Oodles of Noodles
The humble noodle is a versatile staple that is enjoyed all over the world in different forms. While its origins have always been a highly debated topic, in 2005, archaeologists unearthed a perfectly preserved 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles in northwestern China. We look at the milestones in the history of the noodle, its different shapes and forms, and the vast array of dishes built around this Asian favourite.
The humble noodle is a versatile staple that is enjoyed all over the world in different forms. While its origins have always been a highly debated topic, in 2005, archaeologists unearthed a perfectly preserved 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles in northwestern China.
1940 BC Xia Dynasty, China
In 2005, an overturned bowl of noodles, made of two kinds of millet grain, were found buried under three metres of sediment in northwestern China at the Lajia archaeological site.
Millet is a grain indigenous to China and was first cultivated as much as 7,000 years ago. Some of the earliest evidence of millet cultivation in China has been found in Cishan, northern China, where proso millet husk phytoliths and biomolecular components identified to be around 8,700 to 10,300 years old were discovered in storage pits, along with the remains of pit-houses, pottery, and stone tools related to millet cultivation. The unearthing of these noodles also proves that the conversion of ground millet flour into dough that could be repeatedly stretched into long, thin strands for the preparation of boiled noodles was already established in this region four millennia ago.
Greek physician Galen mentions itrion, homogeneous compounds made of flour and water. The Jerusalem Talmud also recorded that itrium, a kind of boiled dough and probably its successor, was common in Palestine from the third to the fifth centuries AD.
Udon is adapted from a Chinese recipe by a Buddhist monk.
AD 25–220 Han Dynasty, China
The earliest written record of noodles appears in a third century Chinese dictionary. It describes a dough made from flour and water, which is then torn into pieces and added to soup called mian pian. This dish is still eaten in China today.
100 Roman Empire, Italy
Fine sheets of fried dough, or lagana, appeared in the works of Horace, who was the leading Roman lyric poet under Augustus’ rule. An early fifth century cookbook describes
lagana as layered dough with stuffed meat, leading to the possibility of it being an ancestor to modern-day lasagna.
609–707 Tang Dynasty, China
Henan noodles, a dish still eaten today, originated in the Tang Dynasty. The dough is worked aggressively by being pulled straight, with no twisting, folding or waving. It is also slammed on a table to ensure even stretching and uniform thickness.
960–1269 Song Dynasty, China
In earlier dynasties, noodles were mostly referred to as soup cakes, but during the Song Dynasty wheat-based noodles officially became known as mian. Rice flour and other starch-based noodles became known as fen.
The first concrete evidence of pasta products can be traced to the 13th or 14th century, when fresh and dried pastas similar to today’s were consumed and an identical method of cooking was employed.
1368–1644 Ming Dynasty, China
Hand-pulled noodles were developed. They were made by twisting, stretching and folding the dough into strands. The classic “fivespice” and “eight treasure” noodles were also created during this time.
1644–1911 Qing Dynasty, China
Fishermen began selling ta-a, long, wheatbased noodles from baskets that hung from a pole carried over their shoulders, to earn money during the typhoon season when it was too dangerous to fish.
Noodles, or reshteh, are first mentioned in literary works of Persia in the 13th century. Theories suggest that these were the noodles that were introduced to Italy, and eventually led to what we know as pasta today.
1271–1368 Yuan Dynasty, China
Dried noodles that could be preserved for a long time were introduced. Dough made from wheat flour was kneaded to the width of a chopstick then pulled, twisted and folded in on itself and stretched into noodles several feet in length. They were then hung on racks to dry in the sun. Known as misua, today, these noodles are still enjoyed, especially as part of a celebratory meal.
1392–1897 Joseon Dynasty, Korea
Naengmyeon, or buckwheat noodles, became popular.