Summary

Noodles started out as dumplings: just little balls of flour and water.

At some point, someone started to make them into noodle shapes, probably because a worm-like strand cooks up better than a ball.

Then, beyond that, you discover that kneading wheat flour develops gluten, making it stretchy, and able to be stretched long and thin, with a nicer texture.

The origin of noodles is Chinese, and the earliest written record of noodles is found in a book dated to the Eastern Han period (25–220 CE). Noodles were often made from wheat dough. It became a staple food for the people of the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE).

Asia

The oldest evidence of noodle consumption was from 4,000 years ago in China. In 2005, a team of archaeologists reported finding an earthenware bowl that contained 4000-year-old noodles at the Lajia archaeological site. These noodles were said to resemble lamin, a type of Chinese noodle. Analyzing the husk phytoliths and starch grains present in the sediment associated with the noodles, they were identified as millet belonging to Panicum miliaceum and Setaria italica, although this was disputed.

A bowl of Bún thịt nướng

Wheat noodles in Japan (udon) were adapted from a Chinese recipe as early as the 9th century. Reshteh noodles were eaten by Turkic peoples by the 13th century. Innovations continued, such as noodles made with buckwheat (naengmyeon) were developed in the Joseon Dynasty of Korea (1392–1897). Ramen noodles, based on Chinese noodles, became common in Japan by 1900.

Ancient Europe

In the 1st century BCE, Horace wrote of fried sheets of dough called lagana. However, the method of cooking these sheets of dough, lagana, does not correspond to the current definition of either a fresh or dry pasta product, which only had similar basic ingredients and perhaps the shape. In the 2nd century CE, the Greek physician Galen mentioned itrion, referring to all homogenous mixtures from flour and water.

Ancient Israel and diaspora

The Latinized itrium was used as a reference to a kind of boiled dough. The Jerusalem Talmud records that itrium was common in Israel from the 3rd to 5th centuries CE. Arabs adapted noodles for long journeys in the fifth century, the first written record of dry pasta. The ninth-century Arab physician Isho bar Ali defines itriyya, the Arabic cognate of the Greek word, as string-like shapes made of semolina and dried before cooking. Muhammad al-Idrisi wrote in 1154 that itriyya was manufactured and exported from Norman Sicily. Itriya was also known by the Persian Jewish (who spoke Aramaic during early Persian rule) and during the Islamic rule referred to a small soup noodle prepared by twisting bits of kneaded dough into shape.

Italy

The first concrete information on pasta products in Italy dates to the 13th or 14th centuries. Pasta has taken on a variety of shapes, often based on regional specializations. Since at least the 20th century, pasta has become a staple in North America and elsewhere.

Germany

In the area that would become Germany, written mention of Spätzle has been found in documents dating from 1725, although medieval illustrations are believed to place this noodle at an even earlier date.

Polish Jews

Zacierki is a type of noodle found in Polish Jewish cuisine. It was part of the rations distributed to the Jewish victims in the Łódź Ghetto in Poland by the Nazis and their Polish collaborators. (Out of the “major ghettos”, Łódź was the most affected by hunger, starvation and malnutrition-related deaths.) The diary of a young Jewish girl from Łódź recounts a fight she had with her father over a spoonful of zacierki taken from the family’s meager supply of 200 grams a week.

Noodle survived centuries of conflicts, and I am sure you’d want to order one for yourself after reading this article.

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