Noodles or Pasta? Examining China’s Claimed“Food Inventions”

Noodles or Pasta? Examining China’s Claimed“Food Inventions”
Mar 15, 2014 By Robynne Tindall ,

The Chinese have been credited with inventing a vast number of things including gunpowder, paper and the compass, to name but a few. But have they been as innovative when it comes to food? We've lined up a couple of our favourite Chinese dishes—plus an unlikely Chinese invention—head to head with dishes from the rest of the world to find out who comes out on top in the battle of the food inventions!

Noodles or Pasta? Examining China’s Claimed“Food Inventions”

Hotpot vs. fondue: yin and yang?

Hot pot originated in northern China in the Shang (16th-11th century BCE) and Zhou (11th century-256 BCE) dynasties. The dish suited the cool climate of northern China and made use of the greater supply of meat from the pastoral areas of Mongolia and beyond.This style of cooking spread south through the rest of China in the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE). Chongqing hot pot, arguably the most popular style today, came into being during the Qing dynasty.

Fondue on the other hand is a much more modern concoction. The earliest recipe for fondue as we know it today appeared in a Swiss cookbook in 1699. The dish gained popularity in the 19th century, reaching its zenith in the mid-20th century when the Swiss Cheese Union aggressively promoted it as the Swiss national dish. By the 1960s and 1970s it was seen as the height of European sophistication in the U.S. and the UK.

Although hot pot clearly beats out fondue in terms of seniority, this is still a hard match to call, since Chinese-style hot pot and fondue are about as different as, well, hot pot and cheese. However, there is one variety of fondue that makes us think the dish could well have been inspired by hot pot. Fondue Bourguinnone involves a pot of hot oil which diners cook small pieces of beef and other meats in, before dipping them in a variety of sauces. Remind any one else of something?

Noodles vs. pasta: a tale of two doughs

Since a bowl of 4000-year-old noodles was unearthed in China  in 2005, there is little doubt that noodles come out on top of pasta in terms of age. The big question is, did noodles directly inspire pasta or did the two foods spring up separately?

Legend has it that Marco Polo brought pasta back to Italy following his travels in China. While this is a romantic notion, unfortunately it appears to be unfounded. While Polo does mention coming across various “types of pasta” in certain provinces of China in his memoirs, he seems to assume his readers would already know what he was talking about.

Polo travelled to China in the late 13th century (1275-1292), while the first reference to pasta in Italy was made much earlier, in 1154. In fact, historians believe people were eating loose variants of pasta in the Middle East as early as the 2nd century, suggesting that the pasta we know and love today was more influenced by Arabic culture than Chinese culture.

Ice cream: China vs. the rest of the world

As long as summers have been hot, people have been trying to find ways to stay cool. And what's a better way to cool down than with a nice ice cream treat? As strange as it may sound, some historians credit the Chinese with inventing a version of ice cream closest to the one we enjoy today.

A vague sort of ice cream was being eaten in China as early as 200 BCE, made from a mixture of rice and milk frozen by packing it inside snow. Further, most history books claim that a device for making ice cream was invented in China in the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE). The ice cream was made by pouring a mixture of ice and saltpeter—which lowers the temperature of the ice—over containers filled with syrup or milk.

Our old friend Marco Polo is once again credited with taking the concept of ice cream back to Italy when he left China, although since the Roman emperor Nero (37-68 CE) is reported to have enjoyed a dessert of ice brought back from the mountains topped with fruit sauces, this seems unlikely. While it seems likely that the modern concept of ice cream was indeed inspired by Chinese methods, it still remains unclear how and when the idea spread to the rest of the world.

Post-match round-up: where do our favourite foods come from?

Purely by virtue of being one of the world's oldest societies, China has the upper hand when it comes to inventing foods first. However, as these foods spread around the world, it wasn't just a simple case of copy-paste. The interesting thing is, similar foods sprang up in other cultures hundreds (or thousands) of years later, with little or no direct influence from China. No matter where they were in the world, people took raw ingredients like milk, meat and wheat and put them to the best possible use. We'll have to wait and see whether China will come up with any other new food inventions in the future!

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Keywords: China food inventions Marco Polo brought food back from China China food origins


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There's a book: "On the noodle road, from Beijing to Rome". If you really care about the history of noodles or pasta you'd love it. Basically Chinese noodles were dried by Arabians and introduced into Italy. The exchanges on the silk road were numerous. A company in the US was in charge of the fallacy of Marco Polo, trying to make business at the beginning of the 20th century.

Mar 18, 2014 21:08 Report Abuse



Mar 17, 2014 19:21 Report Abuse



Not dialed in topics of foreigners? And my xenophobic nerves? Wow, you sound like you don't live in China. It's a fact that there are people here who have bad manners like pushing in the subway. However they are very family oriented which I love. So how's about you go somewhere far away where no one needs to hear or know about you. LOL!

Oct 20, 2012 23:12 Report Abuse



Holy crap it is INSANELY possible that all these foods originated on their own in certain parts of the world.

This constant "Who invented what" BS is so childish and stupid.

Oct 02, 2012 22:43 Report Abuse



Well, the obvious answer is neither the Chinese nor the Italians created pasta. What really happened was that the Flying Spaghetti Monster, peace be upon him, willed himself into being a the beginning of time, thus creating pasta. Later, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, peace be upon him, created the universe, earth, and everything that walks, crawls or swims upon or under its surface. What the picture at the top of the page illustrates is the the Flying Spaghetti Monster creating Adam with his noodly appendage.

Oct 02, 2012 20:01 Report Abuse



Alexander the Great wanted Europe and Asia to intermarry so the idea could be older than that.

Also Homo-sapien migration from Africa spread out into Asia, so there is a chance that all came before modern humans even got to Asia.

Oct 02, 2012 19:56 Report Abuse