Oo­dles of Noo­dles

Asian Geographic - - Contents - Text Shreya Acharya

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.

200 Greece

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.

900 Ja­pan

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.

1201–1400 Italy

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.

1201–1300 Per­sia

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.

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