Setting out to discover pasta's past, Jen Lin-Liu, founder of Beijing's Black Sesame Kitchen, travels along the historic, undulating Silk Road trade route linking Asia and Europe in her new book, On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, with Love and Pasta. Eating her way through China, Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, Italy, and Greece, she documents the changes in cuisine from East to West. On her journey, she not only discovers culinary delights and recipes but also stories and transnational connections between disparate cultures of the Silk Road.
Lin-Liu is also the author of Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China and has written about food and culture for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Saveur, Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, and other publications.
Via e-mail, Asia Blog talked with Lin-Liu about the flavors, origins, and fascination of noodles.
Both the Italians and Chinese lay claim to inventing the noodle. According to your research, where did noodles come from?
The oldest historical mention of noodles I could find appears in a dictionary from the third century A.D. in China. The earliest Chinese noodles, though, don't appear as strands of dough -- they were shaped into little bits, formed from bread dough, and thrown into a wok of boiling water. That kind of noodle, called mian pian, is still eaten in China. This was one of the most interesting pieces of research I came across -- that noodles in China actually began with its tradition of bread, something that is still widely eaten across northern China.
- Wasserstrom: Recent Headlines From China Triggered "Deja Vu'
- NY Times Lauds Engaging Narrative of Schell and Delury's History of Modern China
- Video: How China Has Transformed the Global Order
- Carl Minzer: China's Legal System Risks Hard Landing
Another early mention of noodles has been traced to the Jerusalem Talmud, dating back to the fifth century A.D., and was called itrium -- and several centuries later, a string-like pasta called itrium made of semolina and dried before cooking is described by Syrian physicians.