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The History of Noodles

Updated on June 25, 2019

Noodles were invented some 2000 years ago, shortly after the technique of flour milling reached China via India along the new Silk Road (Between what is now Afghanistan and Xian). Some historians might refute the probability that Marco Polo, enamoured of this strange food, brought it back to the Venetian Courts and spawned pasta that took off in myriad shapes. Chinese or Italian claimants to its invention notwithstanding, noodles really belong to the world.

Early Han Chinese ate mostly wheat and soy bean products, considered to be coarse food by the middle and ruling classes. Round about the ninth century, noodles began the feature more in the common people’s meals, filtering down from the imperial palace kitchens which had the means of milling flour. Whatever, this new food improved the diet of the general populace and its popularity mushroomed.

During the Tang dynasty (618 – 906), the Middle Kingdom enjoyed a tremendous boost in the new development of cookery. Tang emperors welcomed new ideas and ingredients into their palace kitchens from as far a field as Samarkand, Turkestan, Persia, the West, Indo-china, and South-east Asia. By the Song Dynasty (960-1279), China was enjoying unprecedented affluence and provincial cities were filled with eating places and noodle houses. Above all else, there was an empirical approach to cooking with specialisation of cooking techniques that have far from dimmed through the next seven centuries until the present day.

The noodle realm is one that has afictionados who will wax lyrical about this or that concoction, by whichever hawker (usually) or restaurant. This fervour has spawned many a protracted argument that sometimes borders on the hysterical. “The chilli sauce is not right, not enough black vinegar, fishballs not springy enough, mingy on fried lard ad infinitum. “And so the argument rages on. The stage for superlative noodle cookery has always been at hawker stalls in Singapore and Malaysia.

There are so many different types of noodles, sold both dry and fresh, that even seasoned cooks can be confused about which comes from which grain or how best to prepare them. The basic types are as follows:

Wheat Noodles

Generally known in Mandarin as mien or wheat vermicelli. These come in ribbons of various widths. They may be fresh or dried, made with or without eggs, some have lye water added which manifest in the strong yellow hue. Fresh ones take only a few minutes to cook to al dente texture, and dried ones may be boiled for anywhere between two and five minutes. Today, some wheat noodles may be made from a mixture of both wheat and rice flour.

Wheat threads or miensien in Mandarin or mee sua in Hokkien, are fine, pale, biscuit-coloured and usually come in skeins bound with a thin red thread and contained within boxes. They cook very fast and very popular within the Fujien (Hokkien) community as traditional birthday noodles.

Ee-fu noodles are a very popular Cantonese variety that are usually fried with seafood and mushrooms. These wheat noodles are also served stir-fried with stock and a sauce or with fried egg-white lathered atop. They are better known in the West as a result of the dominating number of Cantonese restaurants.

Rice Noodles

These are also known as kway teow (Hokkied), hor fun (Cantonese) or guo tiao in Mandarin and usually sold fresh, generally in 1.5 cm widths. Or they can come as rice sticks (dried) and are also popular for its indefinite shelf life. Vermicelli (mi fen in Mandarin or bee hoon in Hokkien), is much thinner than the rest and ranges from very fine to coarse.

Mung bean vermicelli (fensi in Mandarin or tanghoon in Hokkien) are radically different from other noodles being made from a mixture of mung bean (beansprouts in unsprouted state) and wheat flour. They always come dry and need only be soaked for a few minutes.

Japanese Noodles

Soba (buckwheat noodles) are peculiar to japan and made from buckwheat that grows in the cold, mountainous regions where rice. Barley, and wheat cannot grow. Udon are thick wheat flour noodles. When sold fresh, are called nama udon. The Japanese also consume somen, which are thin wheat flour noodles. Kishimen are broad, flat noodles and harusame is similar to the Chinese mung bean noodles but slightly thicker and generally described as cellophane noodles.


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    • prasetio30 profile imageAUTHOR


      4 months ago from malang-indonesia

      My brother, James A Watkins. Good to see you again and I glad to know that you love noodles too. God bless you.

    • prasetio30 profile imageAUTHOR


      4 months ago from malang-indonesia

      Dear Linda. I am glad to know this article useful for you. Good to see you again, my friend.

    • prasetio30 profile imageAUTHOR


      4 months ago from malang-indonesia

      Dear Kathi. Nice to see you again. I like to know that you and your son like noodles too. Have a good day :-)

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      4 months ago from Chicago

      Man, you had me hooked with your title. I LOVE NOODLES!

      Thank you for the history lesson and your reportage on the various kinds of noodles. Well done!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an informative article. You've included some interesting facts about noodles. I'm glad that you've returned to HubPages, Prasetio.

    • Fossillady profile image


      4 months ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      I had never really thought about the history of noodles until reading your fascinating article! I love learning about quirky things in history so thanks for your article dear Prasetio. My son loves rice noodles, and I like them too!

    • prasetio30 profile imageAUTHOR


      4 months ago from malang-indonesia

      Dear friend, Audrey and Peg Cole. Thank you very much for coming to my hub. I know that it's been a long time I am active in hubpages. But I try to stay in touch from now. Have a good day :-)

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      4 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I had always heard that Marco Polo was directly responsible for noodles. It's nice to discover that noodles "belong to the world." You've presented a marvelous, interesting history of noodles. It's so nice to see you here again. Welcome back, my friend.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      4 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Thanks for this interesting explanation of the variety of noodles and their origins. It's so good to see you again. It's been a long time!


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