Culinary Chronicles

A brief history of noodles from the ancient times to the Ramen craze

Noodles have been called many things. Ramen, goreng, pho, spaghetti among others. What noodles are however, are one of the world’s most consumed meals. In South East Asia alone, they are a staple. This means that millions upon millions of people eat noodles at least once a day. Noodles are made from a wide variety of grains including wheat, rice, sorghum and many others. Noodles have been consumed in China for over 4000 years. This is based on an archaeological site discovered in South China. Apparently carbon dating done on an overturned cauldron containing noodles dated it back 4 millennia. Now when a dish is so popular, one often wonders how and where it all began? So let’s take you on a historical journey turning back time and discovering the roots of this hearty, delicious staple. 

 

Ancient Roots: The Noodle in antiquity

As mentioned earlier, Chinese archaeologists discovered a 4000 year old cauldron of noodles. This was discovered at the Lajia archaeological site. One of the first written mentions of noodles is found in the written histories of the Han Dynasty circa 2nd century BCE. Safe then to assume that noodles originated in China. The earliest noodles found at Laija were made from millet. This comes as no surprise as millet was among the first grains cultivated on a staple scale, by mankind. In subsequent centuries rice, buckwheat and wheat replaced millet as the grains of choice for making noodles. 

 

Noodle Export: How the rest of the world began slurping their way to noodles

Like any budding civilisation, the Chinese were also avid seafarers and whether for trade or conquest. The Han, Qing and Manchu dynasties all had seaworthy vessels that traveled far and wide across Asia. One of the food staples that these navies relied upon were noodles. Noodles are by some length, one of the world’s first processed foods. By ancient standards, they had a relatively long shelf life, were easy to cook and were nutritious. It is very likely then that the Chinese spread their noodle culture across South Asia, through their interactions with people through trade and conquest. Another way noodles may have traveled westwards was with the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan. The Mongol warriors were said to have carried dried noodles as a part of their rations. We’ll revisit this theory a little later in this article.

 

From China to the land of the rising sun

Apart from China, one of the world’s most noodle obsessed countries is Japan. Ramen is definitely Japan’s greatest culinary gift to the world. And this is how Japan first adopted the noodle. There has long been a history of both bilateral trade and war between China and Japan. The noodle is a part of both of these. You could literally call them the food for war and peace. The earliest mention of noodles in Japan is in the 9th century. This was an adaptation of a Chinese recipe of noodles. The Japanese used the grain which was most abundant to them, i.e. wheat to fashion Udon noodles. It is said that a Buiddhist monk of Indian origin, Bodhisena (credited with introducing Japan to Buddhism) was the person who also introduced this culinary staple to the land of the rising sun. 

 

How did the Italians say ‘Mangiamo’ to spaghetti?

The Italians are huge foodies and spaghetti is definitely one of their favourite dishes. How did something so Asian though make its way all the way to Northern Europe? There are 3 contentious theories for the arrival of noodles on the sunny shores of Italia. The first involves the Roman Empire. It is widely known that the Romans imported a variety of goods from China. These included silk, precious stones, exotic fruits and animals, and some historians theorise certain foodstuffs as well, so maybe noodles were known to Italy from the time of Julius Caesar. The second and more plausible theory revolves around the Mongols. From the time of Genghis Khan, Mongol hordes had pillaged their way across Central Asia all the way to the gates of Venice. This period of warlike exchanges may also have led to a culinary exchange between the two parties. The last (untrue), yet most readily accepted theory revolves around the famed Venetian explorer Marco Polo. He lived for several years at the court of Kublai Khan, and many people believe he brought back the first noodles to Italy. Whichever way noodles came to Italy, billions of spaghetti bolognese fans ought to be indebted to the Chinese, don’t you think? 

 

How to save lives by slurping noodles…

World War II absolutely ravaged. After its surrender it faced a long road to recovery. Mass shortages of food and resources plagued the Japanese population. The food shortage in particular would have been catastrophic if not for the ingenuity of the Japanese people. And of course the lifesaving noodle. Inventor Momofuku Ando used wheat flour and produced the world’s first instant noodle. The pre-cooked, processed noodle, with flavouring and flavoured oil was an inexpensive treat which was adopted with gusto by the Japanese public. In fact, some economists say that instant noodles saved Japan, and proved to be the fuel that propelled the great Japanese economic restoration. 

 

We hope this article has both entertained and informed you, and maybe even left you hankering for a quick noodle fix. Check out our range of premium noodles here.

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