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From Beijing to Rome, with Love and Pasta

by Jen Lin-Liu

Pub Date: July 25th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-59448-726-2
Publisher: Riverhead

Global discoveries in pasta and wedlock by the Chinese-American author of Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China (2008).

Newly married, having started a cooking school in Beijing (Black Sesame Kitchen) and still restlessly seeking new tastes and adventures, Lin-Liu resolved to travel the Silk Road, from Beijing to Rome, to explore how the art of making noodles evolved, from northwestern Chinese pulled noodles and dumplings to ravioli and risotto. Indeed, the author first had to settle the chicken-or-the-egg question: Did Marco Polo really introduce pasta to Italy after his trip east, or was pasta already enjoyed long before by the Etruscans? (A 4,000-year-old millet noodle was found in 2005 in Lajia but has since disintegrated.) Closing her cooking school and taking along her cooking teacher, her chef and her new American husband for the first leg of the journey by train north, to the land of the noodles, Lin-Liu proceeds by weaving autobiographical details into her percolating account—e.g., that she grew up under Taiwanese parents predominantly eating rice. She also provides historical lore; for example, wheat flour originated in Iran many thousands of years ago, yet the Chinese did not begin eating wheat noodles until the third century. Moving westward, from China through Tibet and further west to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey, poking into kitchens or observing chefs, she and her husband, who was more indulgent than enthusiastic, coming along largely for safety, penetrated confounding ethnic zones where the natives largely claimed noodles as their own, creating dishes with distinctive regional flavors. Ultimately, the travelers’ arrival in Italy, where they made pasta with the sfoglias (female pasta pros), feels anticlimactic. 

A footloose, spontaneous and appetite-whetting journal of culinary adventure.