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On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, with Love and Pasta Hardcover – July 25, 2013
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Even though the hoary legend that depicts Marco Polo bringing the noodle back from China to Italy has been long debunked, the noodle’s origins remain shrouded in the mists of prehistory. Lin-Liu, an American and director of a cooking school in Beijing, sets off on a trek to follow the Silk Road west across China through Central Asia and Turkey to Italy to discover how disparate times and peoples have given the noodle new shapes and textures. Touring initially with a couple of fellow chefs, she notes that, even within their own nation, the Chinese can be very wary of other provinces’ cooking. Crossing into Central Asia, Lin-Liu reunites with her husband and in-laws, making the journey less lonely. Encountering Iranian women in the course of cooking demonstrations teaches Lin-Liu more than Persian cooking and gives her a glimpse across an ideological divide. Of value to both travelers and gourmets. --Mark Knoblauch
"Delightful. . . . This book is not just for foodies or cooks: any and all will enjoy it." ---Library Journal Starred Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I wish there was more wrap-up at the end to bring all the diverse pieces together. It really ended quickly, for the amount of time the journey took (literally and figuratively).
I was particularly interested in her exploration of cooking as women's work or man's work in various settings, as this is a big part of the debate about domestic and professional roles for women everywhere.
In fact, at its most active, hardly anyone travelled the whole length of the silk road. Merchants exchanged goods and the goods travelled on. Ideas, like Buddhism, did travel the distance, from India to Japan. As Lin-Liu discovered, ideas about food also moved along the road.
Her style is devastatingly honest, and I look forward to reading about the rest of her life and cooking adventures!
This author's unquenchable curiosity leads her to cooking lessons, side trips (who else makes a pilgrimage to a town whose fame is in its breakfasts?) weddings and - of course - noodle making. I have certainly enjoyed reading the book.
Jen Lin-Liu was a journalist, food writer, and owner of a cooking school in Beijing. While on her honeymoon in Italy, as she marveled over the culinary delights she and her husband enjoyed, she started wondering about pasta. (And who wouldn't?) More specifically, she started wondering about pasta's provenance, given its popularity in so many different cultures.
Who invented the noodle? Was it, as legend and history have said, Marco Polo, who brought the noodle back to Italy from China during his global explorations? Or were mentions of noodle-like substances in the Talmud and Etruscan history, or supposed discoveries of ancient noodles evidence that pasta was enjoyed even earlier in history? Lin-Liu decided to set out on a culinary journey along the Silk Road to discover the origins of pasta.
Her journey takes her through small villages in China and Tibet, Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan), Iran, Turkey, Greece, and Italy. She spends time in cooking schools, restaurants, tourist attractions, and even people's homes, learning secrets of rice, pasta, and dumpling dishes the world over, and marveling at their differences and their similarities with the food her cooking school teaches people about in China. But more than that, as she spends time with professional chefs and home cooks, wives and mothers, men and women, she learns a great deal about different cultures and how they view the role of women versus men, as well as the role of food in each of these societies.
At the same time, Lin-Liu, a newlywed, is forced to confront her own issues with her marriage. Spending most of her journey on her own, with her journalist husband elsewhere, she wonders whether this trip was good for her marriage, and what role she should play in their relationship after her travels. With food such a central part of her life, but not nearly such an obsession for her husband, are they doomed to fail?
Lin-Liu cites two points raised by food historian Charles Perry, which illustrated some of what she learned in her travels. "If a people eat much of a dish, this does not mean that they have eaten it forever, [and] if a people eat little of a dish...it does not follow that they never ate much of it."
As a huge pasta, noodle, and dumpling lover, I enjoyed reading about Lin-Liu's experiences, and the incredible (and sometimes nauseating) food she was able to eat and cook during her travels. But after a while, I stopped caring about the purpose of her mission (the issue of provenance seems to come and go throughout the book) and just focused on her conversations and her discoveries. She's an excellent writer and describes the things she ate and saw with terrific detail.
But if anything, the weak link in the book is Lin-Liu herself. She is fairly unflinching in writing about her own issues with her marriage and her role as a woman, which doesn't quite endear her to the reader. And when she recounts certain exchanges with her husband you definitely sympathize with him, not her. It takes a lot to write about yourself in an unflattering way.
This is a fascinating book, and the recipes that Lin-Liu includes are well worth the price. If you've ever dreamed of going on a worldwide food journey, but don't think it's something you can afford (financially or weight-wise), live vicariously through Jen Lin-Liu. You'll enjoy yourself, and be super hungry.