Noodles and China

China, the other country of noodles

Text : Marie Josèphe Moncorgé. Translator: Bruce Lee

In October 2005, an article in the science journal Nature reported that Chinese archaeologists discovered the remains of a bowl of noodles dating from 4000 years ago in Qinghai, China. The noodles, of which the longest is 50cm, were made from millet and were found in an overturned bowl, buried under 3m of sediment.

However, in 2010, a Sino-Australian team of researchers sought to make an archeological reconstitution by preparing noodles using millet without success. The millet, devoid of gluten, did not produce a dough with enough elasticity to be stretched (in ancient China, grain-shaped noodles called luosuo were made from millet). Conclusion: these ancient noodles, found in the ruins of Lajia, must have contained wheat, unidentifiable after cooking.

From the 2nd century, we knew of bing noodles, a food mostly reserved for the emperor.

Between the end of the 3rd century and the end of the 4th century, bing noodles were typically eaten by the educated classes. They were also used as religious offerings. The word bing first referred to a kneaded dough made from wheat flour, then later to a pancake. Bing noodles were eaten as a snack: it was a light meal cooked in broth. The first laowan ravioli recipes appeared in the 3rd century. We found the first recipes for bing noodles in the 6th century.

From the 9th century, bing noodles were replaced by lamian noodles, a specialty of Northern China, which were made from wheat flour.

During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), noodles spread throughout China. These noodles were freshly-made and cooked immediately.

The invasion of China by Mongol tribes led to the introduction of Turkish-Mongol and Arab-Persian cuisine. The book Yinshan Zhengyao (Important Principles of Food and Drink) written in the 14th century by Hu Sihui, court therapist and dietician of the emperor, included recipes for tutumashi (from the Turkish tutmac, which means noodles, a word still used in several Asian languages, in Armenian, in Serbo-Croatian, and in Romanian). It consisted of thin sheets of noodles seasoned with a sauce of fermented milk and flavoured with garlic and basil. This type of sauce is also found in Bagdad Cookery Book from the 13th century.

Noodles were largely eaten fresh and their production was reserved mainly for family meals or at small noodle shops, as opposed to in Italy, where pasta was fabricated by artisans for consumption both locally and abroad. Industrialisation of noodles in China began at the end of the 19th century. Instant noodles were invented in Japan in 1958. This technique then spread throughout Asia. Still, many continue to make their noodles fresh.

There are many different types of Chinese noodles

Chinese noodles are made from a large variety of basic ingredients: starchy grains (wheat, rice, millet), starches from legumes (soy, mung bean), rhizomes and tubers (yams, sweet potato)...

Chinese noodles are made in a large of variety of styles: lasagnes, vermicelli, dumplings. The styles and names differ in China between the North and the South.

Chinese noodles are usually cooked in water or stock with vegetables, meat, or shellfish. Dumplings are often steamed.

Lamian noodle-making techniques are considered an art and reserved to trained professionals. It consists of making long noodles (like spaghetti) by folding and pulling the dough. It can be compared to the work of the pizzaiolo in Western cuisines; it is a sophisticated technique. The technique of the pizzaiolo seems simple compared to that of the Chinese noodle-maker: hats-off!

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