The noodle is a staple food in both Italy and China with profound history dates back to Han Dynasty. It could be seen through various lenses and in my blog, I hope to convey its social and cultural value from its nourishment, its heritage, and its procreation. Moreover, I believe noodles serve as a medium for us to bond with family and friend, break the boundaries between rich and poor, and connect with people from different countries.
Firstly, I would like to talk about the significance of noodles in Italian food culture. In our reading The Truth About Pasta, the Sicilians start to make pasta in the early 12th century. It was then rediscovered by Marco Polo and remained a crucial part of Italian diet. The geographical and historical contexts of Italy enable Italians to use various ingredients to prepare their pasta and the pasta are made into different shapes. For example, Anelli is a ring-shaped pasta while orecchiette is an ear-shaped pasta. While Bologna is famous for its Tortellini, Sicily is famous for its Pasta Alla Norma. However, despite the regional differences, Italians mostly follow the Mediterranean food pyramid. The base of the pyramid includes interaction and dining with friends and family. The food pyramid not only indicates the balanced diet of a typical Italian but also shows Italians’ close attention to friendship and kinship. In the “Two Greedy Italians” youtube video people cooking pork-stuffed pasta together, we see how food bringing people together when they talk about table is where people cry and laugh, connect and fall in love.
Similar to Italy, China has distinct noodle dishes with different cooking styles and different “cuts”. China has 56 ethnic groups and is the third largest country in the world. It is a county with profound history and traditions. Thus, it is not surprising that noodles are different across the country due to historical contexts, regional differences, and various ethical traditions. In China, each unique name of noodles has an inspiring story or interesting fact behind it. For example, one of my favorite Dan Dan Noodle gains its name from the street culture. In the old days, vendors would put the ingredients in two bamboo poles and carry them on the shoulder while they walk through the alleys and do their vendor’s cries. The noodle not only carries Chinese heritage and tradition, it also symbolizes the wishes of Chinese people. The longevity noodle serves as one example, as the Chinese pronunciation of “long and slim” noodles is similar to Longevity Noodles. In Bite of China when Ms. Wei woke up to make her husband the Longevity Noodles, she wishes her husband to live long and prosper. Same as the Italians, Chinese people gather up on special occasions to connect with each other. At that time, noodles are always part of the feast.
Moreover, even though it is not mentioned in this week’s reading, I think both Italian pasta and Chinese noodles emphasize harmonizing flavors, timing in cooking, and balancing nutrition. In Porta Palazzo, the ingredients of pasta are carefully chosen, fresh and nutritious; while in Food and Drink Traditions by Liu, noodles are paired with meat and veggies. We talked about Al dente being not too hard or soft when making pasta, in Chinese cookbooks, it is also crucial to handle the cook time for noodles.
Last but not least, I would like to talk about the meaning of noodles from a global perspective. In the group discussion yesterday, we talk about the definition of noodles by Oxford and Cambridge. They use words like “typically”, “usually” to give out the objective definition yet give us space to fill in our definition subjectively. As for me, I think “noodle” represents food culture in eastern and western communities and more. The noodle breaks the boundaries of nationality, social class, and ethnicity. It carries tradition and cultural heritage but also acts as a medium to bring people together. Under the love of noodles, people come together. That’s why I choose the picture below. Life has three principles, nourishment, heritage, and procreation, so does the noodle.
In the story Crossing the Bridge, written by Terry Durack, we can see how food is not merely a necessity for human survival. The boy, who never passed his Imperial Exam, immediately passed his exam after his house cook made an array of the boy’s favorite foods. What boy ate that day was not only the noodles, meat, or shrimps but also the effort of the chef and the boy’s memories regarding the foods. Throughout the course, my perspective upon food has changed: What I eat represents what I am. I learned that the food is a pretty accurate reflection of our society. From this blog post, I want to discuss how noodles in China and Italy reflects their societies in various aspects.
The most obvious trait of food is that it demonstrates the culture of a society. By learning about a country’s traditional food and customs relating to the food, we can learn the country’s culture. For instance, in the article The truth about pasta, it tells how Italian pasta is a food that gathers people from the process of making pasta to eating it. Since making pasta is such a time-consuming work, Italian people tend to gather around and make it and eat it together. From this story, we can learn how Italian noodle brings its family, friends, and neighbors together. Additionally, noodles play significant role in celebrating cultural events. In China, people eat longevity noodles on birthdays, eat noodles with gravy at the time of marriage and moving homes, and eat dragon whiskers noodles on the day of lunar February 2nd. It is interesting how Chinese people put meanings into the noodles they eat in different events and make this tradition as a part of their national culture.
Moreover, noodle is a perfect example of how local food represents each region and cities. Both in Italy and China, there are numerous different types of noodles. And those differentiated forms of noodles are the outcome of different regions. For instance, it is shown in the article History of Pasta, how different noodles of Italy were invented by different regions, mostly influenced by foreign invasions. People in different regions of Italy had dissimilar preferences and it is reflected in their pasta. Also in the book Noodles, traditionally and today, the author informs the readers how China is divided into East China, Southern china, Central China, North China, Hongkong and etc. .. And each regions use different ingredients and cooking styles of noodles, such as boiling and frying, resulting in completely different styles of noodles. Hence we can conclude that noodles reflect the preferences, history, and even culture of each region in Italy and China.
By looking at how noodles reflect several aspects of Chinese and Italian societies, we can deduce how significant noodle is to Chinese and Italian people. Two countries are similar in a way that they consider noodles as their staple food. It is their most common food (an average Italian eats 60 pounds of pasta a year), hence carries a lot of meanings to Chinese and Italian people. Both nations have been eating noodles over centuries regardless of whether Marco Polo brought noodles from China and Italy or not. Hence, noodles have been embedded in their history. Living with noodles, many stories and songs related to noodles have been published and I was able to take an insight into what noodle means to Chinese and Italians. For an example, Chinese people in especially for babies and elderlies, people eat noodles for their birthdays. The long-life noodle story tells us that noodle represents long life for them. Similarly, Italians believe that noodles will bring them long life through well nutritiously balanced properties of noodles. In the article The truth about pasta, it is shown how Mediterranean diet, including pasta, is very effective and Italians consume pasta to maintain health. In conclusion, for both countries, they believe their staple food, noodles or pastas, are healthy food that will make them live longer. This is one example that shows how Italians and Chinese perceive noodles. However, there are numerous noodle stories that provides us an insight into what noodle means to Chinese and Italian people.
Since noodles were constantly popular and most commonly eaten food in China and Italy over hundreds and thousands of years, it played significant roles in cultural formation. For Chinese food culture, they emphasize the balance in foods such as nutrition and tastes. And noodle was the food that can be easily manipulated to qualify their food principles as it can be cooked in numerous different versions with diversified ingredients. Therefore, the introduction of noodle brought variety of choices in the history of Chinese food culture. There even was a cook who serves noodles for emperors and high-status people. In conclusion, the gradual formation of Chinese food principles, especially the balance, was hugely influenced by the variety of noodles in China. Another example for Italy, pasta is a food that is cooked conveniently. According to the article, History of Pasta, the spread of pasta in Italian food history was mostly due to its convenience and convenience became the key in Italian food culture. From this, I understood how noodles played major roles throughout the history regarding the formation of food culture in China and Italy.
After leaning so many about noodles, the overarching question that needed to be asked was ‘What exactly are noodles?’ I tried to look up the perfect definition of noodles after the class discussion about it, but I couldn’t find an accurate definition of noodles. Therefore, I came up with my own definition: Noodle is produced with the mixture of any form of flour or grain that can be treated with different methods (boil, fry..), which is commonly later cooked with other ingredients. What I personally wanted to emphasize in the definition of noodle was variety. Since I learnt that there are countless types of noodles, I didn’t want to limit the transformation of noodles. Also, in definitions of online dictionaries limited the shape of noodle to be thin and long, which isn’t true, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake. The unpredictable nature of noodle made itself a hard word to define but I personally believe that such complication is what makes people love noodles.
What is a noodle? “Noodle (n): a food paste made usually with egg and shaped typically in ribbon form” (Merriam-Webster). It is more difficult than expected to formulate a modern definition for the noodle as there are so many factors that are at play and are not included in the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition. There are so many varieties of noodles in the world, ranging from rigatoni to Lo mein; noodles are the product of globalization. As the noodle became more popular over time and spread across regions, different types of noodles came to life. Noodles began to vary in composition as some were made with rice, while others with various types of flour. They began to take different shapes and thicknesses as well as being cooked differently. The sharing of new ideas that resulted from globalization have definitely played a factor in changing the making and cooking of noodles, which changed the definition of the noodle. The Italians, for example, started to boil noodles (Demetri) while the Chinese utilized techniques like stir-frying to cook their noodles (Zhang and Ma). In addition, different recipes were formed using the various ingredients that were available to chefs in their regions and over time, these new recipes became an integral part of the country’s cuisine and were passed on from generation to generation. A clear example of this occurred after tomatoes were introduced from the New World; they originally were thought to be toxic but after the misconception was shattered, they were used for cooking and began to play a huge role in many of the pasta dishes we see today (Demetri). Thus, when thinking about the definition of the noodle, it is a food that has changed the most with time as new ideas were developed. Noodles are particularly versatile as they can be made and cooked with a variety of ingredients. This quality allows noodles to become easily adopted in to a country’s palette as it can be cooked with the regional ingredients of that country. Noodles can be made of certain ingredients to best complement the flavor of the dish. For example, dried pasta, made purely of durum wheat and water, is used to absorb the sauce while fresh pasta, which is usually made of flour and eggs, is used for more light and seasonal sauces (Demetri); they are thus used to cook different dishes. Noodles have been praised all over for this trait and became popularized all over the world. As a result, in order to fulfill the worldwide demand for them, they have evolved to become mass produced. Many people believe that these noodles are not authentic. However, the origin of these noodles are still linked to the traditional methods of making noodles. Pasta that has been mass produced in Italy, for example, is still kept to “time-tested production methods” (Demetri) to guarantee the pasta’s quality. A similar instance in China is the creation of instant ramen noodles which was derived from a Chinese tradition, the Yi noodles (Zhang and Ma). Although these mass produced are sometimes viewed in a negative light, I believe that these have become a distinct part of the food culture of both Italy and China; through mass production, these noodles have become more accessible to even more audiences and thus, can continue to be used to synthesize new recipes.
As a result of these observations, I believe that noodles are a true product of collaboration and culture because the noodle recipes that are developed by families are passed on over time down the family lineage, and thus, are able to become a part of the culture. This is evident in both Chinese and Italian culture. For instance, in China, the long-life noodles carry a special meaning of longevity with every bowl (Durack), while the Italians value the family coming together and making pasta (Two Greedy Italians). Therefore, I think that one definition of a noodle cannot be isolated as every individual will have a different definition of the word “noodle.” Thanks to their versatile nature and delicious taste, they are able to become adopted within many family’s traditions and cultures and therefore, adopt meaning that is unique to everyone’s identity and their family background. For example, 물냉면 (mul-naengmyeon) is a popular noodle dish in Korea, typically made of buckwheat, and deliciously accompanied with a chilled beef broth. This dish is also serves as an example of a product of collaboration as there are so many different varieties that exist. For example, the noodles in 냉면 (naengmyeon) can be made from sweet potatoes, arrowroot starch and kudzu rather than buckwheat (NamuWiki), and can also be served two ways, either with the cold broth I mentioned earlier, 물냉면 (mul-naengmyeon), or mixed with a spicy sauce (비빔냉면 [bibimnaengmyeon]). The 물냉면 (mul-naengmyeon) is a dish that is something that is particularly fond to me and my family and it was the first dish that came to my mind when I thought of the word“noodles.” 물냉면 (mul-naengmyeon) is a dish that originates in Pyongyang because it is usually served cold and with ice, and in the past before ice machines, North Korea had a lot of ice. The dish was served in the winter time (as that’s when there was the most ice) and there is also a Korean saying “이열치열,” which signifies “fight hot with hot,” meaning that eating a hot dish when it is hot outside will help you feel cool (and the reverse logic applies as well). My maternal grandmother was born in North Korea when Korea was an united country, and she had moved down to Seoul right before the Korean War. Unfortunately, she was never able to go back, which was always very difficult for her, as she missed her family members very much. Thus, 물냉면 (mul-naengmyeon) became a very special dish for her that she would make for my sister and I; she always would talk about how much comfort she felt whenever she would eat the noodles. As a result, whenever I eat the noodles, I also feel a sense of comfort and connectedness to my roots as I have always associated these feelings and memories with the dish while I was growing up. As a result, when I began to eat 물냉면 (mul-naengmyeon) with some of my friends from college, I was able to learn more about what the noodles meant to them; we all had different feelings associated with the dish due to our different experiences growing up and our family background. That being said, many of us agreed that this dish is particularly special as it is associated with the hope that one day, the Koreas will be united once again. This is a prevalent sentiment among many people who identify as Koreans, since the drawing of the 38th parallel and ceasefire tore many families apart, and many of us would like the two units to unite again. I think this insight made me also realize that the definition of the noodle is also constantly modifying over time. Even in my personal experience, the way I view 냉면 (naengmyeon) has changed a bit. A recent example of this change was after the leaders of North and South Korea ate 냉면 (naengmyeon) together at the Summit; this created a nationwide spark of eating these noodles in Korea as people celebrated the two Korea summit (BBC). After I saw the nationwide phenomenon and the peaceful lunch shared between the two leaders, it made the noodles even more special, because it solidified my personal hope of unification of the two countries.
Subsequently, I think that it is difficult to isolate one definition of a “noodle.” I believe that everyone’s family background, values and personal experience affect what they think a noodle is. These stories are what makes noodles special over time, since noodles are able to be embody memories and feelings that we are reminded of every time we eat them. Even mass-produced noodles, like ramen, have become an essential part of the culture as they are a dish that can evoke feelings of love and connectedness, even for people who are thousands of miles away from home. We tend to associate certain memories and sentiments with food and the noodle is able to play that role for people of diverse backgrounds because it is versatile. Also, the definition of a noodle is not solidified; it is fluid and able to embody many different meanings for everyone.
Therefore, when I was trying to isolate one pure phrase to define “noodle” with, I was perplexed as it is quite complex. I created this image below with each of the letters made from a different picture of a different noodle and arranged them in a “fluid” way in order to represent the always changing natures of both noodles and our identities. I was hoping to show that noodle dishes in whatever form and of whatever ingredients are able to play a role in everyone’s unique identities because of the meanings we give to noodles. They are able to embody different meanings because there are an endless amount of ways noodles can be cooked; there is no “right” way to cook noodles or just “one” noodle dish. In this way, this aspect of noodles parallels identity. Identity is not something that is one thing or the other; we are also able to embody and embrace multiple identities. Noodles and identities are quite intertwined; our identity shapes the way we view and give value to noodles while noodles provide a way for us to celebrate and cherish our culture and family background.
Demetri, Justin. “History of Pasta.” Life In Italy, www.lifeinitaly.com/food/pasta-history.asp.
The noodle is not only a food consumed throughout the world; it also represents the final product of intense labor in many nations in addition to regional and cultural diversity. In addition, it’s important to recognize the differences and similarities in how noodles are prepared and consumed throughout the world; analyzing these can lead to a larger understanding of broad themes.
When reading about noodles in China, I was perhaps most struck by the various items that could make up noodles. For example, in “Noodles, Pressed and Pulled,” Hsiang Ju Lin describes how “bamboo pole noodles, made of compressed egg noodle dough, are found in Southern China … Pulled noodles are made over a vast area in northern China.” While many people consider that there are different types of noodles, few realize that the actual ingredients that go into each type can differ greatly. In addition, I was interested in the idea of how long noodle preparation can take. In the same article, the author reflects on how “dough is pressed and folded repeatedly. [The baker] might do this for hours to make a stack of compressed noodle dough.” When many people in the United States consider pasta and pasta based dishes, the first thing they think about is pre-prepared and boxed pasta dishes. This idea of pasta has been created by manufacturers and is prevalent. While these kinds of pasta are definitely in existence, they are not an accurate representation of preparation of all other kinds of pasta. In addition, I was interested to learn more about the different presentations of noodles available in China. Professor Li’s presentation corrected many ideas about the different kinds of noodles present. I especially enjoyed learning more about steamed buns and how they related to noodles. In China and the rest of the world, the variety in noodles can symbolize a larger diversity in peoples, regions, cultures, thoughts, and beliefs (especially about food).
When reviewing literature about the noodle in Italy, I was interested to learn more about how the regional differences in preparation of noodle-based dishes and how the different shapes, textures, and tastes of noodles impacted this. I was also hoping to learn more about the focus on freshness in Italian cooking. In the article we read from Encyclopedia of Pasta, Oretta Zanini de Vita reflects on how “pasta may be the unchallenged symbol of Italian food, yet no in depth research has been done on its many shapes … Recent cookery texts are stuck mainly on the nobler stuffed pastas, with very little attention to their form, and recipes nowadays almost always call for factory-made pasta.” De Vita’s article made me analyze how this “call” represents a common theme in our society: a move away from fresh cooking and eating to mass production, eating out at restaurants, and fast food. While many people are busy and unable to cook fresh food every day, manufacturers have led a major movement away from healthy eating as a result of their price gauging and other efforts in markets such as pasta production. In addition to this theme, I also found that similar to how it does in China, the noodle represents the diversity of the Italian people – regional diversity, religious diversity, cultural diversity, diversity of thoughts and beliefs, and more. Different areas in Italy produce different kinds of noodles and noodle-based dishes, depending on the way on availability and other factors.
I broadly define a noodle as being shaped from dough, possibly cooked in a variety of ways. I purposely am vague with my definition in order to be inclusive. Below I have included my chosen picture of a noodle!
The class discussion about the noodle definition quickly concluded that the Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries confine the noodle to such lifeless, one-dimensional qualities that it resembled nothing more than an ingredient, a mere doughy base of meals instead of the gastronomic foundation of cultures. And if something that provides meanings failed to capture a fulfilling essence of the noodle — then how could I? I am not one to circumscribe subjective things within a box of objective definitions, and throughout this class’ progression, I think we have started to comprehend the noodle as something more than a concrete object: an entity.
Like the golden thread, if you will. The noodle winds through the fabric of time, fastening cultures, traditions, countries — humanity — together. A golden thread of frayed ends, without an easily discernible introduction or conclusion (much like this written blog).
Although I still have no idea where to begin — I think history does. History can offer us a delicate start of the thread in Italy, home to the debate of whether it was the Etruscans or Marco Polo (upon his return from China) who brought the noodle to the peninsula. The noodle took form as the well-known Italian appellation “pasta,” from impasto, the blend of dough and water that “waits to be shaped by the expert hands of the pasta maker that ‘feel’ its warmth” (Form and Substance, 10). Such a description animates the pasta with qualities of a living, breathing entity, pliable under whomever holds it. This adaptability is evidenced by the countless pasta variations, each originating from different regions in Italy. From Arab-influenced macaroni in Sicily, to Piedmont’s agnolotti (stuffed pasta pockets), to Sardinia’s fregula (crumb-like pasta) and malloreddus (saffron-infused shells) — the diversity in pasta types and sauces are as abundant and widespread as there are geographic regions (Julia Della Croce’s Classic Italian Cookbook). As “pasta meals really represent the simple pleasures of life,” each type is made from the same simplicity of flour, water, and salt (Truth About Pasta, 20). However, it is the texture that gifts each its unique character. Thin butter or thick tomato sauces would generate a different feeling with, say, long strands of linguine than with soft dumpling-like gnocchi. Yet, all the distinct forms of pasta are created from the same humble origins, and fall under one element — pasta — a unifying form reflective of a unified Italy in the 1800’s. The golden thread of the pasta noodle links the people and mirrors their strengths: adaptable, unique, and firmly united as one.
If we follow history down the trail of cultural gastronomy, we will inevitably arrive at another prominent niche of the noodle: China. The first recorded discovery was during the Han Dynasty; the original form was named bing, or wheat “cake” (Shu Xi’s Rhapsody on Pasta, Knechtges 449). The dough was hand-pulled longer and longer until it resembled the unmistakable strand of the modern noodle. This creation eventually established its place in the warmth of not just the kitchen, but in the people’s hearts. Na Zhang’s Noodles, traditionally and today details the numerous ways “‘human nature’ and ‘worldly common sense’ materialized in the noodles” (Zhang 210). Gravy noodles (打卤面), served during occasions of matrimony or of moving into a new residence, represented a new “flavored” life; “dragon whiskers” noodles (龙须面), served on lunar day in February, embodied the honored creature. The noodle wove its way into the people’s traditions, and also into their traditional values. Adding vegetables and eggs was equivalent to adding the “principle of ‘food diversification,’ and promote health for people” (Zhang 212). Meanwhile, the namesake of “dutiful son’s noodles” (孝子面) is the story of a man who cooked noodles for his sick mother with such efficiency, care, and tenderness that she soon healed, thus integrating the honored core of filial piety into the very nourishment the people consume. The “longevity noodle” (长寿面), typically eaten on birthdays, symbolizes long-life and durability. Interestingly, in the narrative Long-Life Noodles, the dish oversaw not only the hopes and prosperity of one man, but also his despairs as he descends into misfortune and outlives his loved ones (Durack 88-89). For him, longevity noodles morphed into a cursed emblem of his long life. With this, the noodle appears to be so intertwined with the people themselves that it not only manifests within our customs and values, but also within our existence, within each apex and nadir of our lives.
The noodle thus transforms into something more than a mere reflection of humanity — it becomes the golden thread of the human experience.
The noodle, to me, is nicely encompassed in this graphic design.
I took a liking to this image, ambiguous yet full of possibility. The utensils overhead are unclear. The noodles are not in any distinct, easily recognizable form, but this same shapelessness allows the beholder to envision any form of the food that brings them meaning. The lack of color leaves anyone to paint it with whatever preferred shade, much like a page from a coloring book; perhaps yellow like the traditional pasta, white for rice noodles, maybe green to reflect the “nutritional” noodles of our modern progressive times… In the end, the palette is our palate. This ambiguity does not assign a specific culture, custom, people, etc. to the noodle, instead focusing on its connections to us. Therein lies the malleable, abstract nature of the noodle that I think the dictionary definitions lacked.
Perhaps this was not intended, but it also seems like the image resembles a house: the utensils the roof, and the noodle the hearth and heart of the residence — a foundation of the people’s homes and roots.
For me, the noodle is interwoven in my memories.
My memories of the noodle are threaded through my relationships and connections with others: the past memories I nostalgically recall, present experiences that I treasure, and the future curiosities that I await.
Ghosts of noodles past: a few noodle dishes embodying the tender nostalgia of my life in Korea. Top left: First time with my [host] family at the original Chinatown in Incheon, before exploring gorgeous murals depicting the rich history of the Chinese-Korean fusion, a culture that breathes and thrives among the people, and manifests in the very 짬뽕 (jjamppong, spicy seafood noodles) and 짜장면 (jjajangmyeon, black bean noodles) we devoured. Bottom left: My [host] brothers and I wreaking havoc at an all-you-can-eat ramen and 떡볶이 (tteokbokki, rice cake) hotpot buffet. Top right: My last noodle dish in Korea, 잔치국수 (janchi guksu, wheat noodles in light anchovy broth), with my [host] mom and brother before the tearful trip to the airport. The noodles tasted especially salty that day. Ghost of noodles present (bottom right): nocturnal shenanigans with friends at Pho 24, my home on Buford Highway, open 24/7 for all who crave a warm bowl of pho — even at 2 a.m.
At every period of my life, at every climax, every bottom, and every curve in-between, a variation of the noodle has made its presence.
But perhaps to a historian, the noodle is the intersection of cultural thought and philosophy; perhaps to a chef, the handed-down recipe embeds their family’s values; perhaps to a college student, it means all-nighters with take-out and microwaved ramen.
And so, the question “What is the meaning of the noodle?” unexpectedly mirrors the infamously intricate “What is the meaning of life?” mystery itself. And like my answer to the latter, I gingerly offer: it is whatever humanity — you, me, we — want it to be.
Its “definition” is as broad and profound as there are people themselves. With each person, with each life — each human experience — the noodle delicately morphs and regenerates with another nuanced meaning.
Thus, the golden thread continues weaving through the kaleidoscopic patchwork of cultures, across the undulating quilt of history and time.
And on a rainy Wednesday night, the noodle weaves its way into the present, where a light-bulb flickers on, and a laptop screen begins flashing with the words: I have absolutely no idea where to begin…
One of the most interesting aspects of the noodle as a food has to do with just how much larger the food’s cultural background is when compared to the physical and tangible nature of the food itself. Different societies that have incorporated the noodle into their culinary tradition have absorbed more than just the noodle’s starchy qualities that make it the perfect base for various sauces and meats, but instead have absorbed the traditions of camaraderie, family, and gathering that have become unavoidably associated with it.
To truly understand what noodles means to the cultures that champion their use and consumption, one need look no further than the twin food giants of Italy and China. Both these cultures hold storied places in world of international cuisine, having expanded their reach so far as to have an influence in almost every corner of the world when it comes to food. Their influence has been accompanied with the inexorable introduction of the noodle because of the important role that this food plays in both Italian and Chinese cuisine. The International Pasta Organization’s “The Truth about Pasta” waxes lyrical about the virtues and benefits of consuming this type of food, highlighting the way that pasta provides health and energy without placing undue stress on one’s diet or on the Earth’s environmental resources due to unsustainable farming practices. These benefits are responsible for pasta’s position as a pillar of the Mediterranean diet for the longest time, with versions of pasta existing in the Etrusco-Roman diet as far back as 1 AD, as mentioned in Life in Italy’s “History of Pasta”. While this reflects the importance of healthy and robust food in Italian cuisine, pasta also owes its popularity to the cultural significance that has developed with the dish. The making of fresh pasta involves processes that require a high level of care and precision, which translates to familial love and care due to the large amount of effort some individuals can contribute to give their family’s the best. Chinese food culture mirrors this belief in many ways, as evidenced by the many meanings and cultural connotations around the idea of bing in David Knechtges analysis of Shu Xi’s “Rhapsody on Pasta”. Chinese cuisine at the time had already accepted pasta and acknowledged that the various types of bing present owed itself to unique origins from various villages and towns across the nation. Despite this, bing found itself favoured by all levels of society, holding a unique position as a pillar of Chinese cuisine that was consumed by both villager and emperor. Furthermore, each of these different types of bing are associated with different cultural ceremonies at different types of the year and to celebrate different events, pointing to the ritualistic importance of this food. This cements the cultural significance of the noodle and its variants in Chinese culture, as well as the unavoidable parallels that exist between China and Italy when it comes to the noodle. The noodle and pasta have come to play such an integral role because of a combination of the food’s nourishing qualities and its ritualistic contributions to the act of coming together and the formation of a community.
The importance of the noodle in both Chinese and Italian food has meant that any country that has experienced the influence of these cuisines has been exposed to this food. Considering just how far and wide both these cuisines have spread, it is hard to imagine any country’s cuisine and food being unaffected by the noodles hailing from China and Italy. Indian cuisine is no different, having experienced Chinese influences in its dishes due to the two nations’ proximity and having received Italian food due to the process of globalization.
Much like China, due to extremely large geographical area of the country and its varied topography, India possesses varied regional cuisines. Noodles manifest in a variety of different ways in Indian cuisine, based on the region that it hails from. Oftentimes, these variations revolve around the starch base that the noodles are derived from.
India’s wheat noodles, also known as seviyan, often used in cuisine from the Gujarat region.
One of the two types of Indian rice noodles, known as sevai, which are first made into an idli pancake before being pressed into the more traditional noodle shape
Indian sev, which are a popular munching snack noodle derived from extruded chickpea-flour dough and then fried to make them crisp
Indian falooda, which are noodles made out of cornstarch and then served with sweetened milk or Indian ice cream known as kulfi
These various Indian cuisine noodles utilize a variety of different starches that are combined with water to create a pasta dough. Thus, when creating a definition that combines Chinese, Italian, and Indian ideas of pasta and the noodle, one must emphasize the importance of both the different starches involved in the process as well as the different methods of preparation once the noodle is formed. A tentative one that expands on the basic definitions provided by the Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries to include these findings has been included below:
The noodle is a piece of pasta created from a combination of a starch (such as flour, cornstarch, rice, etc.) and water, cut into a variety of different shapes, and then prepared using a cooking process that involves a liquid (boiling, stir-frying, steaming, frying, etc.).
While this definition is a clear expansion on the fairly limited versions that both dictionaries have provided, there is still a significant aspect of Indian, Chinese, and Italian noodle culture that fails to be represented. Our analysis of various texts referring to Chinese and Italian noodle culture emphasize the cultural meanings and connotations that invariably accompany the tangible nature of the food. The place that the noodle occupies in Indian culture is the same and is best represented by what virtually every Indian person will point to when asked about Indian noodle culture. The noodle that I am referring to is the Maggi 2-minute noodle that has become an important cultural phenomenon all over India and holds a place as the nation’s favourite comfort food.
This comfort food is present in a variety of different flavours and noodle types, but the one thing that remains constant is the important role this food plays in the Indian community. People all over the country eat this noodle, lovingly referred to as the nation’s third staple after wheat and rice, available for purchase even in the most remote villages in all regions of India. It exemplifies the companionship and community that is an integral part of the noodle’s cultural significance in China and Italy, providing a common food all over the nation that every Indian can relate to. The cultural significance is made even more obvious when one looks in the bags of every Indian who has to leave the country, as they stock up on Maggi in order to provide them with a quick and easy connection to home whenever they are feeling down. Ultimately, the space that these noodles occupy in Indian food culture showcases the way that this food’s cultural significance has extended past the roles that it plays in Italian and Chinese food culture. With this in mind, I have attempted to provide an expanded definition of the noodle that seeks to incorporate this integral aspect of the noodle:
The noodle is a piece of pasta created from a combination of a starch (such as flour, cornstarch, rice, etc.) and water, cut into a variety of different shapes, and then prepared using a cooking process that involves a liquid (boiling, stir-frying, steaming, frying, etc.), whose consumption promotes a sense of camaraderie, connection, and community to a specific culture or identity.
The noodles we ate today really reflect one’s regions, culture, cities and people who cooked them. Firstly, for culture and history, the noodles and pastas all originally made from the same material-wheat, but different countries process them differently. For example, Chinese people generally make them as a thin and long noodle. However, for Italian people, they make them into various shapes, including small rings noodles, spaghettis, etc. And as I observed, different shapes of pasta are served with different sauces and in different dishes. For example, Acini di Pepe, the “peppercorn,” are usually found in soups, while Campanelle, the little bell pastas are generally found in salads. This makes me think why Chinese people generally just have one kind of long, thin noodle, while Italians have so many different kinds of pastas. I guess culture plays an important role behind this difference. Looking through Italian history, we can see that Italy was once occupied by different countries including Germans and France. It did not become one country until 1861. Therefore, Italy has a diversity of foods because of the foreign influences. The diversity can be reflected from the shape of the pasta. Secondly, the noodles really reflect one’s regions and cities. For Chinese noodles, there are a variety of ways of cooking noodles and even different cities have their own way of cooking noodles. For example, Sichuan province has Dandan Noodles（担担面）, in which a spicy sauce containing preserved vegetables, chili oil, Sichuan pepper, minced pork, and scallions served over noodles. This kind of noodles really reflect the Sichuan’s cooking characteristics, which is spicy. Since Sichuan is situated in the middle of China and is humid at all times, therefore, people combine lots of pepper into their cuisines to drive away the humidity. So Dandan Noodles can reflect a region’s eating and cooking style. Moreover, not only Dandan Noodles can show Sichuan people’s preference for spicy food, the noodles in East China can also represent Jiangnan people’s preference for umami and mild taste. For example, in Shanghai, there is Shanghai noodle in superior soup(上海阳春面)，in which there aren’t much meat and is simply consists of scallions and pig oil. From the ingredients of Shanghai noodle, we can see that in East China, most people don’t eat a lot spicy or really salty food. Most commonly, people like to savor the original taste of certain food. So from Dandan noodles and Shanghai noodle in superior soup, we can definitely see the reflection of a region’s taste preference for food. Thirdly, noodles can also reflect the people who cook them. For example, Italians and Chinese people cook noodles in totally different ways. For Italian people, the reading mentions that the discovery of tomato with pasta is a milestone for pasta. Therefore, lots of Italian people cook pasta with tomato sauce and sometimes add some shredded meat into the sauce. However for Chinese people, we like to add beef, vegetables or even seafood into the noodles with clear soup made from water, salt and scallions. So the noodles can reflect who cook them too.
I think noodles means a lot to both Chinese and Italian people. The history of noodles in both China and Italy can be traced back to thousands of years before. In China, the noodle itself represents lots of meaning to people. For example, when there is a person’s birthday, he/she will have longevity noodles(长寿面). When people move into a new house, they will have noodles with gravy (打卤面), which means flavored life. On the day of lunar February 2 “dragonhead”, people eat dragon whiskers noodles(龙须面) to look forward to good weather. We eat different noodles in different seasons and different festivals. In Italy, too, people eat different noodles at different occasions. Therefore, noodles became not just noodles, but also a way to give people best wishes and a representation of a country’s culture. It integrates the regional characteristics of food, the food history of a country and the best wishes to people. Therefore, I want to define noodles as a dough typically made with egg and usually eaten with a sauce or in a soup that comes with a diverse shape and meaning behind them, reflecting a region’s cooking characteristics, culture and eating history.
In my opinion, this image can represent noodle’s diversity and cultural background very well. We can see from the picture, noodles can either be eaten with soup or simply mix them with sauce and eat them as cold noodles(冷面). Also, it can be cooked with various ingredients, including pepper, vegetables, meats etc. Thus, noodles can be eaten in many ways depending on where you come from and what ingredients you have. And those different noodles all have different nutritious value behind them as well as different meaning and history.
Food encourages communion. Communion is the basis of culture and society.
Therefore, food must be able to provide insight on various people and their stories.
Over the past few weeks, I have learned much about how food facilitates and affects our interactions with one another, as well as reflected upon my own culture and experiences. Within such a short time, I delved into literature, media, and projects that brought people and their narratives to life. Moving forward into this week, I am continuing to explore the Chinese and Italian cultures regarding their connections regarding the evolution of noodles.
The origin of noodles has been studied and contemplated for years. Some say that Marco Polo brought it to Italy from China, yet noodles were already present there since the early 12th century. Others state that the Arabs in Sicily truly changed the way pasta was even made and consumed. There seem to be so many little nuances and such rich history behind this one staple dish, but I believe that that is what makes it so unique, salient, and versatile.
Each type of noodle dish represents a certain moment or milestone in one person’s life in the Chinese culture. These noodles represent the celebration of life, including all the ups and downs one faces. Throughout all of the readings for this week, every time a new type of noodle was mentioned, it was soon followed by a story or a personal connection to it.
For example, the long-life noodles were one of the first things we discussed as a class. It is a dish prepared on milestone birthdays and in the video, “A Bite of China,” we are able to understand the meaning of these types of noodles during a special occasion. Madam Wei woke up early on her husband’s 70th birthday in order to prepare these longevity noodles. The shape of the food, “long and slim,” acts as a symbol for “longevity” as the Chinese pronunciation of all of those words are quite similar. During the birthday banquet, everyone’s participation is vital is providing the meal for the one celebrating their birthday. Each person picks out their longest noodle and puts it in a bowl. This bowl with all the longest noodles is then given to the one celebrating his birthday.
Another type of noodle filled with rich history and connection is the Dan Dan noodle. This name came from the fact that they would carry the pots (which carried all of the sauce and meat) on a bamboo pole and they were quick and easy to make at any time. In the memoir, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, Fuchsia Dunlop beautifully strings together both her own relationship with these Sichuan noodles as a college student and the local street culture where it was initially sold. For her, these noodles were “a cure for hangover or heartache.” She went to savor Xie Laoban’s Dan Dan noodles almost everyday and talked about how this vendor evolved from the typical “Chengdu street snack.” She continued to write about how older generations would get emotional as they missed all of the street food Chengdu was filled with before these private vendors were banished due to the Cultural Revolution (Dunlop). These special Sichuan noodles flood people with memories and their own culture.
These are only two of the many, many types of noodles that the Chinese eat and celebrate everyday. Yi Yin’s story of helping his mother recover from illness using seafood noodles and the story of a Yunan boy eating his noodles after his chef crossed the obstacle filled bridge also represent the beautiful meaning behind noodles. All of these stories represent a milestone or a particular moment in one’s life. The role of the noodle is extremely important as facilitates the path of life and marks certain memories in a person’s life. Each noodle carries the anecdote of individuals in a society that all come together because of the universality of food. Together, they can trace back the history of something broad like the start of the noodles from the Han Dynasty or a small community like the Chengdu.
As we have continued to discuss, the Italians also have a very strong link to noodles and pasta that show us a lot about their culture. Similar, to the Chinese, the noodle plays a role in bringing people together and celebrating life with family and friends. The Mediterranean food pyramid is actually quite different than a typical American food pyramid you would see in any magazine or doctor’s office. The base or foundation of the food pyramid includes physical activity and enjoying meals with one another. This continues to show how food plays an important role in bringing people together.
The Italians also are known to take it a step further and incorporate family traditions into their cooking. In the “Two Greedy Italians” episode, we see how all the daughters are expected to learn how to make pasta from their mothers and grandmothers. It is time for them to learn about their own culture and lineage, while providing the rest of their family with a hearty meal. Additionally, in the basement of their mansion, they had stored years and years of balsamic vinaigrette which emphasized the importance of their family recipes, business, as well as their story.
Due to Italy’s peninsular shape, the Mediterranean diet has also had influences from various places like Germany, France, Spain, the Middle East etc. Raisins, cinnamon, eggplant and artichoke are just a few things that the Arabs introduced to the Italians. The Porta Palazzo shows this microcosm of Italian culture and how it truly has characteristics from all around the world. In The Truth About Pasta, the role of pasta is perfectly described: “As they are like a canvas, they are versatile and easily adaptable to national/regional seasonal ingredients” (International Pasta Organization 2016). The different geographies of Italy push people to use unique ingredients to prepare their meals. By studying and understanding the different types of pasta and how they are prepared, one can really come to learn much about a particular regions history, culture, and environment.
The production of pasta has also constantly evolved over the years as well. The first Etrusco-Roman noodle was oven baked and made from the same durum wheat that is used now. The first pasta factory was reportedly located in the Arab part of Sicily, where this pasta was shipped off to many places. The Italians also realized that dried pasta was able to stay fresh even after long voyages over the seas. With technology rapidly easing up the process of making pasta efficiently and in varying shapes (lie fettuccine, farfalle, corzetti, etc) , pasta truly became an important dish in Italy. Massimo Montanari discusses how the pasta shapes reflect the Italian culture in his book Let the Meatballs Rest: “Pasta seems made to order as a metaphor for the unity and variety of Italian alimentary styles” (Montanari). He continues to discuss how pasta is all made of the same substance, but the form of the pasta makes a huge difference in how a pasta dish actually tastes. All these different shapes, flavors, and cooking styles all stem from unique traditions and identities that define the Italian culture.
The Chinese and Italian cultures have many aspects of their culture rooted in the evolution of noodles and pasta. Now, traditional pasta can be found in boxes in grocery stores and instant ramen noodles are a common college student meal. Pasta can truly be found anywhere, and this is what makes it a staple dish not only in China and Italy, but across the world; it’s versatility is unmatched. Honestly, defining the noodle is quite a difficult task. I don’t think any definition could truly encompass all of the nuances and history behind it. But if I were to define it, I would say that the noodle is a multifaceted dish typically made of dough that can be served with various shapes, ingredients, and flavors depending on an individual’s culture, experience, and culture. As we see, the noodle can be seen through various lenses and it is important to take a step back and truly appreciate the infusion of all the stories, cultures, and emotions associated with this staple dish.
Noodle is a grain-based dough that is divided into a certain shape with a unique refined texture by a certain method. Noodle plays an integral role in every regional food culture worldwide and was woven into people’s life including the Chinese and Italian peoplebecause of its ever-evolving position and meaning in human history. Noodle, which is mostly made out of grain, consist of mainly carbohydrate thus a major energy source for human body throughout history. This is especially true in agrarian societies globally. In the old days when food resources were very limited because of low productivity, people relied heavily on carbohydrate, namely noodle or grain. The protagonist of a noodle dish would be the noodle itself rather than meats or vegetables added. Few meats or vegetables would be added or simply none. Noodle completes its mission of filling human’s stomach. Grain is grinded into powders then made into dough and soon noodles with various shapes. I think the reason why is probably to increase texture and its ability to absorb the flavour of the broth and other ingredients. Its unique texture also provide enjoyment to human’s mouth. To be specific, some noodle dishes in relatively poor areas in China, such as the north-western region, are comprised of noodle, oils and spices. Biang Biang noodles, Youpo noodles and Mianpi in Shanxi province are some great examples. Oils and spices used add flavors to the noodle to help people ingest. These dishes, which are products of the old days, become representatives of the regional cuisine and are incorporated into people’s diet even for today.
Although we have a lot of substitutes for noodle today, we still don’t give up eating the simple combination of noodle and chili oil and a bowl of Yangchun noodles which only have soy sauce and pork oil added to the noodle. This is because noodle is already deeply embedded in our culture and diet, which becomes a cultural phenomenon rather than just a way of sustaining the human body. The composition of a noodle dish changed when food resources became abundant and people tried to explore substitutes of carbohydrate, such as protein. Noodle was no longer the sole protagonist of a noodle dish. It was more prone to be a duo or trio with oils, spices, sauces and broths added. Now noodle dish becomes a party of tons of ingredients. Eating noodle is no longer an act of ingesting carbohydrate to provide the body with energy. With other ingredients shining on the stage, noodle preserve its space because it provides textures and satiety to your brain. But this is not sufficient to describe the real meaning of noodle. Eating noodle with other food is turned into a cultural act or a habit that is impossible to get rid of. Without noodle, any forms of ingredients combination are meaningless not only because we lose some textures but also the integrity of a culture. Thus, we could say that noodle is a cultural phenomena with a physical carrier as this idea is also implicitly expressed in the story of Yunnan’s “Crossing the Bridge” noodles. According to Terry Durack, the family cook shows his love for the son of his master by preparing the ingredients of the “Crossing the Bridge” noodles separately so that his loved one could have the noodle dish piping hot, which could help him succeed in the exam. The culture of selfless love between family members in Yunnan, China is powerfully conveyed through the lens of the noodle.
Noodles are part of many staple diets across the world. Although their history and origin is primarily Chinese, they have travelled across the world and have been adapted by cuisines in many different countries. They area huge part of Chinese and Italian cuisines. Chinese noodles are usually long and they are said to symbolize longevity. They are very common among street food in China and are also a dish that is eaten in a family setting at home. In Italy, the noodle takes the form of pasta, which is part of the regular Italian diet. Pasta however, is highly commercialized around the world and is celebrated in various countries across the globe. Add to that, pasta is a very family oriented dish in Italy.
In India, the noodle is very significant because of a dish called Maggi. It is packaged ramen that takes about two minutes to cook, and is popular nation wide. It is something that everyone from children to grown ups enjoy. It is eaten as a midnight snack, lunch, dinner and when I was at boarding school, we ate it for breakfast sometimes. Maggi is loved because it is one of the most conveniently available snacks of all time. It is eaten at family gatherings, with friends and even alone. It is the definition of primary comfort food. It is an integral part of India’s culture because almost every individual has a memory associated with it – be it a child or an adult. In fact, it is so popular that several restaurants and street food stalls have adapted variations on it, making it the most versatile dish there is. Therefore, Maggi is a noodle dish that represents everything from family, friendship, finals week to simply being noodles that people are so fond of.