Bon Appetit Wednesday: The Ancient Noodle

noodles 2Covered in creamy sauce, swimming in fragrant broth or simply sharing a bowl with some butter, noodles are the quintessential comfort food. Not surprisingly, many want to claim the noodle as their own. So many nations jockeying for position, longing to be the originators of pasta perfection. The noodle has a pretty mysterious past, but we are going to attempt to illuminate the highlights for you, along with sharing a quick and easy homemade noodle recipe. And don’t forget the sauce! Click here for a collection of sauce recipes to suit every palate.

The oldest archaeological evidence of noodles belongs to China. A 4,000 year old bowl of “beautifully preserved, long, thin yellow noodles were found inside an overturned sealed bowl at the Lajia archaeological site in northwestern China”.[1] Amazingly, though the noodles and bowl were covered in sediment, the shape of the noodles was easily discernible.[2] The 50-cm long pieces of pasta were made from foxtail and broomcorn millet, two “domesticated grasses” that are native to that area of China.[3] They appear to be made similarly to the traditional La-Mian noodle, which is made by “repeatedly pulling and stretching the dough.”[4]

Despite the strong evidence out of China, Italy refuses to concede and often claims that they are the true inventors of the noodle. They trace their noodle lineage back to the ancient Greeks and Romans who had a food called in Latin laganum, which was composed of thin sheets of dough “made with wheat flour and the juice of crushed lettuce, flavored with spices and then deep fried in oil”.[5] Of course this is quite a deviation from the boiled pasta we know today, but it is a step in the noodle’s direction. The recipe was apparently taken from Chrysippus of Tyana, a first century Greek author.[6] Even Horace enjoyed this “fried pasta,” eating it with his “leeks and chickpeas.”[7]

And then there is the Arabic origin of the noodle. The first definite record of boiled noodles comes from the 5th century CE and is found in the Jerusalem Talmud, written in Aramaic.[8] These noodles were called itriyah, most likely taken from the Greco-Roman word itrium, which has at some points been suggested to describe a type of baked pasta.[9] The itriyah were dried, portable noodles sold by vendors.[10]

Whatever its origin, noodles traveled the world with each culture developing its own unique version of the beloved food. Today it is difficult to think of a place in which there is no variation of the noodle. Whether hot or cold, sweet or savory, main dish, side dish or even dessert, the noodle has made its way into our hearts and bellies for thousands of years.

Homemade Noodles

720931*Recipe courtesy of AllRecipes

Serves 6


  • 3 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 pinches of salt


  1. Mix all ingredients. Roll thin with flour, then roll like a jelly roll. Cut into 1/2 inch strips. Let dry.
  2. Drop into hot chicken broth. Boil for 15 minutes.

[1] Roach, J. (2005, October 12). 4,000-Year-Old Noodles Found in China. Retrieved September 7, 2014.

[2] Ye Maolin, L. (2005, November 4). The earliest Chinese noodles from Lajia. Retrieved September 7, 2014, from

[3] Oldest Noodles Unearthed in China. (2005, December 10). Retrieved September 7, 2014.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Serventi, S., & Sabban, F. (2002). Pasta: The story of a universal food. New York: Columbia University Press.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Dalby, A. (2003). Food in the ancient world, from A to Z. London: Routledge.

[8] Viola, D., & Walker, M. (n.d.). The History of Pasta. Retrieved September 7, 2014.

[9] Serventi, S. & Sabban, F.

[10] Viola, D. & Walker, M.

2 responses to “Bon Appetit Wednesday: The Ancient Noodle

  1. Pingback: Bon Appetit Wednesday! The Ancient Pierogi | AntiquityNOW

  2. Pingback: Bon Appetit Wednesday! National Noodle Month | AntiquityNOW

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