Feasting her way through an Italian honeymoon, Jen Lin-Liu was struck by culinary echoes of the delicacies she ate and cooked back in China, where she’d lived for more than a decade. Who really invented the noodle? she wondered, like many before her. But also: How had food and culture moved along the Silk Road, the ancient trade route linking Asia to Europe—and what could still be felt of those long-ago migrations?
The journey takes Lin-Liu into the private kitchens where the headscarves come off and women not only knead and simmer but also confess and confide. The thin rounds of dough stuffed with meat that are dumplings in Beijing evolve into manti in Turkey—their tiny size the measure of a bride’s worth—and end as tortellini in Italy. And as she stirs and samples, listening to the women talk about their lives and longings, Lin-Liu gains a new appreciation of her own marriage, learning to savor the sweetness of love freely chosen.
A travel book about noodles? I had to read this book as soon as I heard of it. Add in the fact that in 2017 I’m trying to read more Asian authors and books set in Central Asia and this book was perfect for me. It took me forever to read it though. I think I found this book so soothing that I would fall asleep after a few pages. It wasn’t boring. It just relaxed me.
The author is a Chinese-American journalist who lives in Beijing with her white American husband. She owns a cooking school. While most people in the west think of rice when they think of staple dishes of China, noodles are more common in the cuisine of northern China. She decides to follow the path of the Silk Road to see how noodles spread between China and Italy. Who invented them?
First of all, the old story about Marco Polo discovering noodles in Asia and bringing them to Italy is not true. The true history of noodles turns out to be very difficult to figure out. The author travels from China through central Asia and into Iran and Turkey interviewing chefs and home cooks. She is taught to cook dishes that amaze her and dishes that she learns to dread like plov, a central Asian rice dish that she was fed at every meal. I thought plov sounded really good if you left out all the dead animal parts that she kept being served. For a book that was supposed to be about noodles, it was very heavy on the meat. She had sheep killed in her honor and a lot of time was spent sourcing and waxing poetic over pork in Muslim countries.
There is also a lot of discussion about relationships and the role of women in society. At the time she started this trip, the author was recently married and was considering whether or not to have children. She is very conflicted about what her role should be in her marriage. Both she and her husband travel for work. Can they keep doing that? Should they stay in China? Does being married automatically mean giving up her independence? She spends part of the trip traveling alone and part of it with her husband. She talks to women as they cook about what their relationships are like. She realizes that her love of homemade noodles means that someone has to spend all that time making them. Younger women with jobs outside the house tend not to learn those skills.
This book does have many recipes if you would like to try making different types of noodles and dishes featuring noodles. It even has recipes for plov. It won’t give you the answer though to where the noodle originated. That answer is lost in time.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
From the duo behind New York Times bestseller, Thug Kitchen, comes the next installment of kick-ass recipes with a side of attitude. Thug KitchenParty Grub Guide answers the question that Matt and Michelle have heard most from their fans: How the hell are you supposed to eat healthy when you hang around with a bunch of a**holes who don't care what they put in their pie holes? The answer: You make a bomb-ass plant-based dish from Thug Kitchen. Featuring over 100 recipes to attend or host parties of any kind, Party Grub Guide combines exciting, healthy, vegan food with easy-to-follow directions and damn entertaining commentary. From passed appetizers like Deviled Chickpea Bites to main events like Mexican Lasagna, Thug Kitchen Party Grub Guide is here to make sure you are equipped with dishes to bring the flavor without the side of fat, calories, and guilt. Also included are cocktail recipes, because sometimes these parties need a pick-me-up of the liquid variety.
I love my Thug Kitchen cookbook so I was really excited to see that they had a second cookbook out. I got it from the library first and then bought my own copy. My husband was concerned about this. He rightly pointed out that I am not in fact a “social mother-f*cker”. I told him that I liked to make the recipes for myself and maybe I’d share with him. He went off muttering about me being the exact opposite of what the book was for.
I keep pushing back posting this review because I keep making more recipes from this book that I love!
I’ve made the Butternut Squash Queso-ish Dip. No one is going to actually think this is cheese based but it is a nice creamy sauce that I like to put on pasta along with some salsa. Good way to sneak some extra squash into your diet too!
I’m excited about the Artichoke Dip and the Rosemary Caramel Corn. The dip was slightly disturbing to look at but tasted great, especially mixed with some salsa. The caramel for the caramel corn didn’t melt for me as nicely as it was supposed to but it still tasted pretty good.
The Meatball Subs made with kidney beans and lentils were a hit with the omnivorous husband. Definitely making those again.
The Creamy White Bean sandwich spread is good for a vegan who wants something on a sandwich but can’t have hummus because of food allergy concerns.
Everything I’ve made out of these cookbooks have been great so far. If you have any interest in food made with healthy ingredients even if you aren’t normally eating a vegan diet, you should check these out. The emphasis is on people who don’t cook often so the basics are explained.
While growing up in Versailles, an Indiana farm community, Linda Furiya tried to balance the outside world of Midwestern America with the Japanese traditions of her home life. As the only Asian family in a tiny township, Furiya's life revolved around Japanese food and the extraordinary lengths her parents went to in order to gather the ingredients needed to prepare it. As immigrants, her parents approached the challenges of living in America, and maintaining their Japanese diets, with optimism and gusto. Furiva, meanwhile, was acutely aware of how food set her apart from her peers: She spent her first day of school hiding in the girls' restroom, examining her rice balls and chopsticks, and longing for a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich. Bento Box in the Heartland is an insightful and reflective coming-of-age tale. Beautifully written, each chapter is accompanied by a family recipe of mouth-watering Japanese comfort food.
Linda Furiya grew up in rural Indiana, far away from the traditional Japanese culture that her parents tried hard to emulate. She didn’t understand why her lunches were different than other kids’. She was embarrassed to hear her parents trying to talk to people in public, especially when other people didn’t make an effort to understand them. She didn’t want to invite people over to her house because it was so different than other peoples’.
Her parents had amazing life stories that she didn’t appreciate until she was much older. Her father was a U.S. citizen who went back to Japan as a child. He was then sent away as an indentured servant. He ended up as a Russian translator in the Japanese army during World War II. He came back to the United States and worked in the poultry farming industry because it was the only work he could get.
Her mother was the daughter of rice merchants in Tokyo. Her mother died and her father remarried and had other children. This dropped her status in the family to that of a servant. After the war, she lived on her own and had a job but gave it up to marry a stranger who lived the United States.
Her parents longed to have familiar Japanese food but couldn’t find it in Indiana. They made monthly trips to stores in Cincinnati or Chicago to find the ingredients they needed or had things shipped from Japan. Japanese comfort food became a common link between people who were very different but only had each other to rely on.
The author tells the story of growing up as the child of immigrants through the food that they loved. Each chapter ends with a recipe. Most of them are heavy on the meat so I won’t be trying them but there is one recipe for Rice Balls that sounds good. There is also a dessert recipe using agar agar instead of gelatin to make a Jello-like dish that I’d like to try since gelatin is made from animals and agar agar is from algae.
The author doesn’t shy away from talking about how she treated her parents horribly for being Japanese. It wasn’t until after college that she lived in a city with a large Asian population and understood that being Asian wasn’t automatically a bad thing. This book is a great look into the immigrant experience through the eyes of a child.
About Linda Furiya
Furiya grew up in rural Indiana, where her Japanese family went to great lengths to acquire traditional Asian ingredients. She became a journalist and food writer; Bento Box In The Heartland, her memoir of growing up in the Midwest, is her first book. She lives in Vermont.