Monthly Archives: July 2018

Tracing the Origins of the Noodle

Posted on by 0 comment

Sehr Mehra

Professor Li & Ristaino


26 June 2018

Tracing the Origins of the Noodle

Mix water and flour and knead into a dough, you now have a plethora of prospects in the palm of your hands. Noodles are the epitome of versatility and flexibility, and it’s this adaptable nature that has contributed to its rise as a world renowned food. Noodles are eaten as pho in Vietnam, chow-chow in Nepal, seviyan in India and many other permutations and combinations throughout the globe. While the popularity of noodles is a widely accepted consensus, its origin is still a prominently debated subject. There are numerous contenders who have claimed to be the creators of the Noodle. Italians profess that they are the pioneers of this plant based food, whereas the Chinese argue that they invented this culinary sensation. In this paper I will endeavor to trace the geneses of this cereal food and subsequently attempt to end the age old dispute surrounding it.

We begin our historical research in the East Asian country, China. Noodles are believed to have originated here, as ‘Bing’, during the early rule of the Han Dynasty. They were then diversified by experimentation and the evolution of additional shapes and cooking methods. Noodles further gained cultural prominence via folklore related to ‘health, religion, economy’ and with the emergence of Chinese superstitions. (Zhang and Ma, 2016)However, due to recent archeological discoveries it’s likely that noodles were around much prior to the rise of the Han Rule. Excavation sites have revealed that wheat grains and early production apparatuses existed from the early to late Neolithic period – an astounding ten thousand years before now. More tangible evidence, which testifies to the existence of Noodles well into the past, was unearthed in 1999. ‘Noodles discovered among relics at the Lajia archeological site in Minhe County, Qinghai Province’. After radio-dating ‘the noodles and bowl of noodles’ found at the site, it was disclosed that they were crafted and cooked four thousand years ago during the early Xia Dynasty. These archaeological findings thus provide us with physical evidence which date back to periods long before the present day. They reveal that the noodle has been closely interwoven into the Chinese society and their culinary practices for eons. (Wei et al., 2017)

 Noodles and noodle bowl discovered at Lajia archaeological site in 1999.

We now move on to our next destination in this culinary dissertation, Italy. Pasta is an integral part of the Italian diet and culture. With shapes ranging from small pinwheels to large sheets, its diversity can be witnessed across the regions of this unified country. Each Italian province has its own rich history with pasta, shaped by its geographical limits and foreign influences, and as a result unique dishes native to these expanses have become a beacon for their identities. The emergence of Pasta in Italy was formerly attributed to Marco Polo, a venetian explorer. He voyaged to China, and upon his return in 1295, he brought back copious amounts of spices and other discoveries which included noodles. (Jackson, P. 1998) However, there is a lot of opposition to this assertion as evident in the following remarks made by Justin Demetri in his article ‘The History of Pasta – Pasta through the ages’. ‘Well, Marco Polo might have done amazing things on his journeys, but bringing pasta to Italy was not one of them: noodles were already there in Polo’s time.’(Demeteri, 2018)

 Map outlining Marco polo’s travels from Venice to China. 

One of the leading counter arguments was thapasta already existed during the Roman-Etruscan era as ‘Lagane’. This view is supported by the words of the famous Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, commonly known as Horace, who wrote ‘I come back home to my pot of leek, peas and laganum’. He wrote the above mentioned to defend himself against allegations that he was trying to fit in with members of the ‘higher society’. This modest meal of pasta and vegetables were meant to portray his own humble nature. While it’s not known if these verses were successful in gaining Horace’s innocence, it’s certain that they are one of the oldest mentions of the Italian Pasta amongst literary works. (Ullman, n.d.) Horace wrote his first book around thirty-four BC, which makes it about two thousand years old. Something interesting to note here, is that the pasta, made by mixing various cereals and water, available during the Etrusco-Roman era was oven baked and not boiled. To advance the point pertaining to the prevalence of pasta in ancient times we can take Apicius’s example. He too was a Roman author, who discussed a recipe of ‘laganon’ in his discourse published in the first century AD. (, 2018) These written accounts date back thousands of years. Pasta has thus been a component of the Italian diet for centuries.

   Quintus Horatius Flaccus (8 December 65 BC – 27 November 8 BC) – Roman Lyric Poet.        

 Apicius – collection of Roman recipes, published in the 1st century AD.

Another theory set forward maintained that the Arabs played a role in the development and spread of boiled noodles or ‘itriyah’. They significantly influenced Italian food and culinary practices when they invaded the country in the 8thCentury AD. Their cuisine and culture was adopted in regions such as Sicily, where the spread of sweet and savory foods such as pasta con la sarde was observed after the Arabic conquest. Macaroni too, gained widespread admiration amongst the Sicilians at this time. (Italy’s Culinary Heritage, n.d.) Charles Perry an American Historian who specializes in mapping the origin of the pasta said the following words ‘…the first clear western reference to boiled noodles is in the Jerusalem Talmud of the fifth century AD written in Aramaic for which the term ‘itriyah’ was used.’ He later goes on to say that during the 10thCentury ‘itriyah’ referred to dry noodles exclusively and didn’t include the fresh ones. (Giacco, 2016)The Talmud additionally discussed the term ‘rihata’ which referred to boiled flour and honey which later gave rise to the word ‘rishta’ which translates to noodles. The term ‘rihata’ has been talked about and mentioned in scholarly works since ages. The Arabs thus have a considerable assertion that they played an important role, which resulted in the dominance of pasta in the diets and hearts of the Italian people. (Cooper, 1935)

 Itriyah – pasta as mentioned in the Talmud.

 Rishta (Pasta) cooked with lentils and caramelized onions.

Moving further east from China, we now travel to Japan. Ramen is not only a culinary phenomenon here; it is a cultural marvel as well. Japan has museums dedicated to this fast-food, ramen stalls throughout the country, and television cooking shows fashioned around this spicy broth with noodles. The widespread consumption of Ramen by the residents of Japan is unparalleled by any other people. These facts beg the question ‘who are the ancestors of these instant noodles’ ‘was there a Japanese predecessor to this curried noodle dish’. On further research it becomes clear that ramen was introduced to Japan in the form of noodles, from China. Chinese chefs, who migrated to Japan, began working and cooking meals featuring noodles at local restaurants. These foods then gained extensive fame and were regarded in high esteem by the citizens of Japan. They had built an appetite for the food, which could only be satiated by mechanizing the industry. Ramen, in present day, has become a national staple food in post-war Japan. Even though noodles weren’t devised here, they have become a vital part of the country’s national identity and the favorite grub of its people. (Solt, 2014)

 The Untold History of Ramen – Book by George Solt, which aims to answer the following question ‘How did ramen become the national food of Japan?’

Now we’ll analyze the influences of the Greeks on Italian foods, and more importantly pasta. These Mediterranean individuals and their practices induced changes in the regional cuisines of Italy, such as in Puglie where Greek food flourished. There was little meat in this region which was compensated by the use of fine sausage products and cheeses. (Italy’s Culinary Heritage, n.d.) When it comes to pasta there is a legend that speaks of its production and history. A Greek woman Talia, became the muse of a man named Macareo. She is alleged to have inspired him to create an iron machine, that could produce long strands of pasta, to feed starving poets. This discovery then remained a secret for several years, until shared with the founder of Naples in the sixth century BC. Utensils used for making pasta were also uncovered around about the fourth century BC. These were found in a tomb in Rome, and the carvings later proved that they belonged to the pre-Etruscan era. These utensils, thus signify that pasta making has been taking place in the history of Italy for an extended period of time. (Shelke, 2016)

 The legend of Talia and Macareo outlined in the restaurant, Da Vinci’s, menu. 

After tracing the origins of pastas from countries all over the world, I think the most plausible birthplace of the noodle is China. This Asian country has the most promising data to support its claim of being the ‘inventors’ of this simple wheat and water based dough. The discovery of the noodle remains and bowl occurred two thousand years prior to Horace’s mentions of the ‘lagane’. With its physical, archeological evidence predating even the written records of Italian, Arabic and Mediterranean pasta, it truly does make China victorious in the contention. However, even though China maybe the site of the first instances of noodles and they may have introduced some countries like Japan and India to them, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they were the ones who introduced the rest of the world to it. Italians were enjoying pasta long before Marco Polo brought back the secrets of the Chinese noodle trade. As there is very little documented data and only a few preserved artifacts related to Italian pasta, it’s not right to make any broad claims about its beginning. It is also plausible that pasta developed spontaneously in China and Italy at different time periods. New evidence is bound to be unearthed at some point in the future, which will give more concrete and reliable sources with information about who introduced the Italians to the noodle.

I personally think noodles are united in their use of flour and water, however, every country takes this dough and molds it according to its own history, culture and terrain. Every noodle is thus separate from the other and there is no single category that these noodles lie in. In conclusion I would like to propose the following theory – there is no one ‘true’ inventor of the noodle, it is a world food which is continuously modified and customized via interactions amongst nations, ingredients and people.


  1. Zhang, N. and Ma, G. (2016). Journal of Ethnic Foods.
  2. Wei, Y., Yingquan, Z., Liu, R., Zhang, B., Li, M. and Jin, S. (2018). AACCI Grain Science Library. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jun. 2018].
  3. Jackson, P. (1998). Marco Polo and His ‘Travels’. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies,61(1), 82-101. doi:10.1017/S0041977X00015779
  4. Demetri, J. (2018).History of pasta. [online] Life In Italy. Available at: [Accessed 26 Jun. 2018].
  5. Ullman, B. (n.d.).Horace and the History of the Word Laganum. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Jun. 2018].
  6. (2018)> History of Italian-type pasta.. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Jun. 2018].
  7. Italys Culinary Heritage. (n.d.). .
  8. Giacco, R. (2016).Pasta: Role in a Diet. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Jun. 2018].
  9. Cooper, J. (1935).Eat and be Satisfied. [online] Google Books. Available at: [Accessed 28 Jun. 2018].
  10. Solt, G. (2014).The Untold History of Ramen. [online] Google Books. Available at: [Accessed 28 Jun. 2018].
  11. Shelke, K. (2016).Pasta and Noodles. [online] Google Books. Available at: [Accessed 29 Jun. 2018].
Category: Student Work

More Than Meets The Eye: Street Food in Beijing with Reflections Yujia Jie

Posted on by 0 comment

June 29th, 2018


Prof. Ristaino and Prof. Li

Yujia Jie


More Than Meets the Eye: Street Food in Beijing

I grow up eating Peking street food and I reckon street food to be one of the highlights of Beijing culture. In the long dusks of summer, my grandma and I walk through scents of sophora flowers and grass, waiting in line for a cup of Douzhi. However, after the release of new food security regulations in Beijing, more and more roadside booths have been closed. In reminiscent of the fading Beijingers’ tradition, this paper aims to introduce three traditional street foods in Beijing in literary works, elaborate the characteristics of Beijing street food, and create a dialogue about how street food connects people through Beijing street food scenes.


Douzhi’er is a fermented drink loved by old Beijingers, rich and poor. It is similar to soymilk, but is made by mung beans and has a heavier smell. It is often served with Jiaoquan’er, a crispy rice dough, and salty or spicy pickles. While Zengqi Wang considers Douzhi’er a challenging task for non-Beijingers because of its strong smell (Five Flavors, “Douzhi”, Wang), China Daily reporter Ye Jun emphasizes Douzhi’er is beneficial for one’s health. (“When Smelly Is Good”, Ye)

Firstly, Douzhi’er as a traditional Beijing street food sold by hawkers or roadside booths is cheap and easy to purchase. According to Liu Chunping, a chef in Jin Xin Douzhi’er restaurant, before 1949, a bottle of the drink was sold for just two Chinese cents. It was popular among rickshaw pullers and other working class. They would purchase a bottle and drink for the whole day. For a poor Beijinger, two steamed buns with Douzhi’er serve as a typical breakfast.

Secondly, despite its unique smell, Douzhi’er is nutritious and beneficial for the body because it helps digestion. In Ye’s article for China Daily, he explains the ingredient and fermentation process of Douzhi’er are two main reasons for its health values. Douzhi’er, as introduced previously, was made of green beans. Just like the saying “Food and Medicine are of the same origin”, green beans are believed to have a detoxification function because of its vegetable protein and Vitamin C. While during the fermentation process, bacteria beneficial for the stomach are generated. Moreover, according to Liu Chunping, although Douzhi’er is popular during the summer, it is perfect for all seasons. While in summer, iced ones quench thirst; in winter, warmed ones heal the stomach.

Lastly, Douzhi’er as a typical street food connects people from different fields and social classes. According to Zengqi Wang, the history of Douzhi’er dates back to the Liao Dynasty and the drink gains its reputation in Qing Dynasty. This is consistent with Ye’s article. He mentions “it was the favorite drink for Manchurians” in Baqi army. Even the imperial kitchen in Forbidden City served the drink for Qing emperors to help digest after they ate too much meat. While workers drink iced Douzhi’er to regain their energy, renowned Peking Opera singers like Mei Lanfang drink it to protect its throat (Beijing Street Food and Beijing Celebrities, Ji). Thus, it is evident that Douzhi’er is a favorite drink for people with various occupations and from different social classes.

Rolling Donkeys

Rolling Donkeys is a classic Peking snack made with soybean and rice. The snack gains its interesting name because the rice roll is rolled in soybean flour before serving and this procedure resembles a donkey rolling in the dust. Rolling Donkeys are usually filled with red bean paste. The snack has a sticky texture and is only slightly sweet. Rolling donkeys are often sold in roadside pastry booths or Beijing snack streets like Qianmen Night market, Huguo Temple Snack or Wangfujing Snack Street.

Rolling donkeys have a beautiful love story behind it. Rolling donkeys originated from Manchurian pastries and in Manchurian word pastries were called Bobo (Beijinger, “Fuhuazhai,” Tracy Wang). There were bobo shops all over Peking and other large cities during the Qing dynasty, providing desserts not just to enjoy at home, but also to be used for weddings, funerals, and sacrifices. Those shops and the delicious street food were in memory of Qian Long Emperor’s beloved wife Xiang Fei. Xiangfei was sent as a tribute to Qian Long. But he loved her at first sight. Xiangfei got homesick and could barely eat anything. And the emperor got furious. Rolling donkeys were a desperate attempt by the chef of the imperial kitchen. Rolling donkeys not only saved the chef’s life but also helped the emperor won Xiangfei’s heart. Tragically, Xiangfei was poisoned to death because of the jealousy of the emperor’s other wives. Qian Long opened many Bobo shops in the country, but the delicious snack no longer tasted the same without her. Since then rolling donkeys for Beijingers are more than a sweet treat, but also a symbol of unconditional love.

While in the renowned book Memories of Old Peking, rolling donkeys serves as a comforting food and a symbol of family. Aunt Song sold herself and worked as a nanny for a rich family to raise her daughter and son. However, her husband got addicted to gambling and ultimately sold her young daughter Yingzi. But the tragedy didn’t end there. Her son was drowned to death due to an accident. Song’s only hope was to find her daughter. She went to every family with an adopted girl. Whenever she got tired or emotionally drained, Aunt Song would cook the author and herself rolling donkeys. She would repeatedly tell the author Yingzi’s childhood stories and how much she loved rolling donkeys. When the author was eating rolling donkeys, Aunt song would gaze at her, as if she was her daughter Yingzi. (Lin 79)

Nowadays, more and more trending desserts were sold on the street. I still saw people lining up for Rolling Donkeys at Daoxiangcun, a renowned pastry chain store. Rolling donkeys is not only a street dessert for the stomach, but for the soul as well.


Quick-fried tripe is known as bào dŭ in Chinese. It is one of the best examples of street foods in Beijing, and Beijingers enjoy sharing it with a group of close friends with beer or other alcohol. After adding green onions, cooking oil, sesame paste, and other seasonings into the boiled tripe, this dish is ready to serve. It has a history of over 150 years and it was most popular under the rule of Emperor Qianlong as well. The most renowned restaurant Baodu Feng was founded in 1881 in Menkuang Hutong around Qianmen area, Beijing.

In his proses collection On Culinary Art, Shiqiu Liang talks about the delightful experience of eating Baodu. (Liang, 47) Baodu is mainly two kinds of meat, either beef tripe or lamb tripe. Liang in his article talks about the selection and division of lamb tripe. Lamb tripe could be divided into eight parts, but a classic foodie would only crave for lamb stomach. More importantly, Baodu requires the lamb meat to be fresh and cut properly. Even the dipping sauces and seasonings need to be carefully chosen and put in as well. A plate of Baodu looks simple on the outside but tastes like heaven on the inside. This is more to this dish than meets the eye.

Baodu serves as another perfect example of street food connecting people together. In Liu’s book on Chinese food and drink traditions, she talks about the importance of shared dining. For the Chinese, a group of people sharing great food together is full of warmth and creates a harmonious atmosphere. (Liu, 37) For Beijingers, nothing compares to a late night eat at Qianmen night market with a bunch of friends. Over a glass of iced beer, you could laugh and share your recent life with your close friends. You could also meet new people or become close friends with your acquaintances during late night treats. Under the aroma of newly cooked Baodu, people bond together.

In the famous Manchurian writer Laoshe’s prose “Missing Peking”, there is a famous yet controversial quote: “I cannot love Shanghai or Tianjin because Peking has filled my heart”. This quote vividly depicted a Beijinger’s reliance and nostalgia of the city. Born and raised in Beijing, I cannot use one word to characterize its values. But it is undeniable that local cuisine reveals the regional characteristics of a city. In my paper, I introduce three traditional yet unique Beijing street foods: an old Beijinger’s drink, a classic pastry dessert and a delicious late night eat. All of them are portrayed as cultural symbolizations of Beijing in renowned Chinese literary works. By analyzing the underlying social values behind the street foods, I aim to address that street foods are more than food for the stomach but food for the soul. Moreover, street foods connect people. Douzhi’er breaks down the barriers of different social classes. Rolling Donkeys emphasizes the close attention we pay to family and lovers. Late night chats on a Baodu booth bring friendship to a higher level. Last but not least, Beijing street food scenes reveal the openness and welcoming nature of the city. A working class with low income could line up with a local celebrity for the same an authentic bite. Beijing comes alive during summertime with night markets where hawkers sizzling street food after dark. There is more to street food than meets the eye.

Work Cited

Kasell, Frank. “Douzhi” A Field Guide to Chinese Street Food, 2018,

Lin, Haiyin. Memories of Old Peking. San Lian Shu Dian Hong Kong, 2003.


Liu, Junru, and William W. Wang. Chinese Food: Adventures in the World of Cooking and Eating. Wuzhou Publishing House, 2017.

Liang, Shiqiu. On Culinary Art. Yunnan Renmin Publishing House, 2016.

Ye, Jun. “When Smelly Is Good.” China Daily, 20 July 2013,

Wang, Tracy. “Fuhuazhai Chinese Pastry Shop Brings Us Back to the Qing Dynasty with Traditional Royal Manchu Taste.” The Beijinger, The Beijinger, 20 Aug. 2017,

Tindall, Robynne. “Try These 5 Traditional Beijing Desserts.” The Beijinger, The Beijinger, 24 May 2017,

Lao, She. “Missing Peking”. Lu Jiang Publishing House, 2017. 《想北平》老舍

Wang, Zengqi. Five Flavors: Wang Zengqi and His 32 Proses. Shandong Hua Bao Publishing House, 2005. 《五味》,汪曾祺

“名人托起‘老北京小吃‘呢?还是‘北京小吃‘吸引名人?.” Sohu, 4 June 2017,

Rolling Donkeys

A Brief Reflection on Final Research Paper

I choose to do street food because it is a unique perspective and a crucial cultural component of Chinese food scenes. It is also consistent with my group presentation and my interview. Through the lenses of food, I hope to show something more about Chinese society. That’s why I chose the subtitle to be “More Than Meets the Eye.” Because the research paper was only 8-10 double space, so I do not want my subject or theme to be too broad. Prof. Ristaino mentioned this in the email too. Eventually, I didn’t choose to compare 5 street foods from different cities because I want to offer a holistic view of Beijing street food and I do want to focus on the city I know best. During the interview with my dad, I realized regional cultures are distinct and diverse. So the wording of 5 street foods from various cities has is very demanding for me and beyond my current writing ability. However, I remain interested in the original comparison perspective and if I take more interdisciplinary courses, I hope to carry on this track with what I have learned in the course.

The three street foods I chose are all depicted in renowned Chinese books by famous Chinese writers. Unfortunately, when I was writing the paper, I find the translation of the proses or books not sufficient enough. Douzhi’er is depicted in Zengqi Wang and Shiqiu Liang’s proses. Rolling Donkey was written in Haiyin Lin’s My Old Memories of Peking. While Baodu was written in Shiqiu’s most renowned proses collection《雅舍谈吃》. Through the reminiscence of street food, they try to convey the idea of food and social ideologies coexist and evolve together. That’s also something I hope to convey in my paper, however briefly.











Category: Student Work

Final Paper: The Exquisite Sociohistorical Intersection of Brasil and Italia by Willi Freire

The Exquisite Sociohistorical Intersection of Brasil and Italia by Willi Freire

Throughout the duration of my life, I have repeatedly questioned the prominence of Italian cuisine within the context of Brasil. Why did I consume so many pasta dishes, pizza specialties, and why do Italians as a community of people still resonate so deeply with me? These are the fundamental questions that prompted me to explore the vast intersection between Brasil and Italia. In this paper, I will examine the foundation of the connection between these two distinct groups historically, while also exploring the anthropological effects on the population of Italian immigrants in Brasil, which was primarily showcased through the formulation of identity premised around cuisine, language, work, religion and many other factors aligning with Italian values as a whole. Furthermore, towards the latter half of this research project, I will delve into modern-day narratives of persons who have reconciled this dynamic themselves, whether it be throughout the trajectory of their life, or through a deeper glance into this beautiful overlap between these two robust cultures that continue to light up the world today.

First and foremost, it is necessary to comprehend characteristics of Italian immigrants and their original points of origins, as these understandings can help one more closely grasp the synergies between these two groups. The segmentation of such immigrants is best seen by their occupation and socioeconomic status overall: Grain traders shifted over to Odessa, while iron miners fled to Belgium and Luxembourg; construction workers, regardless of skill, worked on infrastructure abroad, primarily in Switzerland, Portugal, Egypt and the United States; lastly, the framers followed a movement to the southernmost parts of South America, particularly to Argentina and Brasil. In terms of numbers, the majority of people came from the north, specifically Veneto (see Appendix, Figure 1); the remaining half were comprised of Italians, who originally resided in the central and southern parts of Italy. The way in which these numbers came to fruition can be seen by two distinct transoceanic migration experiences. First, the time window from the unification of Italy and the end of the century, immigrants overwhelmingly came from the North and migrated to Brasil, Argentine and the United States, with a purpose of “own[ing] and cultivat[ing] a piece of land” (Andreola 11).  The second period is known as the Giolitti Era, from the start of the first century up until the adjournment of Wolrd War I—this period is almost entirely comprised of southern migrants who primarily ventured to the United States. To further break up these movements, this paper is more integrally focused on the first movement of Italian migrants to Brasil. Hence, during that first period, there are two natural distributions: firstly, from 1876 to 1896, the flow of immigrants flocked to the southern inhabited lands of Brasil and Argentina, whereas, from 1896 to 1901, was heavily concentrated to São Paulo to the coffee fazendas in the area (Andreola 11). Lastly, Italian immigration to Brasil was characterized as a family-oriented immigration, as opposed to Italian immigration to Argentina and the U.S. which was more so done on an individual basis. These historical insights are imperative in understanding the compatibilities between these two nations as one further deconstructs this dynamic relationship from a cultural perspective.

Furthermore, it is important to understand the key events that sparked Italian immigration to the western hemisphere and other adjacent nations. A Brasilian historian who greatly studied Italian immigration, Paulo Pinheiro Machado, boils down the principal cause of Italian immigration to one concept:

‘“A grande emigração europeias durante o século XIX foi, principalmente, consequência das transformações agrárias processadas pelo capitalismo. O campo tornou-se expulsar de pessoas em todos os países europeus em épocas distintas, com períodos de duração diferenciados. Objetivamente, o que ocorreu em todas as partes, foi a destruição da ordem tradicional compensa, que mantinha um equilíbrio entre a produção agrícola e artesanal durante as diferentes estações de um ano”’ (Andreola 13-14).

This thought-provoking conclusion claims that the culprit of the instability that plagued Italy was premised around its transition to capitalism, which ignited the “destruction of the peasant traditional order,” since now there was no “balance between agricultural and handicraft production during the different seasons of the year” (Andreola 14). Contrary to what one may think, the capitalist tendencies of Italy during the latter half of the 19th century brought in higher taxes, amplified poverty, and many times, led to loss of land for these peasants, especially across the north. Conjunctively, the emancipation of the peasants from the Signore meant that the acquisition of property would now have to be done through purchasing or leasing contracts, but these peasants did not have sufficient capital to successfully acquire property. In turn, other factors including overpopulation, lack of jobs, and disruption in harvesting based on climate change (specifically in Veneto) sparked further migration efforts out of Italy. (Andreola 15). Lastly, poor sanitary conditions further motivated migration since regions like Treviso were depopulated as a result of the cholera disease (Andreola 15). Thus, citizens of Veneto among others were strongly incentivized to move from their impoverished lifestyles and begin a new life in a place that aligned with their cultural values.

It is crucial to spend time on truly understanding the idea that Brasil was seen as a destination country for these Italian immigrants. Brazil ranked third in the number of Italian migrants during these periods. Gianfausti Rosoli claimed that “coloro che si potevano permettere il biglietto per l’America Latina si dirigevano là, dal momento che vi erano prspettive migliori, minori problemi con la lingua, e un adattamento culturale più facile” (Andreola 17). Essentially, there is distinct attractiveness of a country like Brazil to Italians. Brazil was large, relatively unexplored, and after the abolition of slavery, a high demand of working labor. These considerations coupled with the alignment of culture, given the similar romance language, inspired Veneto-residing Italians to migrate with positive expectations about the future. The Brasilians themselves yearned for a new source of labor for their coffee fazendas.[1] Hence, they capitalized on the European urge for a new life by initiating contratos de parceira[2] in which the farmers would pay all moving expenses in exchange for their labor (Andreola 17). The high demand of labor meshed well with the urgency of Italians to make a living; thus, almost 50% of the entire planting and harvesting of coffee in Brasil was completed by Italian immigrants between the years of 1910 and 1918 (Andreola 22). Of course, there was substantial initiatives created by the Italian government in keeping their population intact. They introduced restrictions, such as military obligations prior to departure, and instituted a new law called the Commissariato Generale per L’Emigrazione (Andreola 12). This law enforced inspection commissions in the most utilized ports of Italy. Ultimately, however, a vast majority of the immigrants were successful in reaching their respective destinations. During this time of immigration, there were approximately two and a half million people in São Paulo, almost one million of which were Italian immigrants (Andreola 18). This statistic clearly conveys just how profound the movement of Italian immigrants were in coming to Brasil, particularly to the states of São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul. In Rio Grande do Sul, the opportunity to pave one’s own way was quite the norm. With a lot of land up for grabs, northern Italians capitalized on what they do best by farming and harvesting in the rural lands of Rio Grande do Sul. It is said that Rio Grande do Sul speicifically transitioned from the “monoculture fazendas […] to the polyculture of the Italian immigrants,” who added endless dimensions to the occupation of farming (Andreola 29). Evidently, one can now understand not only the cultural connections between Brasil and Italia but also the practical ones, which emphatically aligned throughout the influx of immigrants in these two major states of São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul.

Moreover, the conception of an Italian-Brasilian identity as a phenomenon showcases just how the intermingling of these two cultures manifested in language, cuisine and overall values. To better solidify the concept of intersection in the culinary space it is important note that São Paulo has more than 51 different culinary traditions today (Andreola 32). Specific to Italy, the translation between regional differences was realized in Brasil with the creation of specialty dishes. This regional attribute allowed Italian immigrants to preserve their identity, not merely as an Italian, but more importantly, as a Venetian or Florentino, for instance. This regional dynamic was certainly embraced by the Brasilians, who were still tracing their own culture themselves. A beautiful quote illustrates this concept perfectly: “A cozinha itliana é na verdade uma cozinha de regiões que precede no tempo à própria nação italiana, regiões que até 1861 eram parte de esatdos indepdenetes e muitas vezes hostis, compartilhando poucas tadições culturais, sem uma língua comum” (Andreola 33). Essentially, this quote in Portuguese encapsulates the multidimensional qualities of Italian cuisine—one in which there isn’t necessarily traceable similarities, one in which dialects of Italian are spoken, one in which circumstantial requirements like temperature and region-specific ingredients are necessary for the creation of certain dishes. As a Brasilian myself, I can wholeheartedly see the resemblance of this value across Brasil, and I am confident that Italian influence had a major part in making this happen, since there are so many clear-cut segments between regional dishes across the nation of Brasil.

So, what are some of the Italian-inspired dishes that extended to Brasil over time? Some of these renowned “Italian” dishes have very faint similarities with actual Italian dishes, which seems to be a recurring theme throughout this course. For example, cappuccino with chocolate and cinnamon is something specific to the Americas and was actually created in Brasil, but it is not common to find it in Italy at all (Gourmet). Secondly, Brasilian fogazza has a religious component in that it is consumed during the Catholic holiday, Festa da Nossa Senhora Achiropita—this dish more so resembles the Italian dish panzerotto, originating in Naples (Gourmet). Now, this Italian dish with a twist has served as the foundation of the modern day Brasilian “pastel,” a country-wide fried and breaded snack that has revolutionized Brasilian cusine, specifically its bakery-like restaurant that have spread their footprints across the globe. Another Italian-inspire Brasilian dish is “frango com polenta,” which is prevalent in Curitiba, a southern Brasilian metropolitan city. While its roots stem from northern Italy, this dish is certainly prepared in a distinct manner, when comparing it to its originator Italian dish. The typical northern Italian version of this dish is polenta and pork as a combination not polenta and chicken; furthermore, the way it is prepared is quite different—in Italy, it’s preferred that the polenta is more firm and thick, while in Brasil it is usually seen as creamier and made with white flour. Next, “molho bolonhesa” is prepared very differently in Italy than in Brasil: While in Brasil the taste is considered more homogenous and standard because it only takes into account ground beef, in Italy this sauce is prepared with beef and pork and takes several hours to complete successfully (Gourmet). Lastly, one of my favorite dishes of all time, rondelli,[3] is said to be an Italian dish; however, there is no equivalent counterpart in Italy, so this dish in particular has molded its own path as part of a Brasilian “Italian-like” dish (Ana). Partly because it is often served in Italian-Brasilian restaurants, this dish uses integral Italian ingredients like ham and cheese and of course, a pasta sheet. It is frequently filled with tomato or cream sauce and it parallels lasagna as a dish, though it is quite different in many ways. As one can perceive, there are never-ending similarities between Italian dishes and Italian-inspired Brasilian dishes; nonetheless, it is also very clear that these dishes have taken a different route in coming to fruition and reflect the Brasilian environment and culture in their overall composition.

More so than any other ingredient, pasta has revolutionized Brasil like no other. From its initial introduction from Italian immigrants, pasta has resonated so beautifully in Brasil that over 99.5% of the population consumes it today (Varejo). On top of this astonishing statistic, Brasilian come in third of global consumers of pasta across the entire world (Globo). When comparing to Italians, Brasilians certainly bring a twist as far as their pasta-preferences. Brasilians tend to like their pasta softer, so not as “al dente” (Maria). Moreover, Brasilians are known for their “creativity” and “imagination” behind their pasta dishes (San Francisco).  While Brasilians love pasta “alho e óleo,” they also prioritize more sophisticated recipes comprising of pasta with lots of assorted cheese, white cream, “crème de leite,” mushrooms, eggs, olives, ham, and other legumes” (San Francisco). The versatility of pasta as an ingredient is undoubtedly one of the fundamental reasons why it has been so widely accepted across Brasil. Pasta is characterized by its “energy source, functionality, ease of combination with other foods” (San Francisco). Evidently, one can see the power and magnificence of pasta across the country of Brasil not only through the countless unique recipes of pasta cultivated in Brasil, but also its overall diffusion across the country, as mostly everyone has adopted it as part of their daily lives.

In demonstrating this beautiful dichotomy in actuality, I came across an interesting interview with Guga Rocha, a Brasilian chef, who spoke on the influence of Italian cuisine in Brazil. He answered some of the more intricate questions about why Italian food so greatly resonates with Brasilians and has stood tall throughout the decades. He claims that it’s because of “the healthy, colorful and nutritive qualities, and also for the emotional appeal that “‘cucina della mamma’ brings to the popular imagination” (Riel-Salvatore). He does an exceptional job at tackling such a complex question, as it is hard to know the exact reasoning as to why it has been such a hit, as so many other cultural food share similar values to that of Brasilians. Furthermore, he comments on how Brasilians have stretched the simplicity that Italians so dearly love, especially in relations to pizza. While the Italians really hold firm to mozzarella, tomatoes and occasionally basil leaves, Brasilians have experimented like no other by topping pizza with shrimp, catupiry (white creamy cheese), calabresa, and so on (Riel-Salvatore).  He then goes on to characterize the city of Sao Paulo as one that serves as the “pizza capital of the world” (Riel-Salvatore). He shares quite a provocative statistic that “there is more pizza sold in Sao Paulo in one night than in three full days in Rome” (Riel-Salvatore). With this bold statement, I could not help but relate to our class concepts on the extension of certain cuisines and the effects of such extension. Like Chinese-American cuisine, Italian-Brasilian cuisine has formed its own path, paralleling Italian food while simultaneous clearly deviating from its traditional zone of acceptance. Thus, this interview further helped me reconcile just how strong Italian influence is in Brasil as a whole, while simultaneously cementing in my head the points of differentiation.

Lastly, I think about my own childhood in consuming certain dishes that without a doubt can be mistaken as a purely Italian dish.  As a young kid, I would eat macarronada, which is essentially any pasta mixed with some kind of marinara sauce and protein—many times, it’s a mix of whatever ingredients are left over from the week. Additionally, this dish is symbolic because it represents the working class and is typically served after the culmination of a hard, gruesome week on a Sunday afternoon. For me, I never questioned the roots of this dish, but after really reconnecting with my identity and questioning the reasoning behind my dietary habits, I have grown to be infatuated by the influence of that dish in my life: It represented my mother’s relentless work—her drive, her initiative, her contagious energy, and ultimately, her outlook on life. Furthermore, my grandma made pasta (usually thin, so spaghetti or angel hair) with white sauce and corn, peas and other miscellaneous ingredients. The dish was always unique each time, and it always turned out fantastic. After careful reflection, I can confidently state this claim: Pasta opens endless doors in allowing for each culture to express themselves, whether it be a symbol of their arduous work or their creative foundation on which they hope to build off of, or perhaps, a combination of the old and new. I cannot help but end this paper with my personal experiences because it solidifies just how impactful pasta’s reach is in touching so many lives. The key is to stop and ask, “why am I consuming this dish?” This inquiry will provoke the discovery of subconscious yet deeply rooted values, and may allow you to feel more connected to your roots.

Thus, in this paper, I have conducted a very thorough sociohistorical analysis on the prevalence of Italian influence in Brasil from its birth. Additionally, there have been connections made on how this vast relationship has impacted individuals’ lives with references from an interview and my own personal connection to this robust intersection. With that, I close with a highly applicable quote that highlights a key takeaway from this course: “The presence of the category “other” permeates all concepts of identity” (Andreola 30).


Works Cited

Admin. “História Do Macarrão.” Portal São Francisco,

Ana. “Rondelli, the Brazilian Italian Dish -.” Italianchips Easy Recipes Tested by Ana, 18 Mar. 2017,

Andreola, Alice. “Being Italian in Brazil.” Eh, Paesan!, 1998, doi:10.3138/9781442674318-fm

“Brasil.” Pasta for All,

“Brasileiro é o Terceiro Maior Consumidor De Macarrão Do Mundo.” G1, 17 Oct. 2014,

Gourmet, Bom. “10 Comidas Italianas Que Só Existem No Brasil: Veja Quais São.” Gazeta Do Povo, 28 July 2017,

Maria, Diga. “The Brazilian Way of Eating Pasta.”,

Riel-Salvatore, Gabriel. “Italian Cuisine with a Brazilian Twist – Interview with Chef Guga Rocha.” Panoram Italia, Panoram Italia, 2 July 2014,

Varejo, FMCG E. “Macarrão: Mais Um Prato Queridinho Na Mesa Do Brasileiro.” What People Watch, Listen To and Buy,


[1] Fazendas: farms.

[2] Contratos de parceira: Partnership contracts

[3] Rondelli: see recipe —


Figure 1: Map showing the distribution of immigrants based on Italian geography

Category: Student Work

Noodles in China and Italy: A Reflection on Food, Culture, Identity, and Love

Posted on by 0 comment

by Abigail Chin


The noodle is a remarkable culture bearer for China and Italy because noodles reflect and illustrate the unique societal values and identities of both countries and their respective cultures in different ways. Noodles are made from simple ingredients, but the context in which they are produced and consumed within Italy and China imbue the noodle with great meaning and identity beyond the noodle’s simple categorization as a food product.

At the most basic level, the noodle performs the basic function of giving people affordable nutrition in both China and Italy. The base ingredients for noodles are some combination of flour, water, and/or eggs. As such, noodles contain protein, minerals, and carbohydrates, along with some minerals. Noodles in China are considered a staple food, as seen in “Bite of China: Staples Foods.” Noodles are a cereal food, and “cereal food is the main body of the traditional Chinese diet, the main source of energy for the human body, and also the most economical energy food” (Journal of Ethnic Foods, Ma and Zhang 212). Noodles have performed the all-important role of feeding millions of Chinese people for hundreds of years, and China is the largest consumer of noodles in present-day. Italy also relied on noodles as an economical staple food during different times in history. For example, in Let the Meatballs Rest we learn that around 1630, pasta was very popular in Sicily but less so in Naples, where it was still considered a luxury. During that time, Neapolitans suffered from terrible famine and poverty as a result of Spain’s poor governance. There was an extreme shortage of the former staple food meat, and the Neapolitans took advantage of the mechanical pasta maker and made macaroni their new, economical staple food in the place of meat. During that time, they were given the nickname “macaroni-eaters” because of their love of pasta, and in the 1800s Italy as a whole country took on that label (Montanari161-162). Noodles have played an essential part in providing wholesome nutrition to both China and Italy. The rise in popularity of macaroni in Naples is a great example of how different regions of Italy and China experience noodles in different ways, according to different regional characteristics and traditions.

In China, noodles are a staple food, but there are thousands of different noodles varieties throughout the different regions, provinces, and cities of China. Each region of China has its own signature noodle dishes with vastly different preparation methods and flavor combinations. China is a large country with so many different types of climates, so many food traditions remain popular in specific regions in part because their respective geographic environments and climates are conducive for growing and preparing certain foods. However, perhaps just as significant is the fact that certain food traditions arose in a specific region, and people in that particular region care to continue the tradition, or perhaps people in other regions do not have quite the same affinity for the tastes of other regions’ noodle dishes. It has been said Chinese are the most food-oriented people in the world, and food traditions are among the most important traditions that the Chinese people keep. This is illustrated beautifully by the way noodles are prepared and eaten throughout China.

Bamboo pole pressed noodles are a remarkable noodle dish that can only be found in southern China, while pulled noodles are a proud tradition of Northern China. Bamboo pole noodles are made in a small area of China that includes Canton and Hong Kong, while pulled noodles are made throughout a large area of Northern China. The art of making bamboo pole noodles is a strenuous and lengthy process that was invented one hundred years ago and has been passed down between each generation since then (Hsiang Ju Lin 309-311). The art of bamboo pole noodles requires patience, discipline, and precise attention to detail in order to achieve the proper texture and form of noodle. The process of making these noodles is detailed by Hsiang Ju Lin in “Slippery Noodles.” The dough is made by mixing duck eggs straight into wheat without water, and then pole operator must bounce and pivot on the bamboo pole for hours, folding the dough at certain intervals (309-311). A person who makes this type of noodle does so as his or her full-time job or career, because making these noodles properly requires a good amount of training and experience; it seems it is not the type of dish that a person can make at home on a whim. This noodle reflects the culture and discipline of the Southern Chinese people in the Canton and Hong Kong areas, because this process requires an hours-long commitment to excellence and quality in order to enjoy even one bowl of noodles. On an individual level, the bamboo pole operators’ dedication, strong work ethic, and craftsmanship is embodied in these noodles. The fact that these particular noodles have remained popular, and that the art has been passed down over a hundred years shows the value that Chinese culture places on the art of quality food.

On the other hand, pulled noodles give us a window into the cultural fabric of northern China. These noodles have a long history in northern China. While pulling the noodles, the “noodle-maker would give a riveting performance” (Hsiang Ju Lin 312). The fact that noodle-makers would put on a show in a street stall or in a restaurant reveals that they had a ready audience for their noodle-making. The Chinese are a food-oriented culture, and the ready audience for noodle-makers illustrates that Chinese people appreciated and continue to appreciate the artisanship and hard work that goes into making the noodles. This presents a stark contrast to American restaurants, where the chef and cooks most often remain behind the closed double doors of the kitchen, and never come out to show how food is made. In the USA, it seems that at nicer restaurants, it is essential that the process of cooking be hidden from the customer, with a distinct separation between front-end wait staff and back-end chefs and cooks. The emphasis and value are placed on the appearance and taste of the food when it lands on the dining table, but less so in the process behind it. The performance of noodle pullers illustrates that the Chinese, specifically the northern Chinese in this case, value every step of the noodle-making process, not just what ends up in their bowl on the table. Lanzhou pulled noodles are a different type of pulled noodles that were invented by Muslims who settled in the Xian and Lanzhou cities of northern China after they traveled in from the west on the Silk Road (Hsiang Ju Lin 313-314). This dish marries traditional Muslim beef soup with pulled noodles native to northern China. The soup was made from green parsley, red pepper oil, white noodles, radish, coriander, beef, spice blends, and a signature clear broth. The clear broth of this noodle dish is very different from the rich and heavy sauce that is often served with pulled noodles in northern China (314-315). This particular noodle dish is a great example of how other cultures could influence and contribute to the noodle culture in China. Lanzhou pulled noodles are a direct result of the Silk Road and how the Silk Road changed and influenced Chinese culture in the northern region.

In Italy, the noodle is a wonderful symbol of the entire Italian culture and more specific regional traditions. The earlier example of the Neapolitan development of a macaroni culture reveals an important aspect of Italian culture. When discussing Italian culture, it is important to recognize that each region of Italy has a distinct history. Each region was conquered, occupied, and liberated multiple times by different rulers and countries, and during different time periods. Some regions of Italy did not interact with other regions for hundreds of years at a time, so each region developed its own cultural identity and food culture. In addition, different regions of Italy have geographies that are suited to raising different kinds of crops and livestock, furthering the regional difference in cuisine. While pasta is now recognized as the signature food of Italy, each region has a very different history with pasta. In the Middle Ages, Sicily “was the region of Italy where industrialized dry pasta first took hold” (Montanari 161). Up to this point, Sicilians were known as “macaroni eaters” (161). However, around 1630 after pasta became an economical staple food in Naples following a period of famine, Neapolitans became known as “macaroni-eaters” (162). It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the entire country of Italy was known as “macaroni-eaters” (162). Since this date coincides with the unification of Italy in 1861, I imagine that perhaps the unification enabled pasta in all its forms to travel and become widespread throughout the entire country, rather than stay confined within specific regions.

In addition, the example of cappelletti and tortellini further illustrates the different food traditions in the different regions of Italy. In the present-day region of Emilia-Romagna, the noodle dishes of cappelletti and tortellini are filled differently (Montanari 42). In Romagna, cappelletti are filled with cheese as a result of the sheep culture in the region. On the other hand, in Emilia tortellini are filled with meat as a result of the native pork culture 42). Both regions incorporate filled pasta dough into their regional cuisine, but the different fillings are a nod to their separate histories of occupation. While the landscape differences between Emilia and Romagna contributed to this difference, the fact that the Longobards occupied Emilia and the Byzantines ruled Romagna is a likely cause of different food traditions illustrated by these stuffed pasta dishes (42-43).

The noodle is an important cultural element of both Italian and Chinese societies and their respective cultures. Both the Chinese and Italians demonstrate their commitment to high quality food made with love and expert-level care through noodles. In the article “Noodles, Traditionally and Today”, we learn that there are thousands of noodle varieties in China (Zhang and Ma 210). These noodles are crafted with great care and hard work, such as with bamboo pole noodles and hand pulled noodles. Within Italy, there are hundreds of varieties of noodle shapes, from capellini to bucatini to the classic spaghetti. There must be thousands of unique pasta dish varieties after accounting for sauce varieties. The overwhelming variety of noodle shapes and forms indicates that both Chinese and Italian culture truly value the art and form of noodles. In Italian culture, “different shapes of pasta, although alike in substance, produce different effects on the taste buds” (Montanari10-11). There is an understanding in Italian culture that the form of food, such as pasta, will profoundly affect the taste or flavor of a dish. With this belief, the number of pasta shapes that have been created over the years clearly illustrates the Italian commitment to seeking excellent taste and flavor in food. In Chinese culture, the value of the balancing of the five flavors in conjunction with the hard work in making noodles illustrates the Chinese dedication to quality food.

Noodles play an important role in Italian culture because pasta is the food most associated with Italian food culture by both Italians themselves and by people throughout the world. The traditional pasta and tomato sauce is a great example of the signature of Italian cuisine. Italians, perhaps more than any other culture in the world, perfected the art of drawing from a variety of gastronomical cultures to create superb food. There is great debate over which part of the world first invented noodles, and we may never truly know if China or Italy or the Middle East created the first proper noodle. Regardless, the Italians took the noodle tradition and perfected the production and drying of noodles and pasta. Tomatoes and tomato sauce were brought to Italy from the Americas, and they are not native to Italy. However, because of the masterful Italian cooking techniques, pasta and tomato sauce will forever be associated with Italy’s cultural identity. Pasta is the perfect “metaphor for the unity and variety of Italian alimentary styles” (Montanari 160). The Italians’ ability to draw from different gastronomical cultures is an important part of Italian food culture, and the noodle personifies this ability more than any other food.

Noodles have an incredibly important position in Chinese food culture because of the Chinese are an incredibly food-oriented culture. Food is interwoven into all of the significant Chinese customs, rituals, life events, and holidays. Noodles in China are especially imbued with customs and meaning. For example, many noodle dishes have other names that reflect their place in Chinese culture rather than the food in the dish Qishan minced noodles are also known as “sister-in-law noodles” because it is said that a poor student was able to pass his civil service exam only because of the great noodles his sister-in-law prepared for him. Later, many people tried to cook the same noodle dish to seek success for their sons in their exam. So, the noodles also took on another epithet of “ashamed son noodles,” in reference to parents’ shame when the same noodle dish did not lead to their son’s success. The naming of noodle dishes shows that many noodles dishes are linked with other aspects of life, and the food is always connected to other aspects of life. There are many other noodle dishes that are forever linked with certain traditions or customs in Chinese culture. For example, longevity noodles or long-life noodles, are served at birthday parties. In “Bite of China: Staples Foods”, we see that there is a beautiful noodle tradition that is performed at a 70th birthday celebration in one village in China. Since long noodles are associated with a long life, every member of a village is served a bowl of noodles upon arriving at a birthday party. Each person picks the longest noodle out of his or her bowl, and places it in the bowl of the man who is celebrating his birthday. The birthday celebration can only be complete after the man eats the bowl of the longest noodles. Here, the noodles symbolize the love and good wishes from every member of the community to this man. It is clear that noodles in Chinese culture are much more than the ingredients, they are a special food that represents love and can guide one through both big and small life events.

Both Italian and Chinese cultures emphasize the importance of eating meals with loved ones. In China, it is incredibly important to eat food with family. In Italy, a big part of the Mediterranean diet tradition is eating with others, whether that be friends or family. The amount of hard work, care, and attention to detail that goes into selecting, preparing, and eating noodles is more than the sum of its parts: it is love. There is love that goes into preparing noodles well in both Italian and Chinese culture. In the story “Crossing the Bridge”, a family chef labored over many noodle dishes and experimented with many techniques and styles of cooking until he found the perfect technique to keep noodles warm for the beloved son in the family (Durack 182-183). In the “Art of the Feast”, we see the time and care the women in an Italian family put into shaping hundreds of little tortellini by hand. In the same episode, we see two men go around to several different shops over the course of a whole day to collect the perfect ingredients for just one noodle dinner, as is common in Italian culture. Making noodles with pride and care for others is an act of love. In “A Bite of China: Staple Foods”, a cameraman named Bih-Bo lives in Beijing with his wife, while his two daughters, parents, and parents-in-law live far away in the countryside. He is only able to see his parents and twin daughters once a year, at the Spring Festival celebration. He mentions that his favorite dish is his mother’s braised noodles. He explains that the traditional noodles and jaozi that his family makes together during this time will remain a “seed planted in [his children’s] soul” that they can always remember and think of as a happy memory with family. All of these examples stand in stark contrast to the American culture of fast food, where speed and hunger gratification are valued highest, and there is much less emphasis on the source of ingredients or what it actually takes to bring wonderful food to the table.

What is the noodle/what are noodles?

The noodle is a combination of flour and some liquid that can be shaped into hundreds of shapes, with varying thickness and hundreds of textures, by a variety of methods such as pulling, pressing, and casting with molds. The noodle provides a healthy form of nutrition and sustenance for all people across the world’s many cultures. It is a nutritious, wholesome food that comes from a global gastronomic tradition of quality, care, wholesome nutrition, and love. Throughout human creativity and hard work, society has created thousands of different noodle dishes.

Noodles have fed people for hundreds of years, during times of prosperity and times of desperation. They can convey nonverbal messages such as well-wishes, good luck, celebration, and love. When the noodle is prepared with love, it can bond families, build friendships, and strengthen communities.



Authenticity: the Evolution of Chinese Food in America by Akshitha Adhiyaman

Akshitha Adhiyaman

Italian/Chinese 375W

Ristiano and Li 

June 29, 2018

Authenticity: the Evolution of Chinese Food in America 

Venturing down Mulberry Street, I hit an intersection with bright orange lights hanging from short buildings and signs filled with characters I could not read. Just a few seconds ago, I was trotting along the streets of young, vibrant SoHo and then somehow entered this new world. I had never been to Chinatown before, even though I have always lived so close to New York City. It was intriguing to see such a stark difference in culture from the rest of the city, and I was ready to explore it. There were museums, temples, bakeries, grocery stores, tiny ice cream shops, and so much more. The restaurants were quite tantalizing, so my family and I decided to settle on one of the cozy eateries on the corner of the street. The menu was similar to pretty much every other Chinese restaurant we had been to before, so we ordered our usual appetizers, soups, and entrees. I was curious to know how this food adapted to match the palates of so many people across America. Why did only Cantonese food become popular? Where did all the sizable differences of traditional Chinese dishes come from? The presence of native foods has always been of great significance in Chinese immigrant families as it allows them to keep a piece of their own homes, yet it has evolved into a novel style of Chinese cuisine in America that is so prevalent in this day.

The first wave of Chinese immigration to the United States of America was in 1815. Since then, more than 2.3 million Chinese immigrants, consisting of skilled workers, laborers, etc, have settled in America (Zong 2017). The Chinese played a monumental role in the development of the railroad system in the West and helped build the economy after the Civil War by picking up the jobs that slaves were doing before.  Settling in a new land, these Chinese laborers used food as a way to remember their homeland: “Chinese food was important not only because of its familiar tastes but also because of the memories it carried” (Chen 2017). In their culture, food plays an essential role in providing strong family values and bringing people together. To balance the pressure that comes with settling into new land, a new life, they wished for some sort of familiarity. The few Chinese restaurants that were present were open primarily for these immigrants, and they provided inexpensive, yet hearty meals like bean sprouts and rice. 

Even though these immigrants supported the growth of America as a whole, many other laborers despised them as they were additional competition in the job market: “Many of the non-Chinese workers in the United States came to resent the Chinese laborers, who might squeeze them out of their jobs” (US Department of State). They were willing to work longer hours for much less compensation. Other than fighting for job opportunities, the non-Chinese laborers used any differences between them as a mechanism to label them negatively. This increased animosity led to the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 which prevented these immigrants from becoming naturalized citizens as well as restricting immigration. This discrimination increased the tension and pushed many Chinese workers out of their jobs. They moved out to the East Coast and were struggling to prosper like they previously were. Desperate to make a living, they turned to running laundries and restaurants, two types of businesses still primarily owned by Chinese people; “Cooking and cleaning were both women’s work. They were not threatening to white laborers” (Lee 2008). This was just the beginning of the overwhelming expansion of Chinese cuisine and culture that has become such a staple business now in America. 

These Chinese restaurants were thriving, especially after Richard Nixon’s famous visit to Beijing, China. This, in addition to immigration reform, caused their restaurant businesses to grow exponentially (Rude 2016). Among all the dishes, chop suey spread across the United States like an epidemic. Everyone was raving over this perfect mixture of meats and vegetables and the intricate balance of flavors. Most people thought it was China’s national dish, and thought it was something unique and exotic. Yet, this was not actually a Chinese dish at all. The Chinese chefs knew they could not serve authentic dishes like sea cucumbers or chicken feet to the American population. Chop suey, in fact means “of odds and ends” and was just scraps of ingredients tossed together (Jurafsky 2014). It was speculated that chop suey came about when the Ambassador of China, Li Hung-Chang, refused to eat the food that was provided to him in his hotels. His personal chefs concocted whatever they could with the ingredients that were available, creating chop suey. After this, people started waiting in lines to taste this supposed traditional dish and his visit was the spark to this “chop suey fad” (Library of Congress). Yet, Jennifer Lee’s research determines that there was no exact point at which this dish was created, but there were so many small events and parts that built up to lead to this craze for chop suey (Lee 2008). This dish is just one example of how the Chinese cuisine has evolved and become popular in America. 

At Chinese restaurants today, the big buzzword is General Tso’s chicken. It is the most well-known Chinese dish today and is usually the most popular item or number one chef special on thousands of Chinese menus. The deep orange, tangy sauce is mouthwatering and the small chunks of chicken are perfectly crispy. If you show this to any Chinese native or ask for it at a restaurant in China, they will probably look at you quite perplexed. Lee continued her journey to find out about who General Tso was and how the dish even came about. She travelled deep into the village, getting discouraged as no one was familiar with the dish. She finally found the General’s hometown and encountered the chef who first made this staple meal, Chef Peng. Excited to have finally found her answer and the origins, Lee took a bite of the his recipe of General Tso’s chicken and was confused and in fact, quite disappointed: “Where was the sweetness? The tanginess? Instead, it had a strong salty flavor” (Lee 2008). The food that she and millions of others had come to love and cherish was not even close to the taste and texture of the original. It was even quite saddening to read about Peng’s reaction to the popularized version of his special recipe. He stated as he walked away, “Chinese cuisine took on an American influence in order to make a business out of it” (Lee 2008). In order to make Chinese food acceptable and liked in America, chefs made these dishes “sweeter, boneless, and more heavily deep-fried”: three defining characteristics of General Tso’s chicken (Rude 2016). All these traditional dishes were transforming the true identity of Chinese cuisine, to the point where the Americans that were consuming this food became accustomed to it and believed it to be authentic. 

Many of these Chinese dishes also changed due to the nature of living in a new environment that not only had a different culture, but also different resources available. They have adapted more and more to fit American tastes in order to keep their businesses running. Vegetables that are typically used in authentic recipes are bamboo shoots or Chinese cabbage, whereas popular dishes in Chinese-American cuisine are topped with broccoli and carrots as they are more readily available (Chan). Many of the dishes were typically savory (just like Chef Peng’s version of General Tso’s chicken), and yet due to American liking for milder, sweeter items and greater accessibility to refined sugar, the recipes were slowly changing. The American population also took to a strong liking of crab rangoon, a wonton dish that was filled with crab and cream cheese, typically eaten as an appetizer. This is also shocking as dairy is not typically consumed in Chinese cuisine in the first place (Jurafsky 2014). There has never been an emphasis on producing dairy and a large portion of the population is lactose intolerant as well. The greater availability of these new vegetables and dairy products in America have led them to be commonly integrated into their food. 

When Chinese cuisine first started developing, much of the population was poor and had no proper ways of preserving their foods. Due to this, Chinese cuisine is filled with dishes of almost every single body part of chickens, fish, pigs and seafood (Lee 2008). Today, these may be considered revolting to Americans as they are much pickier about what textures and what animal body parts they can consume, to make consuming animals feel more humane. This is why Chinese American food turned towards using chicken breast; they diced them up into small chunks without any skin or bones. There were also many more constraints in their cooking style back then. Lee states, “Food had to be dried or pickled…stir-frying was a popular technique because it used little oil and consumed energy efficiently” (Lee 2008). Chinese food developing in America did not face any of these problems as there were appliances like freezers and salt was more heavily used to preserve meats. The Chinese also were not familiar with using ovens which made them lack in the department of baking and desserts. In a traditional Chinese dinner, there is no concept of dessert. If anything, there may be a plate of fruit instead. The fortune cookie, which actually originated in Japan, “filled the dessert gap in that cuisine for American eaters” and continued further to become a monumental symbol for Chinese food and culture itself (Jurafsky 2014). This change in resources and appliances have indeed played a tremendous role in how Chinese cuisine evolved in America. 

The stark contrast between traditional Chinese cuisine and Chinese-American dishes can clearly be seen by looking into the homes of immigrant families in America. The dishes that they serve on the dinner table are much more authentic than you can find in any restaurant across the country. Susannah Chen reflects back on her mother’s recipe for making ping an mien, a type of Chinese chicken noodle soup. It was a recipe that was special in her home “for birthdays, and when someone was leaving to go far, far away” (Chen 2014). She realized the significance once her boyfriend was moving away to continue his studies, and she spent time trying to find the most authentic ingredients in order to make something meaningful. Though she did not make it perfectly, it was a special moment, making such an authentic recipe symbolic to her and her family. This dish is rarely found in Chinese-American restaurants, rather there are soups like chicken corn soup or plain vegetable soup. These authentic recipes, thankfully, are being passed down the generations, but it would be extremely difficult to bring these types of dishes to the public eye as Americans already believe that they are consuming authentic Chinese food since it has been around for so long. 

Another example of the evolution of Chinese food in America is seen through Jennifer Chan’s experience with both her family and the restaurant they own. Her father is both the owner and head chef of the restaurant; Chan revealed many of the differences in his cooking between home and at work, over the years.  Chan explains, “The food that we serve in the restaurant and what my parents cook at home is very different. We use different vegetables and steam our fish whole” (Chan). The food that the restaurant served was more for the public taste, compared to the genuine and comforting flavors that they would make for themselves. Only certain customers know to ask for particular authentic Cantonese or Sichuan dishes, but the majority stick to the most well known dishes. Furthermore, she stated that in Chinese culture, food is served in large bowls or plates at the center of the table to share. Everyone was to pass the dish around and place as much as they wanted on their plate. Yet, at her restaurant, she claims that everything is served in “individual portions” as that is how the Americans typically consume their food, even when sharing a meal as a large group (Chan). The Chinese food culture is even adapting to match the traditions and ways of the Americans. 

Even as Chinese American food is evolving, the authentic Chinese dishes across the Pacific Ocean are also modifying quickly. Eddie Huang, a popular writer and chef, also discusses about trying to connect back to his homeland and past by using food. He explores China and goes on a adventure to discover how the food that he serves in his restaurant in America stands up to the authentic food of the Chinese streets. When he cooked beef noodle soup and served it to a couple of friends and family, his brother said, “Definitely different than Mom’s, but I like it” (Huang 2016). He received similar feedback on many of his other recipes as well. Huang had his own flair and people loved it, but it was still quite unlike the original recipe. Huang then goes out to try dan-dan noodles at little restaurant and compares them to the ones that he loved to devour: “I never liked Sichuan dan-dan mian because everyone got it confused with Taiwanese dan-dan mian that my dad grew up eating…A classic and irresistible dish” (Huang 2016). When visiting this restaurant, he discovered that the dish was barely popular anymore due to its simple ingredients and overly intimidating spice, while in the US, it was still one of the most desired Sichuan dishes to this day. Chinese cuisine is also rapidly changing. In this case, the Americans are appreciating a traditional dish, but it has lost its magic in its native land.

The Chinese American cuisine has established itself throughout the United States, but this does not mean that there are no other options available. Rude writes, “It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that the United States got its first taste of ‘authentic’ Chinese cuisine” (Rude 2016). There were immigrants coming from more locations across China that brought Hunan, Sichuan, Taipei, and Shanghai cuisines to the table (Rude 2016). Though it did not explode and become as in demand like the Americanized Cantonese cuisine, these dishes are still available in various restaurants. Vincent Li discusses how his restaurant in Washington DC caters to both local Americans as well as Chinese people looking for a true meal. He states that cooking Chinese American food is much easier because there are fewer cooking styles and “one just needs to stir-fry the vegetables and meats” (CCTV America). There are even two different menus specific to the patron. The Chinese customers and those American foodies ready to explore new depths of this cuisine, can get a unique menu listing all of the legitimate Chinese dishes that they can prepare. These beautiful dishes are just hiding behind this overpowering, yet inaccurate portrayal of Chinese cuisine.

In conclusion, Chinese-American food has been consistently changing and adapting to fit the likings of the American people and to match the resources available. The rich history of Chinese immigration was the impetus to the widespread liking of Chinese-American cuisine, as well as through various events like the visit of Ambassador Li Hung-Chang or Richard Nixon’s travels to Beijing. The Chinese continued to experiment with new ingredients available in the United States and used cooking styles that were much different to what they were exposed to at home. The divergence between the Chinese cuisine and Chinese-American cuisine is shown directly between what is even cooked in Chinese immigrant homes than in restaurants. The evolution is still continuing and both disciplines of cooking are refining and reshaping. The fact is that these authentic dishes are available across the Unites States, but it is up to individual people to go out and seek the real definition of Chinese cuisine whether it is by asking a local restaurant for something novel or preparing one’s own traditional Chinese concoction. 


Works Cited 

CCTVAmerica1. YouTube, YouTube, 23 Sept. 2015,

Jennifer, Chan. “Wah Sing.” 22 June 2018.

Chen, Susannah. “Ping An Mien, a Chinese Family Noodle Story.” Chowhound, Chowhound, 7 July 2014, story/.

Chen, Yong. “The Rise of Chinese Food in the United States.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History, 2017, doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.273.

“Chinese Immigration and the Chinese Exclusion Acts.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State,

“Chop Suey Was Invented, Fact or Fiction?” America’s Story from America’s Library, The Library of Congress,

Huang, Eddie. Double Cup Love: on the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China. Spiegel & Grau, 2016.

Jurafsky, Daniel. The Language of Food: a Linguist Reads the Menu. W.W. Norton & Company, 2014.

Lee, Jennifer 8. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. Twelve, 2008.

Rude, Emelyn. “Chinese Food in America: A Very Brief History.” Time, Time, 8 Feb. 2016,

Zong, Jie, and Jeanne Batalova. “Chinese Immigrants in the United States.”, Migration Policy Institute, 29 Sept. 2017, immigrants-united-states.

Category: Student Work

History of the Tomato in Italy and China: Tracing the Role of Tomatoes in Italian and Chinese Cooking

Posted on by 0 comment

Alvin (Jun Young) Choi

Professor Ristaino & Professor Hong

CHN 375W

29 June 2018

History of the Tomato in Italy and China

The history of tomatoes in Chinese and Italian cuisine is a surprisingly short but still interesting one. Two of my favorite dishes, spaghetti allo scoglio (seafood pasta) and 番茄紅燒牛肉麵(tomato beef noodle soup), are both defined by how they use tomatoes in similar but radically different ways. The subtle distinctions in taste, texture, and appearance in each dish create flavor experiences that are distinct and memorable. In the case of spaghetti allo scoglio and other Italian dishes, tomatoes are one of the central ingredients in Italy’s cuisine and are a significant part of its worldwide popularity. However, the use of tomato sauce with pasta is a relatively recent innovation, only beginning in the late 19th century. Similarly, tomatoes were previously limited to a summertime staple in Chinese cuisine, though they are currently gaining popularity due to their incorporation into many popular dishes, such as the aforementioned tomato beef noodle soup. The changing role of tomatoes in both Italian and Chinese cuisine is a reflection of how tomatoes themselves have been viewed throughout the centuries. The production, distribution, and consumption of tomatoes have all undergone radical changes over the years due to improving technology and changing cultural mores, ultimately resulting in the predominant role that they now have. From a shunned vegetable that was once associated with Satanism, tomatoes have taken center stage in Italian cuisine and are becoming an increasingly important part of Chinese cuisine, changes that will no doubt accelerate in the years to come.

The late entrance of the tomato into Italian cuisine is partially explained by the fact that the plant is not native to Italy, or to Europe for that matter. Tomatoes originated in the New World, beginning as a wild plant found in Ecuador, Peru, and northern Chile, eventually migrating north, where the Mayans and Aztecs modified them into larger, more edible varieties. It is from the Aztecs that the name “tomato” was fashioned, from their word for the plant, “tomatl.” Tomatoes entered the European consciousness following the conquest of the Aztecs by Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, as colonists procured samples of the strange new vegetable and sent them home. Tomatoes reached Italy in 1548, where they were given a chilly-but-curious reception at first due to their unusual qualities. They were initially associated with eggplants, another foreign vegetable that had been introduced to Europe from abroad, in this case from the Middle East. Much like tomatoes, it took hundreds of years for eggplants to become an accepted ingredient in the Italian diet, and both vegetables were believed to cause malign effects to the body. Because European colonists were not interested in learning about the cuisines of the New World peoples they conquered, they lacked the proper knowledge on how to prepare tomatoes, potatoes, and other New World crops to make them edible and tasty. This was a significant reason why it took so long for the tomato to gain traction in Italian cuisine. Further compounding the problems with the tomato’s acceptance was a general distrust of vegetables by Renaissance dieticians. Many dieticians and botanists advised against consuming vegetables due to the belief that they harmed the body and sapped vitality from the human mind. While there is little evidence to suggest that this kept most Italians from consuming vegetables they were already familiar with, it did little to aid the introduction of tomatoes into the Italian diet. Tomatoes were nicknamed the “devil’s fruit” due to their red appearance and the belief that they were responsible for causing illnesses and food poisoning. At the time, Italian cuisine was also defined by strict separations in regards to class and location, with different social strata and different regions preferring different types of vegetables. The wealthy classes in Italy were more experimental with their diets, often trying out different types of vegetables—including tomatoes—before these habits filtered down to the lower classes.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the tomato began to acquire increasing significance in the Italian diet due to changing cultural mores and dietary practices. Breakthroughs in dietary science showed that tomatoes, when properly cooked and prepared, were an essential source of nutrition, capable of aiding the digestion of foods. However, it was not until the 19th century that many of the staple tomato dishes of Italy began to emerge. The 19th century saw the rise of nationalism across Europe, as various subjugated peoples sought to throw off the shackles of old empires. Italy was a major flashpoint for nationalist uprisings, and the tomato rapidly developed into a unifying symbol of Italian cuisine, distinguishing it from the neighboring French and Austrians. The Italian national flag, which incorporated red as part of a tricolor design, helped reinforce the tomato as a major staple in the Italian diet. Indeed, a great many Italian dishes developed around this time deliberately incorporated red, white, and green colors as a way of reinforcing national pride. For example, spaghetti al pomodoro, pizza margherita, and insalata caprese each rely on tomatoes to provide the red in the red-white-green trio. In combination with the rise of Italian nationalism, Italian immigration to the U.S. and other New World countries helped spread Italian cuisine—and its tomato-based character—around the planet.

The role of tomatoes in Chinese culture has followed a similar trajectory to their introduction in Italy. Tomatoes arrived in China sometime in the late 16th or early 17th centuries, where they initially met a reaction that was equal parts confused and curious. Tomatoes were labeled “foreign eggplants” due to their superficial resemblance to eggplants and were initially viewed with skepticism. The Register of Flowers《群芳谱》written in 1621 records: “Fan Persimmon, a June persimmon, is a type of persimmon that is four or five feet tall, has leaves like celery wormwood and knots of four or five… originated from the West, hence the name.” — the word “fan” of tomato originates from its foreign origin. Over time, tomatoes won greater acceptance in Chinese cooking and found a niche in certain Chinese cuisines, though not to the degree with which they became ubiquitous in Italy. In particular, the invention of stir-fried tomato and scrambled eggs was a breakthrough in Chinese culinary development, placing the tomato front and center in China’s dietary revolution.

Scrambled eggs with tomatoes are an ordinary dish in many families. In China, scrambled eggs have a history of at least two thousand years. The book Qimin Yaoshu《齊民要術》written by Jia Weijun of the Northern Wei Dynasty recorded the practice of scrambled eggs at the time: “(The egg) was broken, and the yellow and white were mixed. Fine white onion, salt rice, glutinous rice, sesame oil.” Although scrambled have such a long history, the method of scrambling eggs was not popular. It was also in the Ming Dynasty that tomatoes came to China. About the first time in the Wanli Period of the Ming Dynasty, Looking through the historical data of this period, what we often see is that the ancients described tomatoes as “red and round, cute and lovely,” but they have not been able to establish any connection with eggs and tomatoes. Until the 1880s, when the Qing Dynasty was in the Guangxu period, the evaluation of tomatoes in various localities was still “playable” and “inedible.” By the end of the Qing Dynasty and the beginning of the Republic of China, there were more western restaurants in the country. Tomatoes were widely used as food ingredients in Western food; they were involved in the farmers around the city where the western restaurant was located, trying to grow tomatoes and sell them to Western restaurants. From the perspective of climate in all parts of the country, there are many places suitable for planting tomatoes. Therefore, tomato cultivation has begun to spread in the suburbs of some cities, and tomatoes have gradually entered the recipes of the country; this conditioned the grounds for the stir-fry tomato and scrambled eggs. Traditional Chinese chefs did not accept Western-style dishes at first, and tomatoes were viewed as an ingredient for Western food. In the 1920s and 1930s, some Chinese restaurants that dared began to mix Chinese and Western cuisine. Because tomatoes are widely used in western foods as tomato sauces, most of the Chinese and Western combination dishes in this period used tomato sauce, such as peach blossom, shrimp, chrysanthemum and so on. In 1935, Lao She, a Chinese novelist, wrote two small articles “Tomato” 《西红柿》and “Talking about Tomatoes” 《再谈西红柿》. Although the main idea of these two articles does not provide methods of eating tomatoes, valuable information can be gained from them: suburban farmers sell most of the tomatoes to western restaurants, and the price is also low. At that time, the method of eating tomatoes was nothing more than raw and cooked. When the tomatoes were eaten raw, there were “green smells.” Many people were not used to it. It is worth noting that Mr. Lao She still did not mention tomato scrambled eggs at this time. The tomato dishes he listed in the article are tomato shrimps based on tomato sauce. However, through Mr. Lao She’s article, we can judge that the birth of scrambled eggs from tomatoes is very close, not only because the article reflects that Chinese food has accepted tomatoes, and more importantly, the price of tomatoes is low and sufficient. These were critical conditions for an ordinary dish.

Real tomato scrambled eggs, which appeared around the 1940s. During the Anti-Japanese War, Mr. Wang Zengqi was studying at the Southwest Associated University. He lived in Kunming for seven years before and after. He had eaten real tomato scrambled eggs in local restaurants. “Scramble eggs, fry tomatoes until broken, still fragrant, not weak, eggs into large pieces, not dead. Tomatoes and eggs are mixed, the color is still distinct.” The memoirs written by Mr. Wang Zengqi in the past decades can still make the color and aroma of the scrambled eggs of tomatoes come to us through words. That is, since the 1940s, the home-cooked dish of tomato scrambled eggs has officially appeared. In the following 70 years, it has swept China’s land. Although the appearance of scrambled eggs with tomatoes has gone through two thousand years of waiting and 40,000 miles of encounters, it is still worthwhile to think of its color, nutrition, cheapness, and convenience. Consumption of tomatoes in China was fueled by scientific research showing that eating them can reduce the risk of certain types of cancers. Tomato contains antioxidant lycopene, which can prevent prostate cancer. Some research have also extracted substances from tomatoes to treat high blood pressure.

Italian and Chinese cuisine are both defined by their use of tomatoes, which produces superficially similar but radically different results. Both Italians and Chinese use tomatoes as part of noodle dishes, but the exact structure of these dishes is considerably different. Italian noodles, known as pasta, are known for their strong, earthy taste, one that is paired well with tomato sauce and tomatoes in general. Pasta also comes in many different shapes and sizes, meaning that anyone can find a type of pasta that appeals to them. In contrast, Chinese noodles are more uniform and tend to have a sweeter, weaker taste. This is because Chinese cuisine focuses on making all ingredients included blend into a harmonious whole, rather than having one or two ingredients stand out. The use of tomatoes in Chinese dishes is part of this: they are used more sparingly compared to Italian dishes, designed to complement rather than overpower the dish as a whole. Because tomatoes lack the significance in Chinese culture that they hold in Italian culture—as a symbol of nationalism—tomatoes are not used to the degree that they are in Italy. The cuisines of both nations also feature strong variation depending on the region. In the case of Italy, there is a general shift in culture going from north to south, where northern cuisine tends to be blander and more “Germanic” while the southern and Sicilian cuisine is spicier. This is due to the differing cultural traditions of these parts of Italy: Sicily and southern Italy were profoundly influenced by the Arabs and Middle Easterners, while Austrians and Germans influenced northern Italians. Similar shifts in taste can be seen in Chinese cuisine, where dishes from southern provinces and cities are known to be spicier than those from the north. These regional differences are the result of cultural separation and climate and have played an integral role in the depth and extensiveness of each nation’s cuisine.

It is hard to believe that tomatoes, at one point, were utterly unknown in both Italy and China. Tomatoes have influenced the cuisines of both nations to such a degree that it is incomprehensible how their dishes would have developed without the fruits. Ultimately, tomatoes remain some of the most popular items on the menu for many people of the world, and in the case of Italians and Chinese, tomatoes have become a staple item that has taken on a significance beyond mere sustenance. Tomatoes, for both nations, are a symbol of national pride, cultural excellence, and culinary refinement. It is clear that the popularity of tomatoes in both nations will not only endure, but new permutations of the vegetable will continue to appear, further evolving their cuisines and refining them for the benefit of hungry people everywhere.


Gentilcore, D. (2010). Pomodoro!: A history of the tomato in Italy. New York: Columbia University Press.

History Of Tomatoes – History of Tomatoes – Healing Tomato. (n.d.). Retrieved from

She, L. (n.d.). Tomato 《西红柿》. Retrieved from

Shi, S. (1962). A preliminary survey of the book Chi min yao shu: An agricultural encyclopaedia of the 6th century. Peking: Science Press.

Stott, R. (2017, November 14). When Tomatoes Were Blamed For Witchcraft and Werewolves. Retrieved from

“Strange” scrambled egg with tomato species history can be traced back to the period of Anti Japanese War. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Yu, H., & Xiao, D. (2015). Sheng wu xun gu: Sheng wu li shi yu sheng wu ke ji. Beijing Shi: Xian dai chu ban she.

『怪奇物种』西红柿炒鸡蛋的历史,可以追溯到抗战时期. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Category: Student Work

The Historical Role of the Noodle in Indian Society by Vaishnav Shetty

The Historical Role of the Noodle in Indian Food Culture

By Vaishnav Shetty


Food and culture historians have consistently exposed the way that the noodle reflects Chinese and Italian cultural values and traditions. However, while these two nations may be the first nations that come to mind whenever the noodle as an aspect of culture is brought up, there are many other countries around the world that have integrated the noodle in their own way. Indian food culture is often associated with various curries and rotis, but their proximity to China and historical relationships with various European nations have meant that the noodle found its way into the country during the nation’s early history. An interesting avenue for exploration is the extent of this influence, specifically considering the role that the noodle plays in Indian society and culture. This will allow for an assessment of the noodle across three specific time frames, namely the point when which the noodle was first introduced to India, the way that the noodle successfully found itself integrated into Indian food culture, and the space that it currently occupies in contemporary India society. To conduct this analysis, this essay will analyse various historical texts and sources that explore India’s unique relationship with noodles, including those that reference Indian-specific noodles like seviyan, sevai, sev, and falooda to ensure that the breadth of the Indian noodle experience is taken into consideration. Ultimately, this analysis of the Indian noodle across three different time frames ensures that the question of what place the noodle originally and currently occupies in Indian society can be adequately answered.

Historical Introduction of the Noodle to India

The question of when noodles were first introduced to either Indian or Chinese society and the debate about which nation managed to come up with the idea first is one that people fail to agree upon. Constant arguments for either side have been somewhat mitigated by the possibility that both nations managed to come up with the idea on their own. However, one important fact that both sides agree on when discussing the potential introduction and migration of noodles between food cultures is that their consumption well predates Marco Polo’s original travels along the Silk Road. Much like the case for China and Italy, various sources note that noodles have existed in Indian food culture for an extremely long time. Specifically, food historians point o the fact that “finger millet or ragi is one of the anciet millets in India (2300 BC).” (Shobana et al., 2) Whether this food product qualifies as noodles is a discussion that some people may be divided on, but the fact that scientists and food producers in India utilize the same finger millet that they were using in 2300 BC for the creation of food products like noodles, vermicelli, and other pasta-type products (Shobana et al., 16) contribute heavily to the argument for their inclusion. The fact that India has had noodles and its associated products in their food culture for well over 4000 years is extremely telling. As a result of this extremely early historical introduction of the noodle, one can expect it to have successfully penetrated Indian society and its storied food traditions. This idea is reinforced by the way that the noodle is discussed in common publications of this day, with yoga guru Baba Ramdev discussing how “noodles are very much Indian […] they are integral to the cuisine of many of our North-eastern states.” (Kumar, 22) However, even though the noodle had over 4000 years to complete this process of integration into Indian food culture, the food still needed to prove its worth to Indian society as worthy of acceptance. Highlighting the various characteristics and aspects of noodle tradition made it fit into the Indian community is the second important temporal point of discussion and exploration that will allow for a more robust understanding of its place in Indian society.

Integration of the Noodle into Indian Food Culture

The process of integration into a certain culture within a society often requires that the values and beliefs associated with a certain food line up with the values that the people of that society already hold dear. This commonality between the food and the people that consume it ensures that the dish cements its place in their minds and functions as a means of developing experiences that add to the historical food canon. Noodles established themselves pretty early on in both Chinese and Italian society as a means of showing gratitude, love, and respect, especially towards close friends, spouses, or other family members. Their consumption represented the establishment and strengthening of a communal bond, something that resonated with Indian sentiments about loyalty to family and the ideas of religious acceptance that are a significant part of Hinduism. Additionally, noodles adhere to the Chinese food tenet of balance in the meals that people consume, representing a starchy base that could act as a balancing factor for other more adventurous ingredients that the chef might choose to prepare. Additionally, noodles and their many varied shapes and forms coincided with the Italian emphasis on the consumption of fresh ingredients that accentuated specific regional conditions and the various fresh ingredients native to them. Both of these characteristics fall under the umbrella of general health benefits unique to the noodle, which the Indian community greatly valued after the noodle was introduced into their diet. These health benefits ensured continued consumption of the noodle by members of the Indian population and helped cement its place as a regular feature in the society’s cuisine.

Communal Nature of the Noodle

Research into the traditional role that the Indian joint family plays within Indian society highlights the importance of adhering to collectivist beliefs, social cohesion, and interdependence upon each other (Chadda & Deb, S299). This means that the Indian individual believes in the greater importance of the group over the individual and thus utilizes the close bonds that they form with their family and close friends to perpetuate these beliefs. While the importance of these specific beliefs may have been slowly eroding in the recent years, one cannot deny that in the time period immediately following the introduction of the noodle into India, collectivism would have been a commonly-held cultural and societal belief. The noodle is often described as a dish that represented a large amount of love and respect between the individual serving the dish and the individual receiving it. Chinese family ceremonies and traditions, especially those associated with communicating to the spirit world or ensuring familial health, would never be complete without a noodle dish to punctuate the proceedings. Furthermore, family gatherings and labours of love by Italian families can often be tied to the extensive amount of work that pasta preparation demands. Indian cultural histories about noodles often point to a similar mindset being present during the consumption of traditional noodle dishes. Most notably, the communal aspect of this dish often allowed for the formation of connections that transcended the distinct differences amongst the people that exist in India. Datta’s narratives about life in a Delhi squatter settlement titled “Mongrel City” recounts the way that “during Eid, Abeeda would prepare seviyan and meat and organise a small eating place outside her home.” (Datta, 746) When considering this simple act of preparing a vermicelli dish for the larger community that Abeeda finds herself in, one must make note of the extreme poverty that often characterizes these slums and squatter settlements in the fringes of India’s major cities. Even more astounding is the fact that the constituents of the gathering outside Abeeda’s home would be made up of her neighbours hailing from all different religious background, including Hindus and Sikhs. Datta ultimately observed that the collective and communal nature of the festive celebration, with the noodle dish in the centre of it all, “produced a new kind of relationship between Abeeda and her neighbours who came from different castes, religions, and ethnicities into he squatter settlement in Delhi.” (Datta, 746) While this may have been a singular memory taken from a single narrative tale about a specific community in one city of India, one can expect this exact scene to have been mirrored all across the country in the time following the introduction of the noodle into Indian cuisine. This new type of relationship that the noodle helped nurture would translate into countless new experiences for the people of India. Furthermore, the values that the noodle perpetuated would perfectly coincide with the nation’s adherence to collectivist ideology, further cementing the importance of the new relationships and experiences that the noodle helped form. With such a strong and positive impact on the community as a whole, one cannot help but understand how the noodle’s communal nature allowed the food to successfully integrate into Indian food culture.

Health Benefits of the Noodle to the Indian Diet

The parallels that existed between the noodle’s cultural meanings and those that already characterized the Indian community helped ensure that the experiences and values formed by noodle eaters were both strong and positive. This meant that people and the communities that they made up would seek out these noodles in their future meals. However, the supplemental health benefits that these noodles had to the Indian diet was what ensured that these positive emotions tied to the specific food would not erode over time. Repeated consumption would not create food health issues that could overwrite cultural acceptance that shared noodle experiences would have formed, causing the noodle to become a natural and irremovable food in Indian cuisine. The very first proto-noodle that existed in the Indian food culture was the finger millet. An interesting note that historical consumers of this food and the noodles that would be later made with it emphasize the fact that finger millet and the products that can be made from it possess a lower glycaemic index than their wheat counterparts (Shobana et al., 29). The noodles that would ultimately come to be made of this millet was the healthier option over wheat rotis that was the nation’s original starchy staple. Additionally, researchers found that “consumption of millets reduces risk of heart disease, protects from diabetes, improves digestive system, lowers the risk of cancer, increases immunity in respiratory health, and is protective against several degenerative diseases such as metabolic syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.” (Kavitha et al., 3167) Logical assessments of the food’s integration into Indian food culture following its introduction in the form of finger millet point to the added value that such a healthy food item provided from the Indian noodle consumer. The healthier nature of this alternative and its role in promoting acceptance amongst the Indian community has several parallels to the way that the Chinese believed in the balancing nature of the noodle in their dishes as well as the Italian desire for freshness in their food. Ultimately, the health benefits that the noodle provided to the Indian diet served to pave the way for an easier integration process and reduce the likelihood that the noodle would be phased out from Indian food culture at a later date.

Contemporary Role of the Noodle in India

The contemporary role that the noodle plays in Indian society represents the third and final temporal sphere that this historical exploration will cover, allowing for an analysis of the transition from food’s introduction to the role it has within the community now. As was noted earlier, Indian societal values have begun to change in modern times. Specifically, the nation’s adherence to collectivist philosophies have slowly begun to diminish. Some analysts point to the influence of globalization and the introduction of Western ideology towards this shift in perspective. However, regardless of where this influence is sourced from, the impact that this shift in cultural values must have significant implications for the noodle because of the latter’s status as a communal food product. Despite the potential removal of the noodle from Indian food culture because of this potential disconnect between the new Indian social consciousness and what the noodle stands for, analysis of contemporary noodle consumption in India has identified the food’s resilience and adaptability. While traditional noodle dishes like sev, seviyan, and falooda remain an important part of what people eat during celebrations and ceremonies, a new type of noodle has made its way into the forefront of Indian food culture. This new noodle product is one that has been packaged, positioned, and marketed to accompany the cultural shift that is currently taking place in India. This dynamic adaptability ensures that the noodle maintains a role in contemporary Indian society despite the shifting values and beliefs of the community during this time.

Maggi as a Cultural Phenomenon

Since the noodle’s introduction into Indian food culture over 4000 years ago, it has manifested and been consumed in a variety of different ways. These variations on the noodle owe themselves to specific regional differences that characterize the communities and places consuming the noodle as well as shifts in the social and cultural beliefs held by the community. The latter is one that is playing an extremely important role in the widespread acceptance of a new kind of noodle into the Indian food canon, closely tied to the nation’s shift away from the collectivist principles that defined its historical past. Maggi noodles are instant noodles sold by Swiss transnational food company Nestlé and have cemented themselves as the sole market leader in India for the consumption of this food product, commanding 42% of retail value share in the last year (Euromonitor). Furthermore, while retail sales figures may help outline just how large a cultural phenomenon Maggi is in India, this does not compare to the cultural experiences and histories that Indians from all walks of life have developed with the brand. Specifically, researchers note the way that “the product [Maggi] penetrated all possible layers of the consumer population of India” (Sinha et al., 81), showing the perpetuation of the noodles’ cultural ability to transcend boundaries of race, caste, and religion. However, the way that Maggi is consumed by the Indian population is one that has slowly done away with the communal aspect that used to define noodle meals, instead relegating this to specific family celebrations and ceremonies that are associated with more traditional noodles like seviyan and falooda. Instead, Maggi is representative of the individualistic influences that the process of globalization has brought into the nation, as opposed to the collectivist philosophies that characterize the nation’s past. Maggi’s major selling points are its wide variety of flavours to be chosen from, the idea of being able to consume Maggi “your way” and being extremely convenient (Agarwal). All of these contribute to the brand’s popularity and ability to “register a regular top-of-the-mind recall among the upwardly mobile middle-class consumers.” (Sinha et al., 81) The adaptability of the noodle to the new cultural beliefs that have come to characterize contemporary India allowed for the food to maintain its significant place in the nation’s food canon, albeit in a different form to traditional Indian noodles.


A complete historical analysis of the role of noodles in Indian society requires an assessment of three important time periods, namely: the noodles point of introduction over 4000 years ago, the integrative period where the noodle slowly became accepted as a part of Indian cuisine, and a contemporary analysis that highlights the noodle’s ability to transition alongside shifts in cultural values and beliefs. The finger millet proto-noodle has long been a part of Indian food culture, hearkening back to 2300 BC. This represents the earliest known point of noodle existence in India, potentially brought about by historical migrations through either trade or war by neighbouring nations. However, this long history with the noodle did not guarantee the food’s acceptance by the nation’s inhabitants. Instead, the noodle had to undergo an integrative process that required parallels between Indian collectivist philosophies and the noodle’s communal values. The ability of the noodle to bring separate communities together resonated with the Indian people which allowed for the formation of strong, positive memories throughout its history in India. Additionally, the noodle’s positive health contributions supplemented these cultural connections and ensured people remained willing to eat the food. However, as Indian society progressed through the years, significant changes to the nation’s cultural makeup caused shifts in the beliefs and values that the people held. The noodles’ adaptable nature ensured that the food would also make necessary adjustments to accommodate this shift, evident in the significant place that Maggi instant noodles occupies in contemporary Indian society. While this specific variety of noodle maintains a connection to Indian noodles of the past that value connection across cultures, their different form is testament to the shift away from collectivism that contemporary India is currently experiencing. Ultimately, the historical role that the noodle plays in Indian society is one of a loved food staple with a long history in the nation but is also capable of adapting to the nation’s cultural shifts over time.


Works Cited

Agarwal, N. “11 Reasons why Maggi is the Best Comfort Food!” The Times of India. September 18, 2014. Retrieved from

Chadda, R. K., and K. S. Deb. “Indian family systems, collectivistic society and psychotherapy.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry 55.Suppl 2 (2013): S299-309.

Datta, A. “‘Mongrel City’: Cosmopolitan Neighbourliness in a Delhi Squatter Settlement.” Antipode 44.3 (2012): 745-763.

Euromonitor International. “Rice Pasta and Noodles in India.” Retrieved from

Kavitha, V., G. Sindumathi, and K. Chandran. “Small Millets-Food for the Poor or Elite? An Online Market Study in Coimbatore City of Tamil Nadu, India.” International Journal of Current Microbiology and Applied Sciences 6.11 (2017): 3167-3171.

Kumar, S. S. “Sustainability Through Extension “A Case Study of Patanjali Ayurved Pvt Ltd. Baba Ramdev-Jack of All Trades”.” Episteme 5.1 (2016): 14-27.

Sahadeo, M. V. Standardisation of Falooda. Doctoral Dissertation MPKV, 2015. 1-71.

Patel, S. K. Optimization and Formulation of Nutri-Rich Snack Food (Sev). Doctoral Dissertation JNKVV, 2016. 1-41.

Shobana, S., et al. “Finger Millet (Ragi, Eleusine coracana L.): A Review of its Nutritional Properties, Processing, and Plausible Health Benefits.” Advances in Food and Nutrition Research 69 (2013): 1-39.

Sinha, S., D. Sinha, and G. Gupta. “Maggi as a Youth Icon in India: A Case of Cultural Branding.” Proceedings of ICRBS 2015 (2015): 81-84.

Category: Student Work

Evolution of Chinese Noodles in NYC: A Tale of Immigration and Adaptation (Dylan Frank

Evolution of Chinese Noodles in NYC: A Tale of Immigration and Adaptation

By Dylan Z. Frank

From Lanzhou la mian to Sichuan dandan noodles and Beijing zhajiangmian to Fujianese ban mian, New York City is now home to a proliferation of different types of Chinese noodles across its three largest Chinatowns (Exhibit A). According to 2012 Census Estimates[1], New York City has an estimated Chinese population of 573,388, making it the largest metropolitan Chinese diaspora population in the world of any city outside of Asia. While it was Chinese immigration that first brought different types of Chinese noodles to New York City, media, the desire for novelty, and growing consumer acceptance of ethnic foods in America have also helped to propel the evolution and spread of Chinese noodle dishes far beyond NYC’s Chinatowns.

The story of Chinese noodles in New York City arose from immigration and the need for Chinese immigrants to make a living in their new country. Chinese immigration to NYC can largely be separated into four main waves: Cantonese (Late 1840s-1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, 1943-1950s (limited numbers), 1965-1980s), Taiwanese (1970s), Fujianese (1980s-Present), and Chinese from all parts of Mainland China (late 1960s-Present). Each of these waves of Chinese immigration brought different types of Chinese noodle dishes to NYC.

The first wave of Chinese immigration to the United States consisted predominately of working-class males from Guangdong (or “Canton”) Province who emigrated to the West Coast during the mid-1800s. The 1849 San Francisco Gold Rush and the 1863-1869 construction of the first Transcontinental Railroad were two events that provided Cantonese Chinese immigrants with an opportunity to escape from widespread poverty and political unrest caused by the Taiping Rebellion[2] back home, and this initial wave of Cantonese immigration to the West Coast continued on until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Since Chinese immigrants to the West Coast often faced extreme anti-Chinese sentiment and employment discrimination upon coming to the States, many found themselves needing to establish businesses where they could be self-employed, including Chinese restaurants. These early Chinese restaurants cooked an Americanized version of Cantonese cuisine that catered to local tastes, with chop suey (translation: “odds and ends”) becoming the most popular dish. After the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, this version of Americanized Chinese food spread from the West Coast to New York City and eventually gave way to the invention of chow mein, the first Chinese noodle dish to emerge in NYC’s Chinese restaurants on a large scale.

According to Deh-Ta Hsiung’s book Food of China, “Chow Mein” is a romanization of the Taishanese word chāu-mèing, which means stir-fried noodles[3]. It first emerged in New York’s Mott Street Chinatown in the 1880s and coexisted alongside chop suey on many of NYC’s American-Chinese restaurant menus. While in some ways chow mein is similar to versions of stir-fried noodle dishes from Guangdong Province in China, its composition was modified to better suit American tastes and ingredient availability. For example, chow mein’s ingredients are effectively the same as chop suey’s except for the fact that chow mein is a noodle dish. The ingredients of chow mein that overlap with chop suey include onions, celery, and a sweet-tasting brown sauce made from a combination of soy sauce and corn syrup that was designed to suit the American palate[4]. In the below image of chow mein from Big Wong, one of Manhattan Chinatown’s oldest restaurants, we can see “Beef Chow Mein” pictured (Exhibit B). For this particular dish, most vegetables have been removed, possibly to better suit the tastes of Western consumers. Outside of chow mein and lo mein (the steamed version of chow mein), other types of Cantonese Chinese noodle dishes one can find in NYC Chinatowns included wonton mian and Clay Pot Noodles (pictured, Exhibit C). Cantonese also sometimes enjoy topping their noodles with BBQ roasted meats such as pork, chicken, or duck.

While the first wave of Chinese immigration to NYC was almost exclusively Cantonese, changes in immigration policies brought on by Lyndon B. Johnson’s Administration (mainly the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965) led to a sharp increase in permitted Chinese immigration and fueled the arrival of a second wave of Chinese immigrants[5]. According to Time Magazine, this “liberalization of American immigration policy” led to the emergence of new types of Chinese cuisines in the United States from “areas like Hunan, Sichuan, Taipei and Shanghai.” Many Chinese who came to the States at this time were fleeing the Cultural Revolution, particularly so in the cases of individuals from Hong Kong and Taiwan who especially feared the PRC’s Communist government. Such changes in immigration policy allowed for the pace of Chinese immigration to the United States to further quicken and thus diversified the Chinese food offerings available in NYC’s Chinatowns. Additionally, U.S. President Richard Nixon’s opening of diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China in 1972, helped to further accelerate this second wave of Chinese immigration to United States while creating a renaissance for authentic Chinese food in large U.S. cities such as NYC[6].

Chinese immigrants who came from Taiwan to NYC in the 1970s were predominately middle-class and for this reason they did not fit in with the largely working-class Cantonese inhabitants of Manhattan Chinatown. As a result, the Taiwanese immigrants chose to establish a middle-class Mandarin-speaking Chinatown in Flushing, Queens, NY. Upon coming to the United States, Taiwanese people brought noodle dishes such as Taiwanese beef noodle soup (pictured, Exhibit D) to New York, thus further influencing NYC’s culinary fabric. (Notably, this noodle soup dish was first created by the Hui Muslim minority, who also created Lanzhou’s famous beef noodle soup with hand-pulled noodles). At the same time as these new Taiwanese immigrants, wealthier Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong began coming to the United States as well. Their arrival led to a linguistic and culinary shift in Manhattan’s Chinatown towards different types of Cantonese Chinese noodle dishes in Chinatown beyond Chow Mein, including Hong Kong Crispy Seafood Noodles (pictured, Exhibit E).

Following the Nixon Administration’s easing of diplomatic ties with China, many more wealthy and highly educated Chinese came to the United States, particularly so after the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976. When these new immigrants started coming to the US, they brought their traditional foods with them. As examples, Sichuan and Hunan cuisines appeared in the United States during this time period and noodle dishes such as Sichuan’s dandan mian (Exhibit F) eventually became a staple food of Chinese Sichuan restaurants in NYC. Additionally, Chinese immigrants from large cities such as Shanghai also brought their own regional cuisines with them to New York City, which included noodle dishes such as Chinese Oil Noodles with Scallions, or Cong You Ban Mian (Exhibit G).

The third concentrated wave of Chinese immigration occurred in the 1980s and 1990s and consisted of poor Chinese immigrants from Fujian Province, many of whom came via illegal means. Since these new Fujianese immigrants did not speak Cantonese (and hence did not fit in culturally with the Cantonese residents of Manhattan’s Chinatown), many of them found themselves settling on the Eastern periphery of Chinatown in the East Broadway area. Chinese immigrants from Fujian brought with them different types of noodles that had not previously been available in the United States, such as ban mian, a cold noodle dish consisting of wheat noodles in a sauce made of soy sauce and peanut butter, the latter being a highly unusual ingredient in Chinese cuisine (pictured, Exhibit H). Although Guangdong and Fujian are located next to each other, the types of noodles dishes that Fujianese immigrants brought to NYC were extremely different from their Cantonese counterparts. Fujianese immigrants later began moving to Sunset Park, Brooklyn in the early 2000s, which before had originally been established as a Cantonese ethnic enclave. Other types of Chinese immigrants who later moved to Sunset Park have included some people from Yunnan in more recent years, as evidenced by the establishment of a Yunnanese restaurant in this neighborhood called “Yun Nan Flavor Garden” (Exhibit I).

Comprising the currently continuing fourth wave of Chinese immigration to the US are a larger number of Mandarin-speaking Northern Chinese people who are currently entering into NYC through both legal and illegal means. According to a 2016 article in NPR titled “Leaving China’s North, Immigrants Redefine Chinese In New York,” NYC’s Chinatowns are becoming increasingly Mandarin-speaking. Because the Southern parts of China have become more economically developed than the Northern ones, much of today’s Chinese immigration stems from Northern cities[7]. Noodle dishes they have introduced include zhajiangmian from Beijing, Xinjiang da pan ji with latiaomian, hand-pulled noodles from Lanzhou, and knife-cut noodles from Xi’an, Shaanxi, China, a Northern-Central region of China. In particular, noodles from Xi’an, Shaanxi have taken New York City by storm over the last decade through the advent of Xi’an Famous Foods, a now 13-restaurant chain that began as a single underground stall in Flushing’s Golden Mall food court in late 2005.

From chow mein to Shaanxi noodles, Chinese noodles have emerged in NYC alongside these four major waves of immigration, and they have also further evolved in response to changing consumer preferences. In recent years, increased accessibility to ethnic foods and consumers’ growing desire for authentic ethnic dining experiences has driven the commercialization of authentic Chinese noodles across NYC. Xi’an Famous Foods is a fine illustration of this development: Through the growth of Xi’an Famous Foods, we can see how the Chinese noodle landscape has changed in NYC as a result of these trends. The restaurant chain’s success has stemmed not only from offering a high quality product that was different from anything else in NYC, but also from the fact that the restaurant’s young owner, Jason Wang, has been able to effectively leverage social media marketing to grow awareness and demand for the chain.

Xi’an Famous Foods specializes in Shaanxi cuisine from the city of Xi’an in Western China. The flavors of Shaanxi cuisine are sour, spicy, and salty. During an interview about Chinese noodles in NYC, Dawn Hu, a now 55-year old Chinese immigrant from Beijing who came to the United States 35 years ago, mentioned that she would never have expected Shaanxi cuisine to arrive in the US, nor for such a restaurant to become a prominent citywide chain[8]. Much of the appeal and growing popularity of Chinese noodles in NYC is from the experience that comes with eating them. “You’re not going to see any of this in Chinatown in Manhattan or in Brooklyn. This is a Queens thing”, according to David Shi, owner of the original Xi’an Famous Foods, Flushing, Queens, NY, when he was interviewed by the recently-deceased globetrotting Travel Channel food critic Anthony Bourdain in 2009.

Before Bourdain paid a visit to Xi’an Famous Foods in Flushing’s Golden Mall during his tour of Queens, NY in 2008, Zhang Meijie, a now 61-year old Chinese woman from Shandong who came to the United States in 1997, had never seen a white person inside the Golden Mall. In a recent interview, Zhang told me that she has lived in Forest Hills, Queens, for 21 years with 12 other members of her family. She told me that she visits the Golden Mall “sometimes” for “chi de dong xi” (things to eat). The first time Zhang saw a white person in the Golden Mall was eight years ago, and since that time she has noticed that white people have started going to the Golden Mall much more often. Zhang told me that she thought it was natural that Westerners wanted to explore the Chinese food scene because they want to experience new tastes, and for this reason she was not surprised to see them there. As of three years ago there have been even more white people coming to Flushing, from her perspective[9]. While the Golden Mall might not seem like the most likely eatery pick for a Westerner (it’s subterranean, dirty by Western standards, and impossible to find unless you speak Chinese or you’re particularly in the know), Anthony Bourdain did much to glamorize the practice of urban ethnic food exploration through his highly popular Travel Channel show No Reservations. Xi’an Famous Foods was arguably one of the largest beneficiaries of Bourdain’s show.

Xi’an Famous Foods’ menu consists mostly of noodle dishes that are sour and spicy in taste, two elements that are not necessarily common in typical American cuisine. For example, noodle dishes at Xi’an Famous Foods such as the “Spicy Cumin Lamb Noodles” (孜然羊肉干扯面; Zī rán yángròu gān chě miàn) that I ate at Xi’an Famous Foods’ Manhattan Chinatown location contain large amounts of bright red chili oil, an ingredient not found in American food (pictured, Exhibit J). True to what the owner Jason Wang said, the restaurant added Sichuan peppercorns to the chili oil, creating a spicy and numbing effect. As someone who is half-Chinese (but not Western Chinese), I would not have personally expected the flavors within that noodle dish to be popular with those who are unacquainted, yet the taste was strangely addictive. Having also tried other menu items at Xi’an Famous Foods at four different NYC locations over the course of two years (Manhattan Chinatown, Flushing original in the Golden Mall (now closed), Upper West Side, and Upper East Side), it is notable that the flavors of the menu items that Xi’an Famous Foods sells are consistent across each branch: Other than asking patrons if they’d like to withhold chili oil for some dishes, no accommodations are made by Xi’an Famous Foods for their dishes to better suit the Western palate.

In a YouTube video on Xi’an Famous Foods that was published by Business Insider, Andrew Coe, a Chinese food historian, remarks that “generations of Chinese restauranteurs” used to make their food “bland to American tastes” when they chose to expand outside of Chinatowns. Owner Jason Wang agreed with Coe’s comment, remarking that “the timing [was] right” for Chinese restaurants like Xi’an Famous Foods to showcase their authenticity instead of watering down their flavors to better align with the American palate. In the same YouTube video, Wang also mentions how his restaurant also chose to add Sichuan peppercorns to some of its dishes, which are not used in traditional Western cuisines and also have a mouth-numbing effect (called mala in Chinese)[10]. While the use of ingredients such as Sichuan peppercorns attest to how much of a radical departure Xi’an Famous Foods’ Chinese dishes are from Western culinary norms, it was precisely these elements of difference within Xi’an Famous Foods’ menu items that helped to propel the business to its current level of success (now a thriving chain of 13 stores spread across the three boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn)[11].

On Saturday, June 30th, 2018, Jason Wang opened Xi’an Famous Foods’ 13th store in the West Village, near West 4th Street. According to the real estate sales website, the West Village is “the perfect neighborhood for people who like the finer things in life – think lovely window boxes, well-curated bookshops and sophisticated company – but without the fuss or ostentation.[12]” The mere presence of Xi’an Famous Foods in a neighborhood such as the West Village defies all expectations of where a Chinese restaurant of that nature might be placed and highlights the significant extent to which American views on ethnic foods have evolved since the days of chow mein’s emergence in Manhattan Chinatown. To take advantage of word of mouth and social media marketing, Wang ran a promotion offering a free dish to each person who came to the new storefront on opening day and showed on their smartphone that they shared a promotional post about the new Xi’an Famous Foods location’s opening.

Well over a hundred years ago, on Nov 15, 1903, The New York Times ran an article called “Chop Suey Resorts: Chinese Dish Now Served in Many Parts of the City” that detailed the emergence of a new type of Chinese food called chop suey in Chinatown, as well as the customs surrounding the ordering of the dish. While chop suey was fundamentally different from Western foods, the author of the piece wrote that “A dish of chop suey is as digestible again as a broiled lobster or a welsh rabbit,” and this example showcases the role that print media played in helping to spread awareness and acceptability of Chinese ethnic cuisine nearly since it first arrived in NYC[13]. While dishes such as Shaanxi noodles, chop suey, chow mein, and others aforementioned were brought to the NYC area by immigrants, it was changing social sentiment and growing audiences for these foods that influenced their composition and geographic spread. Hence, the Chinese noodle narrative of NYC with regards to the types of noodle dishes available both past and present has evolved throughout history as shaped both by the successive waves of Chinese immigrants settling across the city, as well as the evolving preferences of discerning New York eaters.

Additional Works Consulted:

Lin, Jan. “Reconstructing Chinatown: Ethnic Enclave, Global Change.” Vol. 2 Edition: NED – New Edition (1998).

Kenneth J. Guest. ”From Mott Street to East Broadway: Fuzhounese Immigrants and the Revitalization of New York’s Chinatown.” Journal of Chinese Overseas. Vol. 7 No. 2. Liu Hong and Zhou Min. Singapore: Brill, 2011. 24-44.

Rude, Emelyn. “Chinese Food in America: A Very Brief History.” Time, Time, 8 Feb. 2016.

Liu, Haiming, and Huping Ling. “From Canton Restaurant to Panda Express: A History of Chinese Food in the United States.” Rutgers University Press, 2015. JSTOR.

Staff, Eater. “The Making of Manhattan’s Chinatown | MOFAD City.” Eater, Eater, 17 Aug. 2016.

“Menu.” The Macaulay Messenger, The Arts in New York City,

Business Insider. “How a Son Turned His Dad’s Food Stall into the No. 2 Chinese Restaurant in the US.” YouTube, YouTube, 5 Feb. 2016

“Feature: Chinese Immigration.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service”.

Zong, Jie, et al. “Chinese Immigrants in the United States.”, 13 June 2018.

“Chinese Immigration and the Transcontinental Railroad.” US Citizenship,

Society, Eric Fish Asia. “How Chinese Food Got Hip in America.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 9 Mar. 2016.

Staff, Eater. “The Ultimate New York City Chinese Food Glossary.” Eater NY, Eater NY, 1 Nov. 2011,

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Taiping Rebellion.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 July 2017,

Footnotes from Paper:

[1] Data Access and Dissemination Systems (DADS). “Results.” American FactFinder, 5 Oct. 2010,

[2] Informational Footnote: The Taiping Rebellion was a peasant rebellion in Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces against the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty that took place from 1850-1864.

[3] Hsiung, Deh-Ta & Simonds, Nina (2005). Food of China. Murdoch Books. p. 239.

[4] “Chow Mein, an American Classic.” Appetite for China, 17 July 2009.

[5] “U.S. Immigration Legislation: 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (Hart-Cellar Act).” U.S. Immigration Legislation: 1940 Naturalization Act.

[6] Rude, Emelyn. “Chinese Food in America: A Very Brief History.” Time, Time, 8 Feb. 2016,

[7] Wang, Hansi Lo. “Leaving China’s North, Immigrants Redefine Chinese In New York.” NPR, NPR, 26 Jan. 2016.

[8] Interview with Dawn Hu. Conducted 6/24/18.

[9] Interview with Zhang Meijie. Conducted on 6/28/18.


[11] “Xi’an Famous Foods Website.” Xi’an Famous Foods,

[12] “At A Glace: West Village.”,

[13] “Chop Suey Resorts: Chinese Dish Now Served in Many Parts of the City.” New York City Chinatown > Newspaper Articles,

Evolution of Chinese Noodles in NYC: A Tale of Immigration and Adaptation – Exhibition

Exhibit A: Map of New York City’s five boroughs. NYC’s three main Chinatowns are outlined.

Exhibit B: Beef Chow Mien at Big Wong Cantonese Restaurant (Photo Credit: Danielle K./Yelp)

Exhibit C: Clay Pot Pearl Noodles Soup煲汤珍珠面条汤 Bāotāng zhēnzhū miàntiáo tang at Nyonya in Manhattan Chinatown

Exhibit D: Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup 台湾牛肉汤面 Táiwān niúròu tāngmiàn at Taiwan Pork Chop House in Manhattan Chinatown (Source: Eric J./Yelp)

Exhibit E: Hong Kong Crispy Seafood Noodles 香港脆皮海鲜面 Xiānggǎng cuì pí hǎixiān miàn at Nyonya in Manhattan Chinatown.

Exhibit F: Sichuanese Dan Dan Noodles from Chengdu Heaven in Flushing, Queens, NY (Photo Credit: LY L./Yelp).

Exhibit G: Wheat Noodles with Peanut Butter Sauce (拌面; Mixed Noodles) at Shu Jiao Fuzhou Cuisine Restaurant on 118 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002 (Photo Credit: Anna C./Yelp).

Exhibit H: Shanghainese Oil and Scallion Cold Noodles葱油拌面Cong You Ban Mian  at 456 Shanghai Cuisine in Manhattan Chinatown (Nina C./Yelp).

Exhibit I: Yun Nan Flavor Garden’s #11: Rice Noodles w/Crispy Meat Sauce (Source: Hui Meen O./Yelp) Sunset Park, Chinatown, Brooklyn.

Exhibit J: Xi’an Famous Foods’ “N1: Spicy Cumin Lamb Noodles” 孜然羊肉干扯面 Zī rán yángròu gān chě miàn at the Bayard Street location of the restaurant mini-chain in Manhattan Chinatown, New York, NY.



Category: Student Work

The History of Ramen in Japan (Carlos)

Cultural significance can be found in noodles from around the world in different shapes, forms, and sizes. From cultural traditions in China such as the Long Life Noodle to the historical references in Italy such as the Regine pasta, the noodle has extended its reach across many continents and countries forming deep roots in many of these cultures. Without a doubt, the noodle has successfully managed to form intimate relationships with Japan’s culture and history as well. One bond can be analyzed through a specific form of noodle dish, the ramen. When a person thinks about ramen, one cannot prevent but to associate this dish with Japan as well. Ramen has come to be identified with Japan’s culture the most. Ramen has a long history in Japan, changing as the state of the country changed as well. This essay seeks to analyze how the ramen transformed into a staple dish in Japan’s culture and the history behind the transformation.

To begin with, the origin of the first ramen is unknown, but a fact is that ramen came from an immigrant dish borrowed from China. Myths and mystery cloud the origin of the ramen and its boom. Academic historian and author George Solt presents three origin myths about ramen in his book The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze. The first myth establishes Shu Shunsui, a scholar from China, as the one who brought the ramen recipe to Japan. Shu Shunsui was a Chinese refugee of the Ming government who came to serve as an advisor to the Japanese feudal lord Tokugawa Mitsukuni. Historical records state that Shu Shunsui adviced Mitsukini on what to add to his udon soup to make it taste better. This dish is rumored to be the first ramen ever made and established Tokugawa Mitsukini as the first person to eat ramen in Japan. While it is true that Chinese culture heavily influenced Japanese culture at the time, a historical record of Mitsukini cooking ramen does not exist.

The next myth connects the origin of ramen to Japan opening its ports to the outside world. Japan’s ports attracted Chinese travelers, and a Chinese noodle soup called laa-mein was brought into Japan. This dish serves as a potential predecessor to the ramen today although laa-mein did not have any toppings and was not a meal in itself much unlike the modern ramen.

The last and most plausible theory associates the origin of the ramen to a shop called Rai Rai Ken in Tokyo during the 1900s. Rai Rai Ken employed Chinese workers and served a noodle dish called Shina Soba. Shina Soba incorporated ingredients that resembles todays ramen such as roasted pork, Japanese fish cake, and nori seaweed into one dish.  Interestingly, Japan was becoming industrialized and more urbanized during this time period. Japan’s industrialization and urbanization helped to popularize ramen. Shina soba was cheap and filling, providing plenty of calories for Japanese urban workers. In addition, mechanical noodle-making machines were in general use by this time. These machines shortened the time to prepare the noodles. All of these conditions made ramen the perfect food to eat. It was the right food at the right time. Ramen became integrated into Japanese modern urban life making it’s first deep roots in Japanese culture and history.

Although ramen was engraved deeply in urban life during the early 1900s, ramen almost disappeared during world war 2. Rationing in Japan during world war 2 did not allow ramen to be consumed or sold as it was seen as a luxury for eating out. Food shortages and famines made the government place heavy regulations on food supplies, and profits on selling food was prohibited. This time period was one of the worst period of hunger in Japan’s history. Unavoidably, black market food stands sprang up even after the war ended, although it was still illegal. This was due to the United States continuing food rationing during their time of occupation in Japan. Unemployed workers who tried to sell ramen could potentially and did go to jail. During this time of famine and hunger, ramen came to represent an opposite view of what it represents today. It was seen as a symbol of a time of need and the basic necessities of life. One could not afford to eat luxurious foods such as ramen.

Following world war 2, Japan underwent a prosperous economic boom. This period of rapid economic growth and development contributed to the revitalization of the ramen. The numerous construction projects required huge numbers of construction workers. Construction workers consumed large quantities of bowls of ramen. Ramen contained many healthy ingredients that would provide sufficient energy to keep the workers properly fed and energized. Many restaurants that specialized only in ramen became increasingly popular in Japan. Ramen once again became a staple dish in the rapid growing country that Japan has become.

In addition, a new form of ramen emerged following world war 2. Momofuku Ando surveyed the devasting aftereffects of the war. Many people suffered from hunger, and it was an issue he determined to be the biggest problem in Japan. He was inspired to create a food that would end the hunger in his country. He set out to make a food that would be nonperishable, economical, fast and easy to make. Already having witnessed the success of the ramen in the past, Ando aimed to create a ramen of his own. The end result was instant ramen! Instant ramen was a success as people could now enjoy delicious ramen at their own homes for a relatively cheap price. Ando set on his goal to end hunger with ramen!

Today ramen has become a symbol and historical figure of Japanese culture and history. Ramen has extended it’s reach globally around the world. Traditional ramen remains integral in Japanese culture but more shops in prominent cities in the United States that specialize in ramen have opened up. Nonetheless it its still hard to get authentic Japanese ramen unless one is near the large diverse cities. On the other hand, instant noodles have become available almost everywhere in the world. They can be found at almost any supermarket store. Instant noodles are especially prominent among college students since it is cheap and affordable to get. Although ramen has now become a global trend, its deep roots will always be attached to Japan’s history. Ramen has come to be what it is today thanks to the historical events that have occurred in Japan, and the people inspired by those events.

Category: Student Work