A food writer travels the Silk Road, immersing herself in a moveable feast of foods and cultures and discovering some surprising truths about commitment, independence, and love.
As a newlywed traveling in Italy, 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? With her new husband’s blessing, she set out to discover the connections, both historical and personal, eating a path through western China and on into Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, and across the Mediterranean.
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.
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 .