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One Woman’s Global Quest For The Origins Of The Noodle

Noodle-mania. We track the birth story of a staple from China to Italy. Its savory history.

Author Jen Lin-Liu shares some of the manta dumplings she shared with guest host Jane Clayson in the WBUR studios. Lin-Liu is the author of the new book, "“On The Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, With Love and Pasta." (WBUR)

Author Jen Lin-Liu shares some of the manta dumplings she shared with guest host Jane Clayson in the WBUR studios. Lin-Liu is the author of the new book, ““On The Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, With Love and Pasta.” (WBUR)

Fettuccini, lo Mein, penne, udon, ravioli, dumplings, macaroni! Noodle-Mania! The world has been eating them from centuries, but we don’t know where the noodle originated. Noodles and pasta cross the east-west cultural divide. Flour, water, sometimes egg. The recipe is simple, the ingredients are cheap. The outcome, delicious. Our guest today traveled across two continents—on “the noodle road” from Beijing to Rome—to try to find the origin of the noodle, and she ate a lot of delicious meals along the way. Up next, On Point: Who really invented the noodle?


Jen Lin-Liu, author of “On The Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, With Love and Pasta.” Also the author of “Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China” and founder of Black Sesame Kitchen in Beijing.

From The Reading List

Seattle Times: “On Noodle Road”: The Winding Road of Pasta’s History — “She got the idea during a noodle-making class in Rome, where she was struck by the similarities between Italian and Chinese pastas; she decided to retrace the ancient Silk Road in hope of finding out how noodles first made their way to Italy. She quickly debunks the myth that Marco Polo was responsible: Pasta figured in Italian diets long before the Venetian ever headed east. Her quest takes her through China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey and finally back to Rome. A Chinese-American chef and food writer who started a cooking school in Beijing, she trades her culinary skills with other women she meets along the way.”

NPR: Wandering Appetites: Hunting The Elusive Noodle – “Along her journey, Lin-Liu eats and eats. Meals are her bartering currency, and as she progresses she swaps Chinese for Uighur, Central Asian, Persian, and Turkish. Ancient customs of hospitality prevail on even the most destitute stretches of the Silk Road: Complete strangers slaughter a sheep to celebrate the visit of Lin-Liu and her husband, and meals often turn into Pantagruelian lists: ‘flatbread,’ ‘yogurt with diced eggplant,’ ‘red pepper dip,’ ‘cold wild greens,’ ‘soup with garlic scapes,’ ‘lamb meatballs,’ lamb tripe stuffed with lamb, okra, and so on.”

Bon Appetit: Interview With Jen Lin-Liu, Author – “Dumplings were probably the biggest thread I saw along the way, the Chinese evolving into Central Asian manti to Turkish manti, which are much smaller, to actual tortellini, and some historians have theorized that, because you could wrap these little packages of food and the filling could be varied, this was a food that nomads can make very easily and then just boil on the road. There’s no sort of concrete explanation of how these dumplings moved all the way across the Silk Road, but some theorize that the Mongolians under Genghis Khan, who went all the way from Japan and Korea to Eastern Europe, somehow brought these dumplings with them along with the conquests.”

Check Out Some Recipes from Jen Lin-Liu’s travels on our blog.

Read An Excerpt From “On The Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, With Love and Pasta.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Wahoo_wa

    This will be interesting. A great follow-up would be a story on pasta sauce! That way we practically circumnavigate the globe for one dish!

  • Phillip Hanberry

    BOOOORRRRRRINNNNNGGGGG. How about the origins of something more mundane. Like…shoehorns…

    • 228929292AABBB

      I disagree with the negativity of the comment, we’ve had 27 shows in 30 days about the government shutdown and inequality, certainly it’s okay to take a whimsical topic for one day. Though it does renew the question of why we couldn’t have a show on the America’s Cup if we’re down to pasta, I’ll grant you that.

  • KayJay12

    Pleeeeaaaase, ladies, watch that pronunciation! Painful to listen common “sasiki” really?

  • KayJay12

    On our last trip to China, we happily skipped the “traditional dumpling dinner”!

  • KayJay12

    Ouch she said BOLONNNese

  • Scott B

    The caller who mentioned that different shapes of pasta seem to taste different. Many of the pasta shapes were created specifically for the sauce they were being used in.

  • Scott B

    My favorite quote about spaghetti is from “The Sopranos”"

    Anthony ‘A.J.’ Soprano, Jr.:
    Is it true that the Chinese invented spaghetti?

    Tony Soprano:
    Now think about it. Why would people who eat with sticks invent something you need a fork to eat?

  • Eric A Stratton

    Some of the best pasta I’ve ever had was while visiting the Apple Campus at One Infinite Loop. Fresh Soba Noodles. Absolutely delicious. Frankly I could eat pasta and pasta dishes for every meal.

  • Scott B

    Our daughter has always loved noodles, and as soon as she had teeth to oppose each other, she love dry noodles, right out of the box, spaghetti and elbow in particular. She’s not so much into sauces, alfredo and no-too-spicy tomato being new things, but some butter and mozzarella (she call’s it “shake cheese” since you shake it out of the container) and she’s a happy camper.

  • JF

    My daughters love eating my home-made noodles (note: I am no expert but still they eat them happily). Could your guest comments on the types of flour used to make pasta/noodles? How does that change the taste and texture of the noddles? Unfortunately most dried noodles sold in the market is only white flour.

  • Emily4HL

    Any suggestions for people on gluten-free diets? You mentioned bean pasta, for example. Can that be made without wheat?

    • jefe68

      Try buckwheat noodles. They are100% gluten free.
      Mind you they are Japanese noodles, but very good just the same.

      • VJS/2013

        Asian noodles are a great gluten-free alternative, such as Rice noodle or Soba (buckwheat). Also try Shirataki (made from tuber Konjac) or Cellophane/ Glass noodles (Mung bean).

    • northeaster17

      Brown rice noodles work for us. We get them from trader joes. Some other we have used need to be ribsed after cooking to et rid of excess startch.

  • Citizen James

    I grew up in a traditional Sicilian family in New York. Sunday dinners were 4 hours long and all home made. Of course it always contained a pasta dish that we would call ‘sauce’. Each time the pasta changed and more often than not the sauce stayed the same. My favorite pasta was gnocci because it was so exotic. Reason: Gnocci was a dish from Naples and not Sicily. Of course it didn’t matter that we lived thousands of miles away from either location!

  • traceywriter

    Can you talk about German “noodles.” For as long as I could cook, I’ve been making the homemade noodles for my chicken noodle soup that my mother and her German-American mother made before her. People are impressed that I make my own soup noodles, but they’re super easy…flour, egg, water, salt….

  • Wotan

    If you’re a kid, there’s something special about watching a guy take a ball of dough, work it and rework it, thwack it on a metal table, repeat the process until they somehow turn into strands of noodles without ever using machines or knives. That actually was my dream job as a kid. Not only could I make great noodles but I could eat them at every meal.

    Damn machines!

  • Smith

    I had to stop listening because the guest wouldn’t stop interrupting the callers. They could never get their questions or comments out before she talked over them.

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