Nearly every culture has a form of noodle to compliment its cuisine. The word “noodle” derives from the German word nudel. Generally made of unleavened dough (no yeast), they are cut into strips, shaped or dropped by the teaspoon into boiling, salted water to cook, or are steamed or fried.
In the Philippines noodles represent long life and good health and it is believed that they must not be cut short so as not to corrupt the symbolism. The Filipino noodle dish pancit is served to celebrate the birth of a child and on subsequent birthdays. Kugel is a baked pudding or casserole made from egg noodles (Lokshen kugel) or potato and is a traditional Jewish dish, often served on Shabbat and Yom Toy. In the northwestern region of China and Central Asia, Uighurs and Uzbeks make a dish called manta, steamed dumplings filled with mutton and pumpkin and served with cream. In Turkey, the dish evolves into manti, tiny tortellini-like dumplings that are boiled and served with yogurt, mint-infused oil, paprika, and crushed walnuts.
The Chinese made noodles as far back as 3,000 BCE, although the first written evidence of noodles in China was not until 206 BCE. An excavation of an Etruscan tomb shows drawings of natives making pasta in the 4th century BCE, and in the 1st century BCE, Horace wrote of fried sheets of dough called lagana. Arabs took noodles, string-like shapes made of semolina flour and dried before cooking, with them on long journeys in the 5th century. Wheat noodles (udon) were adapted by a Buddhist monk in Japan in the 9th century from an earlier Chinese recipe. Persian resteh noodles were eaten in the 13th century. Pasta has been a staple for Italian families for generations. Marco Polo is credited with bringing pasta to Italy after his exploration of the Far East in the 13th century and written records of spatzle in Germany date to 1725.
A virtually fat free and salt free food, noodles are low on the Glycemic Index (GI). The Glycemic Index is a ranking of carbohydrates and the effect they have on our blood glucose levels. A low GI carbohydrate is digested more slowly and satisfies hunger longer without increasing blood sugar levels.
Noodles are usually classified according to ingredients.
Acorn noodles – Korean noodles known as dotori guksu made of acorn meal, wheat flour, wheat germ, and salt.
Cellophane noodles – made from mung beans, potato starch or canna starch.
Kelp noodles – made from seaweed.
Pasta – Italian noodles made using semolina flour, which comes from grinding kernels of durum wheat. Sometimes the semolina is mixed with other flours. It is then mixed with water until it forms sticky dough. Additional ingredients are then added to the pasta, like eggs to make egg noodles, or spinach or tomato to make red or green colored pasta. Pasta is formed into various shapes. Here are some of the most common:
Alfabeto—tiny alphabet letter pasta
Agnolotti—shaped like half moons
Anellini– little rings
Anolini—ravioli in half-moon shape with ruffled edges
Bucatini—long, fat hollow strands like spaghetti
Capelli d’angelo—angel hair pasta; very fine long strands
Castellane—rigid shell shape
Conchigliette- little conch shells
Ditali—small tubes like “thimbles”
Farfalle—bow-tie or butterfly shapes
Fusilli– shaped like a corkscrew
Gnocchetti—small oval dumplings
Mezzi Tubetti—larger hollow tubes
Millerighe– large rigatoni with ribbed sides
Orecchiette—shaped like little “cups” or “ears”
Paccheri– very large tubes
Penne piccolo– small narrow tubes with ends cut on diagonal
Rigatoni—big hollow tubes
Rotini– small corkscrews
Sedanini—thin, hollow tubes
Spellete- little stars
Tagliarini– similar to linguine with a flat side, but thinner
Vermicelli– similar to spaghetti, but thinner
Rice vermicelli – also known as rice sticks, they are long and thin
Idiyappam – Indian rice noodles
Khanom chin – fermented rice noodles used in Thai cooking
Pancit noodles – very thin rice noodles used in Filipino cooking
Somen – thin Japanese noodles often coated with oil
Spatzle – a German noodle made of wheat and eggs
Udon – thicker Japanese wheat noodles
Always cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water to keep it from being sticky. Never add oil to the water or you inhibit the ability of the sauce to cling to the pasta. Also, it is not necessary to drain the pasta after cooking unless you are going to serve it cold in a pasta salad. Generally, you should use thinner pastas with thin sauces and thicker shapes with thicker sauces as the sauce will coat the shape and cling to it better.
The proper way to eat spaghetti is to wind the spaghetti up on the fork and eat it in one bite. It is very impolite to eat half of the noodles and let the other half to fall back into your plate. In Asia cultures, making slurping sounds while eating noodles shows that you are really enjoying the meal!
Fukushima, Shunsuke. Japanese Home Cooking.
Marlani, John. The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink