The Revolution of Ramen: How Ramen Conquered the World of Noodles by Julia Rogers

This is an image of the ramen I ate during my ethnographic observation of ramen noodles at Genko Ittetsu Ramen, a restaurant near my home in Boston, Massachusetts.

Delicately drawing a cluster of thin wheat noodles to her lips, I watch as a wave of bliss carries over the woman at the table next to me. Her cheeks immediately flush a rose color as the corners of her lips slowly curve upwards. She gestures for the man sitting across from her to try the soup. His face hovers over the bowl as steam clouds his reaction. He draws a bundle of noodles from the pot and suddenly a magical smile sweeps across his face. A smile that emulates a growling stomach being soothed by the slick flow of ramen noodles sliding into his impatient stomach. It seems as if their love for each other is shared through this oversized clay pot of noodles. They take turns experiencing the love and the warmth of the soup; of each other. The waitress shuffles over to ask for my order but I cannot seem to break my gaze from the steaming pot of ramen noodles. I am unable to hear her over the powerful slurps of noodles that the couple next to me alternatively takes with each mouthful. The waitress patiently repeats the question. My gaze is shattered and I eagerly reply, “I’ll have what they are having please!” Hesitantly, the waitress informs me, “I must warn all customers, our ramen is extremely spicy…if you’re okay with that.”  My mouth begins to salivate, “Of course, bring it on!” Not long after, the same oversized black pot flooded with ramen, drenched in seasoning, sprinkled with chives is carefully placed in front of me.

My ethnographic observation of ramen noodles continues, this time, from a perspective that is my own. The rich and lightly salted broth coats the noodles, tastefully heating them in preparation for each bite. Slices of pork, protected by a lining of fat, glisten in the boiling soup as spices waft into the air, tickling my nose. I raise the noodles, sopping with broth, steadily to my lips. Almost instantly, my mouth ignites in flames. Sweat crawls down the side of my forehead but I cannot put down the chopsticks to wipe the droplet before it becomes immersed in my eyebrow. I repeatedly lift the noodles to my lips, craving the intense spice and chewy wheat with each slurp. The soup is no longer clouded with spices, broth, and noodles; the clay pot exposes its bare, empty shell. Ramen noodles are like a drug, so addicting. No one can resist the thin yet chewy noodles as they slither across your lips leaving traces of spices and broth. Ramen-lovers crave the dish on the hottest days and coldest nights. It revives the sick and evokes joy in those seeking happiness. “Ramen is one of those things that elicits that kind of nostalgia and longing that people want.” (Moskin, The New York Times). The renowned New York Times Food author, Julia Moskin, perfectly encapsulates the essence of ramen noodles in a simple sentence. Ramen is such a dominant noodle dish in many countries. The harmony of spices swirled among the infinite noodles is what lures customers hungry for satisfaction. Ramen brings flavor to the lives of those who consume them. Although many seem to enjoy the dish, very few have stopped to study the noodles within the broth and understand their history. I have taken the time to ask the question that many wonder but few ask: the question of how ramen noodles became such a revolutionary noodle dish in Eastern Asia as well as across the world in other countries such as The United States.

Just as historians argue on the topic of how the noodle traveled along the silk road between China and Italy, many ponder the same questions about ramen noodles transported between China and Japan. The question as to who formulated the first bowl of ramen noodles remains a fight between the two countries of Eastern Asia. The history of ramen is spicier than the dish itself. While many people claim that ramen noodles originated in Japan, historical evidence proves this statement wrong. Renowned professor and author of “The Untold History of Ramen Noodles: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze”, George Solt, unraveled the dish that has become a favorite across the world. Professor Solt, partially blind to the gustatory aspects of the dish, approaches his views of ramen strictly from a historical standpoint. While he is overwhelmingly educated in every detail involving the complex origin and history of the noodles, his taste buds are lacking perspective. In fact, he does not know how to make ramen nor does he know the best places to find the dish in one of the largest hubs of ramen noodle soup, New York City. This, though, surprisingly makes him an adequate source to determine the true root of ramen. He is now easily able to set aside all personal feelings for the noodles in order to zoom in on solely the facts. For years, Professor George Solt unraveled the tangled history of ramen as the soup “evolved over the decades from a staple of the Japanese working class, to a mainstay of American college students now, to one of New York’s trendiest foods” claims Alison Herman in her article The Messy History of Ramen. He notes that while ramen noodles are a staple food of Japan, they originated in China. How the infamous noodles immigrated from one coast to the other remains a question even for Solt. The path of ramen noodles is merely a theory supported by historical facts that Solt has pieced together.

While, the history of the origin of ramen noodles still remains cloudy, Professor George Solt is able to clear some of the confusion and claims with a few concrete facts. In his acclaimed novel, “The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze,” Professor Solt notes that Ramen did not originate in Japan as many would like to believe. In fact, the Chinese noodle dish, he claims, was brought to Japan from Chinese traders about two centuries ago. Many people choose to believe that the Japanese discovered the irresistible noodle soup, though, because “ramen is one of the most minutely document foods in Japan,” he insists. The dish conquered Japan in a time of increasing development, rising from a blue-collar associated soup to a high class, soon to be, world renowned dish. It is for this reason that many maintain the belief that ramen originated in Japan rather than China. Ramen grew alongside the development of Japan, so the rest of the world viewed the two hand in hand which completely erased China from the history of the noodle dish. While Solt believes in the theory of ramen noodles sailing to Japan via Chinese tradesmen, he continues to mention several other theories involving the journey of ramen from China to Japan that he claims to be more plausible. These theories are more credible in the sense that they are more recent in time and therefore are able to be supported by more documentation and evidence.

One of Professor Solt’s additional theories that he mentions tells of a customs agent, originally from Yokohama, China, who opened his own ramen shop in Tokyo, Japan called Rai-Rai Ken. The Chinese native welcomed his first Japanese customers in 1910. He employed only Chinese chefs, skilled in noodle preparation. The now world-wide famous restaurant, Rai-Rai Ken, is responsible for the popularization of a dish many Japanese came to know as “Shina Soba”. Author Alison Herman explains the literal translation behind the dish in her article The Messy History of Ramen. She writes, ““shina soba”: shina for China, soba for the noodle dish already well established in Japanese cuisine.” The noodle dish, or ramen noodle soup, was literally identified by the Japanese as Chinese noodles. This explanation of ramen noodles is much more factual and conceivable when analyzing the history of the origin of the dish. One reason this story may not be highlighted in the common history of ramen, though, is due to the expulsion of the noodles from Japan and China. Not long after the opening of Rai-Rai Ken, ramen noodles were viewed as illegal in the two countries as a result of the rise of World War II. In his novel, Professor Solt explains, “Selling ramen could and did land people in jail.” Today, marijuana is more legal in the state of Massachusetts than the harmless noodle dish was after being outlawed in the 1940s in Eastern Asia.  Various factors such as the famine as well as limitations on the entrance of certain food items including wheat into the country during the war led to the criminalization of selling such noodles. The initial revolution of ramen was now completely demolished by the war, simultaneously wiping away the Chinese reputation associated with ramen noodles.

Upon the rebirth of ramen noodles, the dish began to identify as a part of Japanese culture to other countries. The revival of ramen and identification with Japan arrived at a time of industrialization. Post WWII, ramen noodles once again became acceptable in Japan. This was due to factors such as cheap, accessible flour provided by the United States as well as a longing for Chinese inspired noodles by Japanese soldiers returning form the war in China. Each of these factors, along with others, influenced the resurfacing of ramen noodles in Japan and the commencement of one of Japans most notable dishes around the globe. As Japan rapidly industrialized, so did its noodles. The Japanese took hold of the opportunity to revolutionize ramen noodles and quickly made them their own. National Geographic writer Nancy Gupton depicts ramen as, “A nuanced noodle soup, it was carried from China by tradesmen in the 1800s but brought to life under the hands of Japanese cooks.” Nancy makes an interesting point involving the culture and identity of ramen noodle soup. Clearly knowledgeable on the history of ramen, she acknowledges the proper origin of the dish but takes a different stand culturally. Nancy attributes the idea to the Chinese but the final product and much of the credit to the Japanese. The Japanese were able to insert the raw DNA of their culture into the once Chinese inspired ramen noodles, making the dish their own.

The Japanese were able to claim ramen as their own by inserting their culture into the noodles of the dish during the industrialization of the country. The migration towards major cities in Japan brought a demand for increase in pace among the daily lives of the Japanese.  The alteration in the country resulted in an opportunity for the Japanese to identify as a country with ramen noodles. The World of Instant Noodles Association explains, “It was the time when the advent of television as new media was about to drastically change people’s consumption patterns.” The drastic shift in Japanese lifestyle meant that the culture of Japanese food simultaneously had to develop into a more immediate eating culture. Momofuku Ando, the creator of the infamous instant ramen noodles, was among the first to seize this opportunity. Momofuku was able to culturally influence not just Japan, but the entire world with his minute made noodles. Ramen noodles suddenly began to develop from a Chinese soup to an instant dish, ultimately molding into the identity and culture of Japan. The accelerated lifestyle of the Japanese had now become embedded into the noodles of ramen. Momofuku completely revolutionized the market of ramen with his brilliant design. It is no surprise that such an innovative take on food spurred out of Japan as the country is notably “one of the world’s most literate and technically advanced nations” according to U.S. news. What is now recognized around the world as Cup Noodles, paved the way for a new and improved market for instant food. Cup Noodles was progressive in that the entire process of packaging, storing, cooking, and eating could be contained in this single Styrofoam cup. Momofuku completely eliminated physical waste of various materials needed as well as the elimination of time wasted to actually make the soup. This design promoted the rapid lifestyle of Japanese both from the vendors perspective as well as the consumers. Even beyond these instant ramen cups, customers within physical ramen shops can be found hunched over their bowl noodles, quickly slurping their soup. There is no time to be wasted in the eyes of the Japanese. Japan embedded their rapid lifestyle into the dish, evolving ramen noodles for customers on the go; those who crave a good meal but do not have the time for one.

In addition to the influence on Japan as a country, the Japanese-inspired instant ramen noodles have also managed to affect the culture of people over 6,000 miles away in The United States. Instant ramen today is almost unrecognizable, culturally, from the recipe of ramen brought to Japan about two centuries ago. The significance of instant ramen has evolved from Shina soba, which literally translates to Chinese noodles, into a late-night snack for desperate college students. Similar to Japan, The United States is also a highly industrialized country, allowing ramen noodles to perfectly slide into the American lifestyle. Today, in The United States ramen signifies a cheap and accessible food to satisfy hunger. The average instant cup of noodles contains a whopping 875mg of sodium in a single serving. This is over fifty percent of the recommended daily sodium intake. Given this shocking health deficit, many people wonder why the dish remains influential in both Japan and The United States. Those who consume ramen, though, are not necessarily concerned with maintaining a healthy lifestyle as they are focused on surviving. For those who consume the salt-riddled noodles, the dish culturally signifies convenience. Cup Noodles can be eaten anywhere from the library to the bus, the possibilities are endless. While the introduction of ramen noodles form Japan to the U.S. did not initiate the movement of comfort and convenience in The United States, the noodles did emphasize and instill these principles into the culture of the country. In addition to the influence of convenience on American culture, ramen also impacted the culture of prestige food in the United States. Once manual laborers began to level out in the 1980’s, Americans became obsessed with ramen as a fad or a high-class trend. While instant ramen still remains popular among college students in debt to their universities, the health deficiency of the instant noodles began to worry those who consumed them. Not long after these statistics began to arise, homemade ramen picked up again among a newer class of people labeled as hipsters.

As the old ramen restaurants and street vendors steadily declined, ramen took a cultural shift within The United States towards a growing group known as hipsters. Hipsters are defined by Urban Dictionary as “a subculture of American consumer for whom the idea behind the marketing holds more value than the product being marketed.” Typically young adults in their twenties and thirties, this subgroup of people instantly became fascinated by ramen upon its cultural revival from instant noodle soup back to a Japanese inspired, handcrafted delicacy. Professor George Solt recalls, “Ramen chefs were appearing on television, writing philosophical treatises, and achieving celebrity status in Japanese popular culture, while their fans were building museums and Internet forums.” As the industrial era faded, so did the culture of minute made noodles among many Americans. Cup noodles still remain popular among certain subcultures; however, hipsters are paving the way for the arrival of a new cultural significance of ramen which is the polar opposite of instant ramen. With the help of hipsters, ramen gained a high-class status. The noodles now culturally signify wealth and social status among other meanings. This shift in the cultural significance of ramen among Americans highlights the everchanging presence of ramen. There is no singular meaning of ramen noodles, which leads many to believe that it may not necessarily be the dish that is altering the culture of each country, but rather the country that is altering the DNA of the noodles within the soup.

While historical facts prove that ramen is from China, the food is globally identified with Japan. So, the question still remains of how ramen influences Chinese culture, if at all, and what exactly happened to the dish following the ramen expulsion in China during WWII.  The answer to this is simple yet complex. The simple answer is that no current dish in China resembles the  ramen noodles exported world-wide from Japan today. However, this does not mean that ramen remained completely exiled from China. This simply means that most ramen recipes consumed by the Chinese are exported from Japan. In fact, China is the number one consumer of instant noodles in the world. This is in part due to the overwhelming population of the country although another main reason was the 2014 earthquake that resulted in a need for easily accessible food. While the ramen recipes scattered throughout China are no longer distinctly Chinese, the country is still greatly influenced culturally by the dish. In China, noodles signify expression of love for one another regardless of the origin of the noodles. The Chinese choose to focus on the culinary aspect of the noodles along with the cultural significance shared among the people they are eating their noodles with rather than a few uncertain historical facts.

Ramen noodles remind the Japanese of their history and culture. Although this specific type of noodle did not originate in Japan, this does not mean that they cannot hold cultural significance to the country. The cultural significance of the noodle dish alters based on the table the ramen is being served at. The meaning behind the dish is as fluid as the ramen noodles floating in broth. Just as it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of ramen and when it immigrated from China to Japan, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific cultural meaning of ramen noodles. The consumer defines the meaning of the noodle whether it signifies survival, love, or prosperity. Within each simmering bowl of flavored broth, lies a scramble of noodles intertwined with ajituski tamago (ramen egg), coated with chili flakes, star anise, and negi (shredded green onion). “Thanks to its affiliation with urban workers, it also became the object of nostalgia for a time when Japan was still on the rise rather than settled into affluence.” (Messy History of Ramen Herman). The Japanese were, and still are, proud to embed their cultural DNA into the squeaky Styrofoam cup of dried noodles and the writhing wheat noodles of homemade ramen. They continue to instill their own unique meaning into ramen, different from that of the Chinese and Americans. It is this aspect of the dish that makes ramen so popular throughout the world. Ramen is easily adaptable to any restaurant, any home around the world. No matter what table ramen is served on, the dish is sure to hold a unique cultural significance with each bite.




Before it’s too late

By Julia Rogers


I never learned to cook

I learned to eat out

Grocery store sushi

Premade Salads

Free food at work

I learned to request food

To eat food

I never learned to cook


My grandmother, the head chef

My mother, the sous chef

And I was supposed to be the apprentice

Where was I? People would ask

I was eating grocery story sushi

I was eating premade salads

I was eating the leftovers at work

I did not cook


My grandmother’s famous noodle kugel

Learn the recipe

Before it’s too late

You must master this

But why should I learn the kugel recipe

Why not my brothers

Why not my father

Why not my cousins

Why was I the chosen granddaughter?


Manischewitz wide kosher egg noodles

My grandmother daintily rips open the package

The processed noodles flow out of the plastic

Softening in a scorching pot

Uncoiling upon being dumped into a Pyrex dish

Swirling cinnamon, raisins, and brown sugar

The noodles become intertwined in the flavors

Covering up the bland egg

Inheriting the sweet swirls of cinnamon and sugar


A slice of the kugel

Flops onto my plate

Thick egg noodles, jiggling with delight


My fork pierces the sweet square

But before it reaches my mouth the words slip again

The clock is ticking

Remember this

It will soon be too late

But I, the chosen granddaughter, let these words run through me

Like a stream exiting into a larger ocean of unattended information


Now, a thousand miles away

I long for my grandmother’s kugel

Her delicate hands swirling raisins among thick egg noodles

But I cannot satisfy this yearning

I only know how to eat out

I never learned to cook


Back Row (Left): Grandma Ellen (my dad’s mother), Aunt Lori (my mom’s sister), my mom, Jennifer (second cousin on my mom’s side), & Grandma Phyllis (my mom’s mother)
Front Row (Left): Samantha (my cousin, Aunt Lori’s daughter), & Me


I chose to imitate the piece where food comes from which is a part of the book of poems “Saporoso” by Jennifer Barone. I chose this piece because it resonates with my life and my involvement with my family. My grandmother and mother are both amazing cooks yet I have never thought to touch a pot or a pan except to clean after a meal. However, beyond this idea of being the only female who cannot cook in the family, I could relate to the author and her story. I attend school over one thousand miles away from my home. It was not until I made the move from Boston to Atlanta that I realized how much I value my grandmother’s Sunday feasts and how much I crave my mother’s daily dinners. It was at this point in time, the time that I left my family’s cooking, that I began to show curiosity in their unique recipes. I used to loathe my grandmother nagging me to eat more at family dinners. Now, I long for those dinners, I long for her cooking. This is why I chose this piece, it reminded me of my own story, my own culture, and my own family.

From this poem, I gained a deeper insight into the importance of women in the Italian home. Italians rely on the women in their family to provide them with delicious meals every day. I also learned about the process by which the author’s family makes food. They pride themselves in finding fresh ingredients from their neighbor’s garden. This highlights the significance of food in Italian culture. The food must be prepared to the best of one’s ability and the ingredients within the dish must be the freshest possible. To my family, this would mean going to a local grocery store or farmers market, but to the author’s family, this means harvesting the ingredients directly from the dirt. I also learned the importance of family and remembering your roots in Italian culture. Even after the author moves oceans away, she still remembers her family and the life they brought her. Even in another country, her family and their cooking will always be the most important part of her life. This emphasizes the idea of family in Italian culture.

In my culture, no one explicitly says that women must be the chefs of the family, although it is extremely uncommon to find a man in the kitchen. That is, of course, unless he is helping to clear the dishes. This was never brought to my attention growing up it was just embedded into my knowledge from the time I was born. Based on this poem, where food comes from, and my own I learned the similarities and differences between my culture and that of the Italians. This is where a true understanding comes form, comparison. While we pride ourselves on delectable food, we do not pride ourselves on fresh ingredients. My family would sooner make Betty Crocker cakes than start from scratch if it means the cake will be moister and taste better. Yes, Betty Crocker cake mix is clustered with chemicals but my family focuses on the final result of the food. This final result is an irresistible dish. More than this, though, the final product is how the irresistible dish draws people in and brings them together. We believe that whether the cake is homemade or bought from the local Star Market the whole family will always show up to eat and share memories together. This is what I learned about my culture from this poem and writing my own spinoff. That my grandmother’s cooking, no matter where she gathers the ingredients, will always draw in my family to share her magical touch on food and our priceless time together.

There is cultural DNA embedded in both the piece I wrote as well as the piece I read about. The cultural DNA manifests in the text through the story of the author. One person does not make up an entire culture, but the stories and memories of one person can give an insight into a culture. This is how Jennifer Barone gives readers an insight into Italian culture. Another way is through comparison. As she compares her childhood with her Italian family, completely immersed in the culture, to her adulthood without her Italian family, isolated from her culture. I chose to do the same with my poem as I was imitating her writing. The comparison of being a part of the culture as opposed to being on the outside gives a new perspective into the culture that is being highlighted. This perspective allows for a true understanding of the culture through feelings rather than simply spelling out in words what each culture stands for and represents.

Unraveling the Noodle by Julia Rogers

In order to understand the significance of the noodle, one must unravel the history of both China and Italy. For each of these countries, the noodle is much more than a prepared starch to satisfy hunger. The noodle is a two-syllable word that encompasses thousands of dishes. These dishes remind Italians and Chinese of their history simultaneously bringing them joy, luck, income, friendship, and more. When presented with noodles in either China or Italy the possibilities are endless. How you decide to eat your noodles, who you share your noodles with, and what special gift your noodles will grace you with after that meal. The noodle is love, the noodle is wealth, the noodle is happiness, the noodle is health; the noodle brings prosperity to the lives of those who consume it. Prosperity is representative of flourishing in all aspects of life. This idea of a prosperous life is the true significance of the noodle in both China and Italy.

While the noodle enlightens both the Chinese and Italians, living a prosperous life holds a different meaning for each country. For the Chinese, the noodle signifies living a life filled with love and health. Love, or 爱 (ài) in Chinese, is a simple word with such overbearing significance to humans. To the Chinese, the best way to express your love for another is with the gift of food; the noodle. In Terry Durack’s, “Noodle”, his chapter “Crossing the Bridge” tells of a brief exchange of affection shared between a boy and his family’s chef. The chef loves the boy as his own son and what better way to express this affection than through a piping hot bowl of his notorious noodle soup. The story writes that the boy, unable to pass his exams, is sent to a cottage over the bridge during the coldest time of year. The chef, who adores the boy as his own, would trek to bring him food every day, however, the winds would chill the food before it reached the young boy. Through 爱 (ài), the chef found a way to deliver the soup, scorching hot, to the boy by disassembled the components and putting them together upon arriving at the wind-chilled cottage. The chef explains, “It is the fat that keeps out the wind, the cold, and the bad spirits. Now that you have the nourishment you need, learning will come naturally and gracefully” (Turack). Not once did the chef say the words ‘I love you’ aloud, rather, he displayed his care and affection for the boy through his noodles and the nourishment, power, and success that they brought the boy. In addition to this, noodles represent health for the Chinese.  Health can often be intertwined with love as oftentimes those who love us are those who care for us. Each noodle dish in China contains its own meaning and tells its own story. The article “Noodles traditionally and today” tells of a noodle dish which restores health in those we love. “Seafood noodles (三鲜伊面) are also called dutiful son’s noodle (孝子面). According to historical records, Yi Yin’s (伊尹) mother was perennially sick and bedridden. So he made noodles with eggs and flour, and then steamed and fried these noodles. Even if he was not at home it was convenient for his mother to eat these nonperishable noodles. The noodles were added to a soup made with chicken, pig bones, and seafood. Under the tender care of Yi Yin, his mother soon recovered. This was the reason why seafood noodles are also called dutiful son’s noodles” (Zhang & Ma). Whether it was the noodles mixed with eccentric seafood or the love passed through the hands of the dutiful son into his noodles that healed the mother, this story displays the true value of the noodle to the Chinese. Regardless of the presentation of the noodle, there is no doubt that this stretched out wheat holds immense love and care for the Chinese. The noodle leads the Chinese to a prosperous life, one of good health and loving family members.

Noodles also signify a prosperous life for Italians, but in a slightly different way than the Chinese. Living a prosperous life for an Italian is being surrounded by family, friends, and the ability to let their creativity flow into their homemade pasta. While the Chinese are creative in terms of the spices and garnishes that engorge their noodles, the Italians spread their creativity through the shapes of the pasta. The grandmothers, or Nonne, instill their ideas into a slab of dough, bringing a to life coils, bowties, butterflies, and more. Each noodle, with its varying shape, pairs with particular sauces, grabbing onto their flavor bringing to the table family, friends, and most importantly happiness. The book, “Form and substance (discussion around a plate of pasta)” perfectly describes the significance of the creativity that brings the Italian noodle to life. The author writes, “And yet experience teaches us that different shapes of pasta, although alike in substance, produce different effects on the taste buds.” “ If we season pasta with nothing but butter and parmesean (the “classic” sauce for any pasta from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century) and taste it, a forkful of spaghetti will not have the same flavor as a forkful of macaroni or of gnocchi. Chewing a strand of thin spaghetti will not be like chewing a thick one, and smooth macaroni will not have the same taste as ribbed macaroni. Form leads to a different flavor.” “There is no form without substance, and no substance without form.” (Montanari). Each noodle reflects upon the creativity of the chef who personally presses into the dough. In addition to this, the varying shapes of the noodles reflect upon the culture and history of different families residing in different cities in Italy. For instance, rotini reflects the name of the pasta, a coiled screw. The purpose of the screw is to grab onto various sauces in order to enhance the dish. This pasta is both pleasing to the eye and the stomach. The Italians are able to instill their creativity into beautiful dishes but also efficient noodle dishes. Overall, the noodle signifies the creativity of each individual Italian chef. Creativity in food heightens the experience of eating a meal. This factor is what gathers friends and family, a beautiful dish of noodles.

The noodle plays such an integral role in food culture of each country because it has, for centuries, been the center of all life. For each country, the noodle maintains the largest presence on the pyramid of health making it a staple food. Not only does it taste good, but it also has crucial health benefits in the eyes of the Chinese and Italians. Both countries rely on noodle in order to maintain a balanced life. For each country, a balanced life varies although many of their core values overlap. With an overwhelming presence in each country, the noodle began to evolve. It was soon included in fables, health practices, and family traditions. What was once a foreign crop became a crucial part of daily life in China and Italy. The noodle provides a lifestyle, not just a meal. It provides friendships, strengthens families, improves health, and creates memories. The spices, sauces, and herbs that coat the noodles excite your tastebuds while the people you share the noodles with and the stories that encourage you to eat them excite your mind and emotions. The noodle contains no negativity which is why it plays such an integral role in food culture in each country separately.


Definition: Noodle (noun): Traditionally a combination of flour, water, and eggs, kneaded and formed into the desired shape depending on the country or region it is being served in. A noodle can also expand the scope of the historical definition to include other ingredients such as vegetable noodles of zucchini, gluten-free noodles of a substitute flour, rice noodles, and much more. Noodles are prepared in various ways depending on the chef they can be boiled, satéd, baked, or steamed.

Various sauces, such as red sauce, soy sauce, gravy sauce, etc. may be added to enhance flavor and meaning as well as various thicknesses, shapes, and sizes to enhance visuals. In addition to this, toppings may be added upon serving the noodles, depending on where the noodle is being served such as chicken, spring vegetables, garlic, or parmesan cheese to name a few. Finally, noodles can also be served in soups, on a plate, in a bowl, or in a casserole depending on the desired result.

Warning: The noodle provides extreme happiness, social, and health benefits.

The beauty in the noodle is not the noodle itself but the dish it becomes.




“Let the Meatballs Rest” by Massimo Montanari

“Noodles Traditionally and Today” by Na Zhang and Guansheng Ma

“Crossing the Bridge” in Noodle by Terry Durack

The Goldilocks Table by Julia Rogers

My name is Julia Rogers and I am conducting a study in order to further understand the importance of a kitchen table that I eat at weekly. I believe that each table tells its own story through its size, shape, and most importantly, marks and bruises. To understand the dents on a table is understanding more than just an inanimate object but an entire group of people; a family. The table I observed is not out of the ordinary, in fact, this oversized wooden table belongs to Phyllis and Paul better known as my grandma and grandpa. I am one of nine grandchildren on my mother’s side. Nine grandchildren in addition to my two parents, four aunts and uncles, great aunt and uncle, second cousin and my beloved grandparents. My grandmother describes the task of squeezing all twenty of us around one table as “a complex one that has now become routine to us”. My family has used the table for over twenty years yet I never truly noticed the object. I was oblivious to the elegantly detailed cushions on each chair and the deeply engrained mahogany wood. I was so unaware that I was unable to recall whether the table contained a table cloth before traveling to my grandparents to check my unreliable memory. Now that my grandparents are moving to a new home, a new kitchen filled with a foreign table, I have used this reflection as an opportunity to observe their kitchen table. As I embark on this reflection, I am curious as to what meaning I will uncover behind the piece of furniture that has held the weight of my growing family for over twenty years before it is engraved in the memories of another.

In order to conduct this study, I used the anthropological method of participant-observation fused with interviews. While I am clearly aware of my own family story, I decided to observe before interviewing in order to allow myself to take an outsider’s perspective of the furniture and people before directly asking my grandmother about her table. According to the book, “Eating Culture” by Gillian Crowther, a crucial part of participant observation is partaking in the actual tasks, therefore, I did not observe from the sidelines rather, I remained a part of the dinner while recording observations. Following my intense observation, I decided to interview my grandmother, Phyllis, concerning some of the aspects of the table. The purpose of the interview was to reach a broader understanding of the table; one from those who use the space every day. From this, I was able to fact check my interpretations of the story and combine the two to create a deeper understanding of the table.

As I arrived at my grandparent’s hidden house, the story immediately began to unfold. This story is of a large rectangular table, eight seats on each side with one on each end. Twenty chairs crowded around the table insinuates a social family. My grandmother described her table as “The Goldilocks table, not too small not too big but just right for our family.” Now imagine this elongated rectangular table, a grainy mahogany finish coated with gloss, miniature dents engraining themselves around the outskirts. White, armless chairs crowd around elegantly filling the gaps surrounding the rectangle. Their once white cushions, with delicate floral accents, are splattered with stains, which suggests stories of past family gatherings. A splash of what appears to be a red sauce, a smudge of chocolate, a sprinkle of cake crumbs. Each chair contains its own story; its own pattern of spills. Strong smells of chicken and lightly salted potatoes waft through the kitchen and into the living room where the family gathers before the meal. Phyllis shoos stragglers out of the kitchen leaving the table vacant as it awaits the arrival of hungry guests. Everyone scurries to the living room where Paul, comfortably reclined in his chair, recites his famous stories. Family members gather around, gaping in awe at his astounding tales until, Phyllis shuffles into the living room, interrupting her husband in order to summon everyone back into the kitchen. “Supper’s ready, everyone grab a plate!” she echoes into the crowded room. The food flows across the island of the kitchen in a buffet manner. Garden salad with freshly made balsamic dressing, lightly salted finger potatoes, a neon yellow Jell-O with a creamy base, and finally an enormous roasted chicken, golden and crisp. Each family member chooses a plate from the pristinely set table and serves themselves family style, overflowing their plates with delicious food carefully prepared by Phyllis. Adults tend to drift towards the back of the line, allowing the children to eat first. There is no assigned seating although based on the way the family seats themselves it seems as if there is an invisible name card carefully placed at each chair. It appears to be a game of strategic musical chairs; the adults drifting towards one end with the children on the other. The last to sit, Phyllis and Paul, place themselves on each end of the large table. Phyllis sits on the kids end while Paul places himself at the head of the adults as they prepare themselves for more of his tales. The youngest cousin takes a small bite of her chicken and proceeds to slyly feed the rest to the dog, dropping juice onto the once clean seat cushions. Conversations loosely flow across the table of college, significant others, and sports teams. About forty-five minutes later, guests clear their plates carefully placing them into the dishwasher before returning to the now sloppy table. The adults remain circled around Paul while the children run to the living room to play games, and glare at the television. After dinner, for a moment, the once playful table becomes cramped with adult banter. Once everyone has made room in their expanding stomachs, Phyllis gathers the dessert. This, it seems, is her favorite part of the meal as she giddily places a birthday cake on the table which reads “Happy Birthday Samantha & Nicole!” She secretly swipes her finger across the frosting on the bottom to “take a taste to make sure it’s ok for everyone else to eat.” Upon interviewing Phyllis she explains that there are birthdays celebrated at almost every Sunday family dinner given the immense size of the family. This Sunday the family celebrates two sisters, Samantha and Nicole, as they reach a new year in their lives. Phyllis shuffles into the living room, summoning the children to crowd once more around the large rectangular table. They sing an enthusiastic happy birthday before gorging themselves in cake and ice cream. Laughter, stories, and three flavors of ice cream are passed around the table from one family member to the next. Chocolate frosting is smeared on the white table cloth, coffee ice cream drips into the fabric of the seat cushions. While the family messily eats and shares their thoughts, Phyllis quietly seats herself at her designated end of the table admiring the family that she has brought together over her dinner, over her kitchen table.

I have concluded that the table I have observed serves as a social destination. A place for family and friends to gather and talk at any time of day about any subject or matter. In this case, a kitchen table is defined as an inanimate object that revolves around social gatherings. Family and friends unite among a large chunk of wood being held up by four stumps. It amazes me how an object so simple to construct has the ability to form such special memories and social bonds as sturdy as the table itself. Based on the many markings throughout the table, one would assume that the table has served this family for many years, watching each family member grow up individually as children to adults, adults to elders. Although each family member travels along their own journey, they seem to all come together surrounding this one table to share their stories as they forge their separate paths. They are each their own person but what makes the family whole is this table. This space that allows them to gather and share Grandma Phyllis’ famous noodle kugel, Aunt Barbara’s lemon Jell-O, or Aunt Stephanie’s sour cream coffee cake. It’s more than just the food that they are sharing though, it is the experience. They share experiences which turn into memories. So, after observing a table that I thought I had known for twenty years I found so much more than a piece of furniture. I found my family, deeply rooted in each grain of the wood, and sealed with a coat of gloss preserving our memories for years of family dinners to come.

My grandparent’s kitchen table. When we have family dinner on Sundays, they add extensions to either end to make it fit twenty people!

My grandmother surrounded by eight of her nine grandchildren. We are gathered around to celebrate my brother, Ben, for his 18th birthday four years ago.


I referred to “Eating Culture An Anthropological Guide to Food” by Gillian Crowther

I also referred to class discussion for a better understanding of the different anthropological methods

Julia Rogers: Grandma Phyllis’ Famous Kugel

A dish that is of great importance to my family is Kugel.  The translation of Kugel from its German origin to English is ‘ball’ or ‘sphere’. While this English definition seems completely awry from the dish I have come to know today, the root of the name represents the original sphere-like shape that Kugel was once served as. Today, my grandmother makes kugel in a large eleven by fifteen Pyrex dish in order to accommodate my growing family. Kugel is a noodle casserole that can be served as either a savory or sweet dish depending on the chef and the family tradition. My family traditionally makes sweet kugel which includes a noodle pudding base fused with raisins, sprinkled with brown sugar and crushed graham crackers. This compares to a savory kugel which might include onions, potatoes, and cornflakes in addition to the staple noodle casserole base. This dish is significant to my family as its unique recipe has been passed down for generations. This dish is so special that only those with the family touch are able to replicate it. The same rings true for other dishes passed down through generations such as our sour cream coffee cake. My aunt, who is not blood-related to my grandmother, has never been able to replicate the true taste of our family’s kugel or coffee cake. It is for this reason that we say you must have the Fireman family touch in order to recreate these family recipes. Historically, kugel is a dish made by Ashkenazi Jews, traditionally served at Jewish holidays which embody celebration.  As the dish is passed through each side of my family, individually, the number of holidays kugel is served at expands but the hidden meaning behind the dish of celebration holds true throughout each sweet slice.

Kugel is one of my favorite dishes because it reminds me of my family. My grandmother’s famous sweet noodle kugel represents extended family gatherings. The smell of crushed graham crackers and brown sugar sprinkled on crisp yet creamy noodles induces memories of Thanksgiving, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, Birthdays and those special times that she would surprise us with an unexpected noodle kugel. I like this dish not only because of its significance to my family but also because of the different flavors the dish offers. With four cavities and counting this year alone, you could say that I have an unusually large sweet tooth. I constantly crave sugar, so anything sweet that is served at dinner is extremely appealing to me. The creamy texture of the layers of noodles pairs perfectly with the crispy top. The savory taste of the noodles combines so well with the raisins swirled evenly into the kugel and sprinkled on the top. To top it off, the crushed graham cracker mixed with brown sugar coating the outer layer of the noodle pudding is what makes the entire dish. Once everyone has stuffed themselves with enough of Grandma’s noodle kugel, my cousin, Samantha, and I routinely proceed to pick the toppings off the top of the kugel. The top is the best part because it is the sweetest and the crunchiest. Psychologically, we crave crunchy foods over soft foods as it is an indicator of freshness so it is no question that my cousin and I crave the sweet and crispy topping of the noodle kugel even after stuffing ourselves with my grandmother’s notorious cooking.

Kugel is connected to both sides of my family, tracing back through our Jewish history. The first kugels were made savory with potatoes and onions to induce a greater flavor. However, once sugar becomes more of a staple in the 17th century, Jews in Poland were among the first to diverge towards a sweeter dish. This would explain why my family favors the sweet version of kugel as my great grandmother moved to The United States from Poland. At just six years old, my Bubbe arrived in the states carrying only her most valuable belongings, one of which included her famous kugel recipe. In most Jewish households, kugel is a dish commonly served on Shabbat. Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, is celebrated Friday nights until sundown on Saturday nights as a day of rest to appreciate ourselves, the people around us, and God. Shabbat represents a time of fulfillment and what better way to celebrate this than with kugel. Deeper than this, however, kugel resembles a dish made as early as 50 C.E. referred to as pashtida. It is said that the different layers and features of pashtida symbolize the manna. The manna was the food provided to the Israelites while wandering in the desert after forty years of enslavement in Egypt. The story tells of the manna being provided by the heavens every day except on Saturday, which is now known as Shabbat. Every Friday, just before Shabbat began at sundown, the manna provided would be sweeter than previous days. It was because of this that Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown became known as Shabbat. The structure and, for some, the sugar within kugel represents the manna which signaled Shabbat. It is for this reason that we serve kugel on Shabbat, the holiest day of the week in Judaism. This includes all other celebrations on the Sabbath such as bar and bat mitzvahs. While my family has extended the meaning of kugel from the Sabbath to all family celebrations, the true meaning of joy and happiness that is baked into the sugary noodle dish remains constant through every family gathering that kugel is served at by my grandmother.


“Not my Mama’s Noodle Kugel or Finally, the Daughter Likes it!” by Abbe Odenwalder Published on October 6th, 2014


Above is a photo of my extended family on my mom’s side, pictured at Thanksgiving this past November (2018). My Grandma Phyllis is seated next to me (Third down on the right).


Grandma Phyllis’ Famous Noodle Kugel Recipe:


8 oz medium noodles

1/4 cup butter

1/4 lb cream cheese

4 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups mils

1 tbs vanilla


crushed graham crackers (about 7 whole ones crushed with a rolling pin)


Cook noodles and drain, then mix with 1/4 stick of butter

Mix cream cheese, sugar, add eggs one at a time add milk and vanilla

Fold in noodles and raisins

Put in buttered pyrex dish rectangular 

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes until top is golden

Take crushed graham crackers, sugar (approximately less than a 1/4 cup), melted butter that has been melted in microwave (approximately 1/4 stick) and mix together. Put this on top of the pudding and bake another 30 minutes until it looks nice and crispy on top

Note: My Grandmother did not have a recipe written down, only the ingredients because she is the only one in my family who can replicate her famous kugel. She had to write down the instructions on the spot when I asked her for the recipe.


I learned more about the history of kugel from by reading the article “Why Eat Kugel on Shabbat?”