• Tuesday, December 05, 2023
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Origin of Noodles: From the shores of Asia to taste buds of Nigeria

Chinenye Uwanaka

Nigeria, known for its colourful culinary traditions and unique dishes, does not have claim to the origin of noodles. Noodles possess a long and interesting history that predates the African nation by centuries.

Noodles have a deep-rooted history and have gradually spread to other parts of the world over centuries of cultural exchange and globalisation. Understanding the true origins of noodles helps us appreciate the diversity and interconnectedness of food traditions worldwide.

Noodles are a type of food traditionally made from flour or rice, water, and sometimes eggs. They are then dried or cooked fresh in boiling liquid. This global meal is considered a significant and flavourful dish in some parts of the Asian community.

One of the earliest references to noodles can be found in a record from the Western Han Dynasty, where it is mentioned that noodles were made from wheat dough and consumed by aristocrats. Chinese noodles, made from wheat or rice flour, were a staple food in the ancient Chinese diet and played an important role in the country’s culinary heritage.

According to findings from National Geographic “the earliest record of noodles appears in a book written during China’s East Han Dynasty sometime between A.D. 25 and 220.”

The Chinese developed a wide variety of noodle types, such as hand-pulled noodles, knife-cut noodles, and wheat vermicelli, each with its own unique texture and flavour.

From the shores of China, noodles gradually spread to neighbouring countries, including Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asian nations, due to trade and cultural exchanges. They were transported along the Silk Road, a major trade route, which facilitated cultural exchange and the spread of various food traditions.

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In Japan, for instance, noodles are an inherent part of the cuisine, with dishes like ramen and udon being deeply embedded in Japanese culinary traditions.

Similarly, countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia have their own versions of noodles, often incorporating distinctive local ingredients and cooking techniques.

It was not until the 15th century that noodles made their way to Europe.

The Italian explorer Marco Polo is often credited with introducing noodles to the Western world, after encountering them during his travels to China. However, it is important to note that while Marco Polo popularised pasta in Europe; Italian cuisine had its own ancient forms of noodles, such as the ancient Roman “lagane,” which predates Marco Polo’s journeys.

It was around the 13th century that Marco Polo, the Italian explorer, encountered noodles during his travels to China. He was so amazed by this new food that he brought the concept back to Italy. Noodles gradually became a staple in Italian cuisine, and different types of pasta, such as spaghetti and fettuccine, were developed over time.

In the 19th century, Chinese immigrants brought noodle-making techniques to the United States during the California Gold Rush. They opened restaurants and noodle houses, introducing the American population to this Chinese delicacy; paving the way for the diverse range of noodles enjoyed today.

By the 20th century, Chinese-American noodle dishes like chow mein and lo mein had become popular across the country.

Today, noodles are available in countless varieties, shapes, and flavours. They are not only a cultural symbol but also a comfort food enjoyed by millions. Whether enjoyed in a soup, stir-fried, or sauced, noodles continue to hold an important place in the culinary world, transcending borders and bringing people together through their delicious heritage.

Read also: Lagos Continental relaunches Soho restaurant, offering authentic Asian flavours

Asian noodles have different forms, flavours, and textures, with each country in Asia having its unique method of making them. Below are some ways Asian noodles are made:

Chinese Noodles

Chinese noodles are diverse and well-known, made from wheat flour, rice flour, or mung bean starch. Varieties include:

Lo Mein is Wheat flour noodles, boiled and stir-fried with meat, vegetables, and sauce.

Lo Mein, typically prepared with fresh noodles, are tossed in a flavourful sauce and loaded with vegetables and protein.

This popular takeout dish relies on the perfect sauce and noodles, making it a quick and delicious meal in just 6 minutes.

Chow Mein is a Wheat flour noodle, stir-fried until crispy.

The difference between Lo Mein noodle and Chow Mein is that Lo mein commonly uses noodles that are fresh, whereas chow mein can be prepared using fresh or dried noodles.

Chicken chow mein is likely a beloved Chinese takeout meal, featuring chicken, vegetables, chow mein noodles, and a homemade chow mein sauce which you can learn from various videos on YouTube.

This is a Chinese dish that consists of egg noodles and stir-fried vegetables. It can be customised with various proteins such as chicken, meat, or tofu.

This dish involves pan-frying the noodles until they become crispy and then coating them in a flavorful sauce. Chow mein is an ideal choice for quick and easy meals, minimising the use of multiple pans and kitchen cleanup.

Udon is a thick wheat noodle used in soups, stir-fries, or served chilled with dipping sauce. It is a vegetable and protein-filled dish cooked in one pan, with a flavourfull sauce that will leave you wanting more.

These noodles are best enjoyed when freshly made, offering a soft and chewy texture. Due to their neutral taste, they can readily absorb ingredients and flavours that are robust.

La Mian is a hand-pulled noodle created by repeatedly stretching and folding the dough into thin strands.

To prepare for consumption, the dough is thinly rolled out and sliced into narrow strips. It is then placed into a saucepan of boiling water and cooked for approximately 2 minutes.

You are to drain noodles, rinse with cold water, and lightly coat with vegetable oil to avoid sticking. Utilise in soups, stir-fries, or combine with tomatoes and cucumber for a salad.

Japanese Noodles

Japan has its unique noodle traditions, and popular types include:

Ramen noodles are a vital part of the Japanese soup dish called ramen. They have a springy texture and are served in a savoury broth with various toppings like chicken wings, dried sardines.

Ramen soup is typically prepared using chicken or pork stock, along with a selection of ingredients like pork bones, katsuobushi, niboshi, beef bones, shiitake, onions, and kombu. Additionally, certain contemporary ramen broths may be made from vegetables.

Soba is made from buckwheat flour or a mix of buckwheat and wheat flour, they are thin with a slightly nutty flavour.

They can be enjoyed cold with a dipping sauce or in hot soups. This is the most sought after dish in summer because it is so refreshing!

Udon noodles are thick, chewy, and commonly served in a hot broth with different toppings like vegetables, beef, chicken or eggs.

This Japanese noodle is made from wheat flour, water, and salt, and then served in a simple dashi-based broth. The noodle is considerably thicker than buckwheat soba noodles and can be either flat or rounded.

Thai Noodles:

Thai cuisine features a variety of noodles in their dishes, including:

Pad Thai is made from rice flour and these flat noodles are richly stir-fried with shrimp, tofu, eggs, and bean sprouts. They are then seasoned with fish sauce, tamarind paste, and palm sugar.

Drunken Noodles are wide rice noodles stir-fried with soy sauce, chilli, garlic, and basil. They are named “drunken” due to their spiciness. It sure comes in handy after a long night of happy hour and you need to get over a hangover.

Boat Noodles is rice noodles served in a flavourful broth made from beef or pork bones.

Vietnamese Noodles:

Vietnamese cuisine features various types of noodles, including:

Pho is rice noodles served in a savoury beef or chicken broth/stock, topped with bean sprouts, herbs, and sliced meat. The commonly prepared one is Chicken Pho, but there is beef and vegan Pho.

Bun is a cold vermicelli rice noodle with toppings like grilled meats, herbs, vegetables, and nuoc cham sauce. Best enjoyed in the hot season.


Cao Lau is a specialty from Hoi An, it consists of thick yellow noodles served with pork, herbs, and a flavorful broth.

Cao lau

You can find the recipes for these varieties of noodles on the internet, especially YouTube.

These are just a few examples of the different ways Asian noodles are made. Every region and country in Asia has its own unique noodle dishes, highlighting the versatility and culinary heritage of Asian cuisine.