The mood of the country Is grim, and even as news of China once again blocking the United Nations Security Council from declaring Jaish-e Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist spread, Indians took to social media and demanded a boycott on the sale or use of Chinese products.
This may be slightly hard to do given that China has been the manufacturing hub of the world at least since it was ruled by the Tang dynasty between the 7th-9th Centuries AD, when it manufactured and sold everything from pottery to silk to silver ware across the silk road. And today, when ‘Made in China’ labels are as ubiquitous to consumer goods as nepotism is to Bollywood, boycotting Chinese goods may prove challenging. But as the 2016 US presidential election showed, stranger things have happened.
In any case, please leave my bowl of noodles out of it. We’re not even sure if it’s Chinese.
The Chinese claim to have been swilling unleavened dough, which has been stretched and cut for around 4,000 years. The people of the republic doggedly quote the findings of earthenware bowl allegedly containing remains of noodles made of millet an archaeological team in Qinghai, at the Lajia dig site; this has since been debunked as food historians and dieticians have pointed out that millets contain no gluten, which is the concrete to the carapace of the noodle.
Similar claims of Marco Polo having eaten noodles on his visit to the Far East, and having imported the idea back to Italy in the form of pasta, due to the singular lack of patenting laws in the 13th Century, have also been rubbished. This is not just because bow ties, the inspiration behind farfalle pasta, had not yet been invented. Italian historic records from centuries before mention broken up pieces of dough, either layered or sauced, with terms like lagana and macaroni. Indeed, Polo described noodles by using an Italian word.
The Middle East, no stranger to controversy, also entered the ring, or the bowl, as it were, claiming that noodles were mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud, dating back to the 5th Century BC, not in an advertisement for home delivery, but as a kind of dough, boiled in broth, termed as itrion and
Latinized into itrium.
The oldest written records of noodles (since the Jerusalem Talmud is based on oral traditions collectively called Mishnah) belong to the Chinese dating to the 2nd Century BC during the Han dynasty. These boiled dough bits were cut into strips during the Tang dynasty (who incidentally did not invent the drink) and were converted to dry noodle form during the Yuan dynasty; a centuries long process with a fantastic rhyme scheme.
Meanwhile, let us not forget the Indian sevai, which resembles broken spaghetti or noodles and East European dumplings such as the pierogi, which is a kind of ravioli, each region convinced of the creative authenticity of their kitchens.
It’s interesting to note that most of these nations are populated by people groups largely originating from the Central Asian steppes. The word noodle itself is derived from the German Nudeln, referring to a Teutonic time-old starch based dumpling.
So clearly the answer to who invented the first noodle or pasta or cut up dough dish becomes increasingly garbled the more you dig into the question. So perhaps we look back later, where there is an irrefutable recurrence of themes, customs and indeed, cuisine.
After man learned to cultivate it is perhaps only natural that he learned to raise dough from the crops and the dough took similar shapes and forms, whether in Peking or Palestine or Palermo or Punjab. So don’t single out the noodles from other similar foods. In any case, it’s very difficult to tell them apart; they’re all the sev.