Lin-Liu (Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China), a Southern California foodie repatriated to Beijing, where she ran a cooking school, returns with another ambitious culinary travelogue. This time she’s in search of the evolving noodle along the ancient Silk Road, the key trading route between western China and the Mediterranean. Intrigued by the question of who really invented pasta—did Marco Polo bring it back to Italy from China in the 13th century or had it been consumed by the Etruscans long before?—Lin-Liu embarked on a six-month trek through remote lands such as Tibet; Xinjiang, China, home of the Uighurs; the trio of “stans” (Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan); Iran, with its strangely alluring Persian noodles; and Turkey, where she taught an Istanbul cooking group how to make dumplings, before reaching the Mediterranean and Italy. Lin-Liu made a point of invading the kitchens of her hosts and local cooks, and she was amazed at similarities between regional noodle dishes and rustic Italian food; appalled or pleasantly surprised by strange ingredients; and, from yurt to hovel, delighted by the local hospitality. Lin-Liu’s journey is a bold palate-awakening adventure, endearingly rendered . (July)
…The offering that lingers longest is that capacity for wonder and empathy which opens up between hosts and visitors in even the most closed societies. It makes you wish that the world's cultures could mingle more freely, making peace by breaking bread. For now, though, this book stands as a tantalizing glimpse of what might be.
The title of this delightful book is a play on the legendary Silk Road, the major trade route between Asia and Europe. Chef and cooking school founder Lin-Liu (Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China) wanted to settle a burning question: Who really invented the noodle? To do this, she embarked on a cooking and eating journey through China, Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, and Italy. She was occasionally joined by her husband, Craig, who adds charm and a personal feel to her culinary adventure. En route she met chefs of all sorts, some male but usually female. She learned about many different styles of regional cooking but also something about politics, religion, and humanity. As Lin-Liu mixes food, travel, and memoir, she also adds a sprinkling of humor: "Each time I ate noodles I felt I'd been presented with a bottomless bowl of strands. No matter how much I slurped and chewed, I would only get halfway through." VERDICT If Lin-Liu ran the world (or at least influenced its ambassadors), we'd all benefit from her empathy, humor, and attention to detail. This book is not just for foodies or cooks: any and all will enjoy it. [See Q&A with author on p. 102.]—Susan G. Baird, formerly with Oak Lawn P.L., IL
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.