World Chefs: Silk Road journey of noodles, dumplings and family

Tue Aug 13, 2013 12:16am EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Jen Lin-Liu, a U.S.-born resident of China, was taking a pasta-making course in Rome when she began wondering whether the tale of Marco Polo bringing noodles to Italy from China was actually true.

Her curiosity led her along the Silk Road, the ancient trade route linking Asia and Europe, eating the different kinds of pasta she found and speaking candidly with women as they cooked together in kitchens along the way.

Lin-Liu, who runs a Beijing cooking school and now lives in the Chinese city of Chengdu, spoke with Reuters about noodles, dumplings and her just-published book "On the Noodle Road".

Q: This got started in Italy?

A: At the pasta class I was really struck by how similar the method of making fettuccine was to Chinese noodles. Not only that but there are so many shapes of noodles that I've seen across China that reminded me of Italian shapes ... A lot of the similarities were specifically things I'd seen with northern Chinese food and Italian food.

In northern China they use fennel, they use a lot of eggplant, a lot of noodles. So it got my curiosity going: was there a connection between the noodles of China and pasta in Italy and was that myth about Marco Polo true? And if not, is there something else in its place that could explain all these coincidences?

Q: What was one of the most surprising things you found?

A: I found the similarities between the dumplings of the Silk Road to be the most striking element of the food - Chinese dumplings that evolved into a steamed dumpling in the Uighur community called manta, which are stuffed with either pumpkin or mutton and served with a clotted cream. Those dumplings cross over into Central Asia as pretty much the same thing.   Continued...