Photograph by zuri eilat, National Geographic Your Shot
Photograph by zuri eilat, National Geographic Your Shot
The Plate

Noodles: The Ultimate Global Comfort Food

Who really invented noodles? Italians, Arabs, and the Chinese all claim to be the first to divide dough into bits and boil the pieces in water. Noodles of many shapes and lengths have been a part of global cuisines for at least 2,000 years, when but scientists found a 4,000-year-old noodle in China a few years back, it pretty much gave China the win.

Still noodles take many forms and are made from a wide variety of grains like millet, wheat, and rice. They are thrown into soups, fried in woks, or coated with olive oil, tomato sauce, or cheese. They are tossed with beans or vegetables or leftover meats to make a quick meal. Noodles are a blank canvas for infinite flavor combinations.

Making and stretching them by hand is a thing of beauty to watch: men (mostly) pull out long shapes from dough, swing them up to stretch and twist them the length of their arms, and slap them down on the table twice before dividing the strands and picking them up to stretch again. (In China, chewy noodles are prized; in Italy, it’s firmness.)

Now, with the rise of Paleo diets, people who shun grains but miss “noodles” are making spaghetti shapes out of vegetables like zucchini, and some people are making a lot of money creating specialty products to do that when all you really need is a box grater or a meat grinder.

In China and other Asian cultures, a bowl full of steaming noodle soup is a treat at any time of day, supplemented with a fried egg or tofu, rich broth, and plentiful condiments.  During Chinese New year, a flat egg noodle called yi mein, known as the longevity noodle, is served. It is traditionally a symbol of good luck and long life. If you can find fresh ones, buy them, but be careful not to break them as they cook, or the longevity part goes out the window.

In honor of Chinese New Year, which begins February 8th this year, here’s our Your Shot gallery of noodles as they’ve spread in different shapes, sizes, and flavors from around the world.