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.
Nov 25, 2015
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Pulitzer Prize winning Iowa writer Marilynne Robinson, arrives to the State Library of Iowa in the Ola Babcock Miller Building, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015, in Des Moines. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

On the day before Thanksgiving, we talk with Marilynne Robinson – one of America’s greatest authors, thinkers, moralists — about fear and hope in a hard, frightening time.

Nov 25, 2015
A BBQ pork shoulder special with sweet potato hash and over easy eggs at Foster's Market in Durham, N.C. (Courtesy Foster's Market)

Bring your appetite! We’re gathering around the radio table with three chefs and new Thanksgiving recipes.

Nov 24, 2015
An archival image of a McKinley - Hobart Presidential Campaign Poster from 1896. (Public Domain / WikiCommons)

Republican political strategist Karl Rove is thinking about the McKinley 1896 campaign and the GOP field right now. Karl Rove is with us.

Nov 24, 2015
This photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site Monday, Nov. 23, 2015 shows fuel tanks  hit during the attack of Russian warplanes in Syria. Russian warplanes on Monday attacked oil extraction, transport and refinement facilities in areas controlled by Islamic State militants. (AP Photo/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)

ISIS, Inc. The terrorist organization is raking in billions –from oil, grain, antiquities, and taxes. We look at how to break the ISIS bank. Plus, Turkey downs a Russian plane. We’ll have the latest.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Karl Rove Still Won’t Get Involved In The 2016 G.O.P. Primary
Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

Karl Rove may say he’s not endorsing or getting involved in the 2016 G.O.P. presidential primary, but that won’t stop from offering advice on how to beat Republican front runner Donald Trump.

More »
Roger Cohen And Barry Posen On ISIS
Monday, Nov 23, 2015

A brief, but illustrative exchange between Barry Posen and Roger Cohen during our conversation on ISIS today.

More »
On Point Favorites For Your Holiday Travel
Friday, Nov 20, 2015

A few On Point staff favorites for your upcoming holiday travel listening pleasure.

More »