fresno, CA, 93710. It is open from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5 – 9 p.m everyday.