Noodles in Contemporary China: Social Aspects underlying the Noodle Evolution (Qiulun Li)

The earliest Chinese noodles can be traced to 4,000 years ago and was found in Lajia Site along Yellow River. Over time, in a country of the magnitude of China, the world’s second largest in area and with 56 ethnic groups, noodles evolved into various categories. Noodles can be divided into different types “according to the classification of the shape of noodles, seasoning gravy, cooking craft and so on” (Zhang). Today, there are more than 1,200 types of noodles people normally consume. In this paper, I will mainly discuss the evolution of noodles in contemporary China through the lens of social aspects.

The number of categories of noodles mainly increased in ancient China, especially in Wei, Jin and Southern and Northern Dynasties. From my perspective, the evolution of noodles in pre-modern era is resulted from the cultural and natural factors in China.

In the pre-modern era, the formation of different varieties of noodles and their evolution can be influenced by ethnical, geographical and climatic differences across China. There are 56 ethnic groups in China and each ethnic group has its own customs and taboos for eating. For example, Hui people are Muslims and they are not allowed to eat pork. As a result, the only meat can be cooked in Lanzhou pulled noodles, which is a type of noodle invented by Hui people, is beef. Geographical variations also play a significant role in the evolution of noodles. In China, wheat is mainly cultivated in the North of Qinling Mountains – Huaihe River Line, which is the line separating North China and South China in the eastern part of China. Thus, noodles in North China are made from wheat. Paddy is cultivated in South China and therefore a large number of noodles originating in South China are made of rice, such as Yunnan rice noodles and Guilin rice noodles. Besides, climatic differences are significant factors underlying the noodle evolution. The climate could influence the local cuisine and then influence the way of cooking noodles. Provinces in the South-western part of China are very humid and people living in these areas would feel moist inside their bodies in the winter. In order to eliminate dampness and keep bodies warm, they eat a lot of pepper which becomes an indispensable ingredient of their cuisine. When they cook noodles, they will also add pepper and noodles in these areas such as Chongqing street noodles and Sichuan noodles are conspicuous examples of spicy noodles. In all, during the evolution of noodles in pre-modern era, ethical, geographical and climatic differences across China significantly contribute to the formation of different types of noodles.

The advancement of technology and the application of scientific methods mark the transition from the pre-modern era to the modern era. In my following passage, I will examine how social factors influence the evolution of noodles in contemporary China. In my opinion, social aspects, conspicuously the modern technology and social values, influence the evolution of noodles and endow them new forms in contemporary China.

Modern Technology as a Social Factor in Noodle Evolution

            The Industrial Revolution, which took place from 18thto 19th century in Europe and America, replaced hand tools or basic machines with “powered, special-purpose machinery, factories and mass production” (Industrial Revolution). Under the Industrial Revolution, societies transform with the advancement of technology, which frees people from laborious work and makes life more convenient.

Although the Chinese industrialization did not begin until the 1950s, far later than the original Industrial Revolution in the Western world, it brought the same end to the Chinese society. Factories and machines replaced many jobs and increased productivity. In the absence of machines, noodles as a staple food in China was hand-made and it took a great amount time to grill the wheat into powder, mix the dough, knead the dough and shape noodles. With the modern technology, automatic noodle making machine was invented and marked a revolution in noodle making in China.

Today, most noodles on the market or in noodle restaurants are made by noodle making machines. Compared to hand making, the noodle making machine has several strengths. First, it takes less time and is easier to use the machine to make noodles than to make noodles by hand. Under the technological progress, noodle making machines have been upgraded since its initial appearance and makes the noodle making process much easier. In the traditional process of making noodles by hand, people have to grill the wheat into powder, mix the flour with water, knead the dough and shape noodles. It normally takes people at least one hour to make noodles by hand. However, with the noodle making machine, people only need to pour the flour and water in the proper amount into the machine and wait at most ten minutes to get noodles. The machine does all the laborious work and save time for people. People do not need to learn the complex process of making noodles and they can use the saved time to work on other things. What is more, the noodle making machine will produce noodles more uniform in texture and shape. When people mix and knead the dough by hands, it is extremely hard to make the water and flour completely mixed and evenly distributed. Therefore, it is not surprising that noodles made by hand sometimes are not uniform in their texture and this difference then will affect the taste. It is also hard to pull or cut all noodles in the same shape by hand since people cannot measure the size when they shape noodles. However, the noodle making machine could completely mix the dough and cut noodles all in the same shape with extra pressure by power. Besides, the machine makes noodles more accessible to people and allows people to fresh noodles whenever they like. Noodles is the staple food in North China and thus most people there are able to make noodles by hand. Although noodles are still a significant part of the food system in South China, rice is more consumed as the staple food. Therefore, many people in South China such as my family are not able to make noodles and every time we want to eat noodles we go to a noodle restaurant or buy dried noodles from the store. In this situation, the noodle making machine allows people who cannot make noodles by hand to have fresh noodles at home whenever they want. In a conclusion, the use of machine, as a product of social changes, brings a revolution in the noodle making process and contribute to the evolution of noodle, from hand making to machine making. As a result, it is easier to make noodles more uniform in both texture and shape and noodles become more accessible to people who cannot make them by hand.

Despite the revolution in noodle making process, social changes and modern technology also endow new forms of noodles, most notably the instant noodles. As the pace of life gets faster in the contemporary society and under the influence of the economic factor, instant noodles become an incomparable choice for meal. A pack of instant noodles includes a dried noodle block, sauce and dehydrated vegetable bags. With the proper amount of boiling water, people are able to get a bowl of delicious instant noodles in three minutes. The invention of instant noodles is resulted from the modern technology and scientific knowledge. Without drying machines, a bunch of noodles would not be packed into a small block and the volume of the noodles and vegetable bags would be much larger. The modern technology makes instant noodles portable. What is more, due to the preservatives added to the dried noodle block and sauce bags, instant noodles can be stored for a long time and ready to eat after immersed in hot water. Instant noodles quickly become popular around the world since the easy and quick preparation is perfectly compatible with the pace of life in the contemporary society. Also, Instant noodles are much affordable than traditional noodles and thus decrease the economic pressure for a meal. In all, the technology and scientific knowledge bring a new form of noodle – instant noodles, which change the way people eat noodles and bring more convenience. Instant noodles define a new way of eating noodles, in which people do not need to get fresh noodles and cook any more. Under the fast pace of life and economic pressure, instant noodles become a perfect choice for many people, especially the white-collar class.

Besides, the modern technology increased the population mobility in China and resulted in the fusion of different local cuisine. Under the unavoidable trend of mobilization and globalization, noodles evolved in that some traditional ways of cooking noodles are altered by the cuisine from a different area. Noodle dishes which embrace different cooking styles are common in contemporary China. One noodle restaurant in my hometown, which is a city in the South-eastern part of China, serve a very special noodle dish called noodles in pickled cabbage and fish pot. This noodles dish uses the same noodle as traditional noodle restaurants in my hometown do. However, it is cooked in a very different way and has a special side dish – the pickled cabbage and fish pot, which is a typical dish in Chongqing. Chongqing is a city 1500 miles away from my hometown and it is really surprising to combine traditional noodles in my hometown with a typical dish from such a city. The spread of food over such a long distance is the result of modern technology. Due to the advanced public transportation in China such as the high-speed railway, people are able to move around and there is an increase in the immigration population. As a consequence of the increasing population mobilization, food, as a carrier of local culture, spread to other areas over time. In a conclusion, the modern technology lead to increasing mobilization and noodles evolved when different styles of cooking are merged.

Social Values as a Social Factor in Noodle Evolution

            Since the Chinese Economic Reform implemented in 1978, China experienced rapid economic and social development and showed remarkable development potential. Under this situation, social values changed greatly with respect to the changing living conditions. When people’s basic capital and mental needs are fulfilled, the role of food is expanded from merely sustaining life and different social values bestow food new roles. Noodles, as a significant part of the food system, have functions other than nourishment. Various social values contribute to the evolution of noodles during which new forms of noodles appear and the preparation processes of noodles are altered. There are two very common social values in contemporary China – more valued if rare and the increasing attention on health  – shaping the evolution of noodles.

The concept, that an object is valuable if it is rare, has existed since ancient China. This concept also applies to food in that very rare ingredients, such as cubilose and sharks’ fin, are highly valuable. However, without the economic foundation and before the basic needs of living are sustained, the primary function of food is still nourishment. After the economic and social development in China, more people enter the middle class and have more spare money. With the increasing fortune, a large number of people intend to show their wealth through eating highly valuable dishes, which becomes ac trend in contemporary China. Traditionally, noodles are the staple food people can afford for meals. As a result of this emerging social value, some new forms of noodles appear, which are cooked with precious ingredients. In recent years, seafood noodle restaurants become very popular, spreading from cities by sea to inland cities. Noodle dishes served in these restaurants are much expensive than traditional noodle dishes due to the use of expensive seafood such as abalone and crab as side dishes. The increasing popularity of seafood noodle restaurants shows the social value that some people want to eat expensive food to show their wealth and this social value brings new way of cooking noodles.

Another social value contributing to the evolution of noodles is the increasing attention on health. When people get wealthier, they would have extremely good meals and in take nutrients in amounts far exceeding the standard needs. Many maladies, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, are resulted from unhealthy eating habits. Therefore, an increasing number of people realize the importance of a balanced meal and pay a great deal of attention to what they eat. Bearing this social value and the goal of staying healthy in mind, people alters the way of making noodles and cooking noodles. Today, noodles which are made from the mixture of vegetable juice and flour are very popular since people believe that vegetables are salutary to health and noodles made in this way would be healthier than normal noodles. What is more, it has been proved that some chemical seasonings such as chicken extract and monosodium glutamate are detrimental to health. People change the original ways of cooking noodles by decreasing the amount of seasonings added in noodles. In this way, the taste of the traditional noodle dish changes. To sum up, the focus on health as a popular social value changes the preparation of noodles and influence the noodle evolution.

In a conclusion, there are various social factors behind the evolution of noodles in contemporary China. The modern technology and different social values endow noodles new forms and change the way of making as well as cooking noodles.

Works Cited

“Industrial Revolution.” History, Accessed 27 June 2018.

Zhang, Na and Guansheng Ma. “Noodles, Traditionally and Today.” Journal of Ethnic Foods, vol. 3, 2016, pp. 209-212.





Noodle Narrative of the Owner of Youda Noodle Restaurant (Qiulun Li)


In recent years, I notice that there is a very popular restaurant called Youda Noodle Restaurant in my hometown– Yixing, and people have to wait for over one hour on weekends at lunch time to get noodles there. This noodle restaurant is famous for noodles in pickled cabbage and fish pot, which is a novel noodle dish I never had before. Pickled cabbage and fish pot is a Chongqing style dish and it has been popular in China since 1990s. The main ingredients for this dish is grass carp and pickled cabbage. When they are stewed together, the dish has both spicy and sour flavors. It is a dish people normally have for lunch or dinner and it hardly has any relation to noodles. I immediately got interested in this noodle dish when I first heard it, and I was also very curious how would such a new combination taste. Therefore, I decided to interview the owner of Youda Noodle Restaurant.

Youda Noodle Restaurant is a chain noodle restaurant in China and my interviewee – Miss Luo – opened this restaurant in Yixing in early 2013. In her mind, noodle is very significant in Chinese culture, and noodles in different areas manifest the local culture. The noodle she had most often is Jiangsu style noodle and it could remind her the taste of home every time she had it. Noodles influence her culturally in the way that she gets more familiar with the local culture. Miss Luo found the combination of fish pot and noodles is very innovative and she believed that such a noodle restaurant would be lucrative. Therefore, she decided to join Youda chain Noodle Restaurant and open the first one in Yixing. During the interview, she introduced the noodle in pickled cabbage and fish pot in details and compared it to traditional Jiangsu style noodles. The noodle itself has no difference from traditional noodles – noodles immersed in soda water used in both. The only difference is that pickled cabbage and fish pot will never be a side dish in traditional Jiangsu style noodle. Traditionally, people in Jiangsu Province have noodles for breakfast or as a staple food supplemented with other dishes for dinner. A bowl of noodle in pickled cabbage and fish pot is too much for breakfast and too less for dinner.

Influence of Social Changes on Noodle Dishes and Dietary Habits

The noodles in pickled cabbage and fish pot is a fusion of Chongqing style dish and Jiangsu style noodles, and this noodle dish itself manifest the influences of social changes in China on noodle dishes. The first Youda noodle restaurant is opened in Nanjing, while the interesting fact is that pickled cabbage and fish pot is not a typical Jiangsu style dish but a famous dish in Chongqing, which is a city 1500 miles away from Nanjing. The spread of food dish over such a long distance is the result of modern technology. Due to the advanced public transportation in China such as the high-speed railway, people are able to move around and there is an increase in the immigration population. As the result of the increase population mobilization, food, as a carrier of local culture, spread to other areas over time.

Besides, people’s diet also changes with respect to social changes. Initially, Miss Luo changed the recipe of the noodle in pickled cabbage and fish pot according to the local cuisine in Yixing. Little or no pepper is used in the local cuisine and local people favor the sweet flavor. Therefore, Miss Luo made her noodle dish less spicy than the original taste and add more sugar. In recent years, as the Sichuan and Chongqing style food gets highly popular in Yixing, people get used to the spicy taste and find it more delicious than plain food. As a result, Miss Luo altered the recipe again and added more pepper and spice this time. In all, social changes in China, especially the advancement of modern technology, change people’s diet and lead to alters in the noodle dish recipe.

Immersion of Other cultures into the Noodles

The modern technology makes communication possible oversea and globalization is an unavoidable trend. Thus, people have more opportunities to keep in touch with other cultures, and noodles in pickled cabbage and fish pot is influenced by them.  No matter where noodles come from, the side dish people can add to noodles are similar across the country, such as ribs, animals’ some internal organs and vegetables. Despite these traditional side dishes, some food from other cultures, such as bacon, luncheon meat and rice cake with cheese, can also be added to noodles in Youda Noodle Restaurant. After people get more touch with other cultures, they have wider range for food choice and there is a change in their diet. Miss Luo figured out a way to integrate food from other cultures into noodles she served. She expanded the range of side dishes and people now can have exotic food such as bacon in their noodles. She believed that there is no conflict between Chinese culture and other cultures. While we maintain the Chinese culture, we can still learn and absorb some useful points from other cultures.


In a conclusion, noodle as a carrier of local culture in China is very significant to my interviewee – Miss Luo. Noodles could remind her of the taste of home and help her be more familiar with local culture. She serves a special noodle dish in her restaurant, which is a fusion of different cuisine. This noodle dish itself could show how social changes influence noodles. Also, changes in its recipe over time manifest the influence of social changes in people’s diet. At last, Miss Luo integrates other cultures into her noodles under the trend of globalization.

Interview Questions:

Q1: What’s your name, age, occupation, hometown and education experience?

Q2: Why would you like to serve this kind of noodle in your restaurant?

Q3: What do you think is the traditional Chinese noodle and what is the cultural significance of noodles in China? How do noodles influence you culturally?

Q4: Could you please introduce what kind of noodle you serve in your restaurant?

Q5: What are some differences between traditional Chinese noodles and noodles your serve?

Q6: Actually, there are many noodle restaurants serving noodles in pickled cabbage and fish pot. What makes the noodle in your restaurant different from others?

Q7: How has people’s dietary habit changed since you opened the restaurant, and how did you change your noodles to cater to people’s dietary habit?

Q8:  In your opinion, what’s the key factor of American food, and how does it different from Chinese food?

Q9: How is western culture manifested in your noodles?

Q10: How do you think about the question whether restaurants should cook noodles in traditional Chinese style or make noodles Americanized?


Noodles in Chicken Broth (Qiulun Li)

When my father cooked noodles steeped in chicken broth,

He would boil chicken in soup.

He would pour the broth into a bowl.

With a light feather he would brush the flour.

He kneaded the dough to the right consistency.

Then he would drop it into the water

In long strings

Slim like spring silk.

In half a bowl of broth,

He would gulp them down all at once.

After two bowls in a row,

A fullness would come to the heart.

What piece did you choose to imitate?

I choose to imitate the poem Noodles in Broth written by Hong Junju, and I call my own creative piece Noodles in Chicken Broth.

 Why did you choose this piece?

I choose to imitate this piece because this piece is my favorite one among all poems and stories assigned for reading. It is a very short poem and easily understandable. It described the process of making bing in tea and the way the poet and his friends eated it vividly. With this poem, I can easily imagine the artistry process of making bing and feelings of poets and his friends after eating. I recalled that my father always cooked noodles in chicken broth at home, and that is one of my favorite home-making food. Thus, I want to record the process how my father cooks noodles for me through imitating the poem from Hong Junju.

What did you learn about the culture of the original author through imitating his or her style?

Through imitating the poem from Hong Junju I was surprised how concise and vivid this poem is. He presented the whole process how chief Cui made bing steeped in tea in a few sentence. However, the actual process of making bing is very slow and complicated. The use of metaphor in the poem make the shape of noodles vividly out of the paper. Through a very concise description of the process, reader can have an overall image of making noodles, and then the author expressed his feelings through his actions vividly described in the poem. Through the words, he presented eating noodles as a very pleasurable process. At all, I can realize how important is noodles in ancient China and people’s feelings towards it while I am imitating this piece.

What did you learn about your own culture while writing?

Since ancient China when noodles first appeared, it has become the staple food of families and had different cultural significance. In my hometown, eating noodles has become a ritual when the whole family gathers together. My family always have noodles at home since it has become a sign of union and also it is not hard to cook at home. Every time after my family has chicken soup, my father will cook noodles in the chicken broth left with some vegetables. In my mind, noodles in chicken soup cooked by my father could represent the taste of my family’s home cooking.

Is there cultural DNA embedded in the piece you read and in your piece? How does this DNA manifest in the texts?

Both the poem by Hong Junju and my piece expressed the importance of noodles and presented the process of eating noodles as a pleasurable process. Through the vivid description of making noodles in both texts, for example “filter the tea infusion through silk”, “kneaded the dough to the right consistency” and “slim like a spring silk”, reader could feel that making noodles is a very careful process and people paid a lot of attention to this process. Thus, the texts implied that that making noodles is a very important process and needs a lot of attention. Besides, the texts showed people’s fond towards noodles through describing eating noodles as a pleasurable process. In the poem by Hong Junju, “a smile would come to lips” after people had noodles, and in my piece, “a fullness would come to the heart” after eating. Noodles is not only a food for nourishment, but people would get happiness through eating.

The Identity of The Noodle (Qiulun Li)

The noodle is a food with profound history, which can be traced to Han Dynasty in China and 13thcentury in Italy. The noodle is always viewed as a staple food and is made from durum wheat semolina or from the flour of certain other rains, mixed with water and eggs to make a dough. The dough is then kneaded and formed into various shapes; thus, the shape of the noodle in either China or Italy is not only limited to a thin string.

Noodles in different regions can reflect the local culture, especially in China. China is such a huge country and consists of 56 ethnic groups. With such geographical and ethical variations, it is not surprising for China to have significantly different culture and cooking styles across the country. Noodles, therefore, as a staple food all across the country, can best represent culture where it comes. Noodles from different regions in China have very different cooking styles, contingent on the local cuisine. The noodles from a certain region is not only unique in its taste, but also carries the local trait. For example, Dandan noodles (担担面) is the local noodle dish from Sichuan Province. It is spicy, embracing the local cooking style in Sichuan Province. The name also represents the local culture. It comes from the fact that Dandan noodles was sold along the street by people carrying burdens on their shoulders. In the ancient time, businessmen in Sichuan Province carried burdens with them all along the street to sell their products. People who sell Dandan noodles put ingredients for the noodle, sauce and stove in their burdens. Once anyone come to them, they can immediately cook Dandan noodles and it only takes a little bit of time. In a word, Dandan noodles reflect the local cuisine, culture and unique life style. From my perspective, the noodle can reflect the culture and regions through its cooking style and even its name or shape. Since noodles embrace the culture and have unique tastes in different regions, it means the taste of home and a linkage to home to Chinese and Italian people. When people eat noodles that are unique to their hometown, they will have a feeling of staying at home and noodles can relieve their homesick. Thus, noodles play a significant role in the food culture. In my opinion, the reason why noodles play such an integral role is that noodles are the staple and most common food in China and Italy. Compared to other dishes, noodles are easier to cook, and it is really convenient to make noodles at home. Therefore, people have noodles very often and can have it everywhere, and they easily integrate local culture into noodles. As a result, the ubiquitous trait of noodles bestows it a documentary function to reflect the local culture and later function as a linkage to the hometown.

Noodles have various shapes and can be cooked in various ways. Therefore, it is really hard to come up a comprehensive definition of the noodle. If I were to create a definition of the noodle, I will define the noodle as a type of food easy to make and can be consumed immediately or stored for later consumption. It can be made from wheat semolina or from the flour of other rains, mixed with water and eggs to make a dough. The dough, then, is shaped into whatever shape people intend to make, and cooked with certain recipe. The ways of cooking noodles vary depending on the local cuisine. The noodle is so complicated that it is really hard to define in words but the noodle can be described in its very basic traits. In my opinion, the real noodle is any food made from the mixture of flour and water. It can be any shape and cooked in any way.

My Experiences with Foods

I was born and raised in the South-Eastern part of China, in a city called Wuxi. People in my home city like adding a little bit sweetness to whatever food they are cooking to make the dish taste better. They refers this way of cooking as 提鲜. Also, unlike people in the Northern or Western part of China, rice instead of noodles is the staple food and there are a lot of dishes made of rice in my home city. Bearing my cultural background and the unique cooking style in my home city, I will first introduce some foods which that are important to me and represent my family as well as my cultural backgrounds. Mini soupy bun – 小笼包, rice dumpling with meat and egg yolk – 蛋黄肉粽, and green dumpling – 青团are very unique foods in my home city and can best represent my cultural background.

Mini soupy bun is a very famous dish in Jiangnan area, and has a deep historical background. The appearance of mini soupy bun in Wuxi can be traced to Qing Dynasty. Qianlong Emperor, one of the emperors in Qing Dynasty, came to Wuxi during his cruise in Jiangnan area. He went to a garden called Qinyuan – 秦园, and tried mini soupy bun there. He was amazed at the taste immediately mini soupy bun from Wuxi became famous all around the country. Although there are different styles of mini soupy bun in different cities such as Shanghai, Changzhou and Nanxiang in Jiangnan area, mini soupy bun in Wuxi is unique to me since it incorporates the cooking style in my home city. It is sweeter than those in other cities and is a perfect combination of sweetness and delicacy. Rice dumpling is the traditional food for Dragon Boat Festival. According to the historical documents, Quyuan, both a politician and a poet from Chu – a country in Zhanguo period, was exiled by the emperor. He was very upset and drown himself in Miluo River. He was highly respected by citizens in Chu, and they threw rice dumplings into the river to prevent fishes from consuming his body. Also, they used boats to find his body. Thus, people commemorate Quyuan on Dragon Boat Festival and rice dumpling becomes a symbolic food for the festival. Green dumpling is the traditional food for Thom-sweeping Day when people commemorate the dead in Jiangnan area. According to the legend, Li Xiucheng, the leader of Taiping Kingdom of Heaven (from 1851-1864), was chased by the army directed by the emperor from Qing Dynasty on the Thom-sweeping Day. He was camouflaged as a farmer and the army did not find him. However, the army checked everyone to prevent farmers from bringing food to Li. A farmer mixed the juice of Chinese mugwort – 艾草, to make the dumpling look like grass, and brought green dumpling to Li. Li survived after he was fed on the green dumpling. Later, he made eating green dumpling on Thom-breading day a rule. This legend is not verifiable in any historical documents but eating green dumpling on Thom-sweeping Day has become the tradition in my home city. It is made of rice and the stuffing is always the red bean paste. It may be too sweet for people from the Northern part of China, but it represents the cooking style in Jiangnan. In a conclusion, mini soupy bun from Wuxi, rice dumpling and green dumpling can represent my cultural background due to their deep historical backgrounds and unique cooking style.

There is a rich variety of ethnic groups in Atlanta and the Black is the major ethic group. Unfortunately, I never tried food from the black community. When I stay in Atlanta, Asian food especially Chinese food and Korean food is always my top choice. Besides, I tried several Italian restaurants. I used to take a Math class and the professor is an Italian. She recommended some authentic Italian restaurants to me and my favorite one is called Ribalta in downtown Atlanta. I love the pasta in this restaurant, but I do not think pizza there is authentic. When I was in Italy, I found there was no protein but only veggies and cheese in pizza. However, every kind of pizza in Ribalta has protein.