Founded by Mr. Jiang Dingfa in 1926, “Gang Ya Gou” (a water vat, a sheldrake and a dog) is a hundred-year-old shop in Ningbo, famous for its snacks. Jiang Dingfa’s childhood name was Agou (namely a dog), so he was called Jiang Agou. At first, he just had a booth selling sweet dumplings in sweet rice wine and red jujube soup at Town God’s Temple (Chenghuang Temple). Then, he opened a shop on Kaiming Street. Trying to be different, he adopted a design of “a water vat, a sheldrake and a dog” as his shop mark, which attracted plenty of customers. “Gang Ya Gou” specialized in sweet dumplings with lard oil, sweet dumplings with eggs in sweet rice wine, Chinese rice pudding and sweet dumplings with various fruits, whose desserts were glutinous, light, good-looking and sweet.
At the beginning of the 20th century, young Jiang Dingfa went to sea to help his financially challenged family. In order to be healthy and strong, he had “Agou” as his childhood name. At the age of 18, he was sent to learn business in a shop by his parents. Jiang was smart and smart, so he won the trust from the shop owner. Even when he was only 20 years old, he decided to go back home and looked after his mother. Believing in the traditional Chinese thinking, “a man should get married first and then have his career”, Jiang married He Fengxiu later. One day, Jiang asked his wife He Fengxiu in private, “Why did you marry me? My father is dead and I have no possession at all.” He Fengxiu’s answer surprised Jiang a lot, “I ate the sweet dumplings your mother gave me. They are big and sweet, so I bet I won’t starve by marrying you.”
Jiang was inspired. The sweet dumplings made by Jiang’s mother are greatly recognized by neighbors. Why not set up a booth selling sweet dumplings? Jiang’s idea was supported by his mother a lot, so Jiang and his family left the house with some money and had a booth at Town God’s Temple, Ningbo.
Jiang only sold sweet dumplings at first. He was so kind that he met all demands for more ingredients like sugar or sweet-scented osmanthus. Later on, he realized that it was not enough to just sell sweet dumplings, which would bore customers soon. Thus, he started selling sweet dumplings in sweet rice wine and sweet dumplings with red bean paste or other fillings, which drew more and more customers successfully.
Jiang Agou’s booth became very famous for just four years. Then, Jiang rented a shop near Taihe Bridge at Kaiming Street. But he needed a brandname for his shop, which upset Jiang Agou who was illiterate.
Many regular customers shared their ideas, but not special enough. At last, Jiang decided to use his own childhood name “Jiang Agou” which was easy to remember. He even invited Mr. Wang Yunbiao, a famous choreographer at the Yue-Opera Troupe in Ningbo to draw a picture of “a water vat, a sheldrake and a dog” with two Chinese characters “Tangtuan” (sweet dumplings) in the middle.
One day, an old scholar (who passed the imperial examination at the county level) ate several bowls of sweet dumplings and didn’t pay at the end. However, Jiang was not angry or upset. The old scholar said, “Your brand name is a picture, which is not easy to promote. I would like to create a shop name for you in return.” After discussion, they agreed to use “Gang Ya Gou” which was homophonic with “Jiang Agou” in Ningbonese, understandable and easy to remember, which was corresponding to the current picture also.
There is an old saying in Ningbo about Gang Ya Gou:At three or four you are starving, Go to Gang Ya Gou for leaf lard dumpling; one bowl to you is not sufficing, two or three bowls you have more interest of staying. All the money spent and you do not want to leave, take off your clothes as deposit you beg continuing. Starting from an outdoor humble booth at Town God’s Temple, “Gang Ya Gou” gradually became a popular and historic barandname in Ningbo.