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.”

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