A Brief History of Noodles 🍜

A brief history of noodles

Noodles, eh? From the glory of the Pot Noodle sandwich to Pad Thai, these stringy things are mana from foodstuff land for us hungry humans.

And they’re brilliant. From the awesome name (in English, borrowed in the 18th century from the German “nudel”) to the excellent taste, they’re a constant companion for billions across the globe.

But do you know anything about them!? We didn’t, which is why we went off to research the history of noodles to get a better understanding of all this stuff.

What are Noodles?!

There’s stringy foodstuffs (a bit like pasta) chefs make (usually) from unleavened dough. It’s stretched out flat and then cut into thin strips or strings.

The foodstuff is enormously popular, and synonymous, with Asia. Japan, Korea, Indonesia, China, and Vietnam all have various takes on the dish.

And with good reason! As oodles of noodles are delicious and even Arnold Schwarzenegger was happy to endorse noodles in the early 1990s (for a heaping great big wodge of cash).

Noodles are typically served with a sauce, cooked meats, and steamed vegetables.

However, as a surface level overview above that just about covers it. But noodles are much more complex than they are appear, as there’s a huge range available. From Chinese noodles to Japanese soba ones, this is a fascinating world to delve into.

One we can’t completely cover in a 1,000+ word feature, but we hope this WHETS YOUR APPETITE enough to go forth into the world and find out more.

The History of Noodles

China may have ownership here as the earliest record of noodles are with the Han dynasty (202 BC-25-220 AD, basically at least 2,225 years ago). There you’ll find the first written records of the foodstuff.

It’s also popular opinion in China the explorer Marco Polo (1254-1324), following his visit to the country, spread the dish across the West.

However, some historians argue the dish hails from the Middle East, where chefs would make them from semolina and dry out the noodles before cooking time. They even argue the foodstuff invention in those regions were within a couple of hundred years of each other. Whilst a team of historians in 2005 argued they’d found 4,000 year old noodles in Lajia, China (this finding is contested by some as non-noodle).

What is clear? Noodles have been around for a very bloody long time. There’s artwork from 1656 depicting a hungry man hungrily slaking his hunger. Behold!

Jan Vermeer van Utrecht's art piece Man Eating Noodles

That piece was by Jan Vermeer van Utrecht, a Dutch Golden Age painter. Clearly, it’s noodles the geezer is eating. Not pasta (we discuss that debate further below).

You can see the appeal for humans.

They’re easy to prepare, tasty, go with 1,000s of other ingredients, and they’re kind of fun to eat. Whether you consume them with chopsticks or use a trusty fork, there’s something fun about eating the things. It can bring back a sense of childish glee in even the most jaded of souls.

And as we cover further below, modern noodles have taken on a realm of their own. They are omnipresent—you can’t escape the noodle. Ever. And the sooner you embrace that harsh reality, the sooner your hunger pangs will disperse.

The Types of Noodle Dishes

There are eight different types of noodles, from egg to ramen and then the legendary udon. But there are 100s of dishes you can make from these things.

You can bake them, chill them, fry them, and even have noodle soup!

TasteAtlas put together an amazing list in March 2023: Most Popular Noodles Dishes in the World. Well worth a look! Here’s a summary of the big hitters:

  • Ramen: Noodle soup! This emerged from Japan in 1910 with a delightful merger of noodles with a salty broth. A legend was born that day. One that defined, arguably, the most famous noodle foodstuff in the world.🍜
  • Pho: A Vietnamese number, and another soup-based one, this is one the West embraced like a long lost brother. You’ll find it in many restaurants as a staple beef/chicken broth.
  • Pad Thai: Another legend, this stir-fry consists of seafood, peanuts, garlic, tofu, and turnip. Adding in the main ingredient and you’ve got a nifty little number here.
  • Chow mein: You know this one! Another Chinese legend where the noodles are boiled and fried. Chuck in a meat of choice and layer up with stir-fry sauce. Pukka!
  • Tonkotsu ramen: A Japanese number that’s very high on rich and fatty pork broth. Chuck a boiled egg in there with some pickled cabbage and you’re all good to go.
  • Japchae: This South Korean dish involves glass noodles and veg, stir-fried up and served with beef and soy sauce.
  • Miso ramen: Okay, so you get glorious miso soup… and noodles! Yep, it works and treat. Hurl whatever you want in with this, although bok choy Chinese cabbage is a must for sure.

That is but a handful of recipes right there. In fact, there are over 1,200 types of noodles in use across China alone. Mindboggling, eh?

And you thought noodles were simple, eh!? You dim-witted, crazy, ignorant, silly billy. Shame on you!

Noodle Spellings Across Asia (and the world)

Okay, we randomly chose some countries after covering an Asian batch to see the variety of noodle spellings out there in the big old wide world. Behold:

  • Japan: 麺 (Men)
  • China: 面条 (Miàntiáo)
  • Korea: 국수 (Gugsu)
  • Vietnam: Mì
  • Indonesia: Mie
  • Norway: Nudler
  • Finland: Nuudelit
  • Russia: Лапша (Lapsha)
  • Greece: Λαζάνια (Lazánia)
  • South Africa: Noedels
  • Turkey: Kesme or erişte
  • Pakistan: نوڈلز
  • Spain: Fideos

On and on it goes. Interesting though, eh? Noodles may be universal, but try and buy some in, for example, Finland by announcing “Give me noodles!” will get you nowhere.

The Difference Between Noodles and Pasta

Is there a difference between noodles and pasta? Yes. Kind of. But there are some key contrasts going on here:

  • Noodles are typically made with flour milled from common wheat, whereas pasta is processed from durum semolina.
    • The difference? Durum semolina is a flour much coarser than the noodle variety.
  • Noodles tend to contain salt, whereas pasta is largely salt-free.
  • The wheat in noodles makes them softer and a lighter colour, so they’re silkier to the touch.

It’s a complex old thing. For example, couscous is made from semolina flour mixed with water. It looks like grain, but it’s technically pasta.

And yet it’s definitely not a noodle, right? Bloody hell. This stuff is more complicated than it seems.

A Bit About Instant Noodles

Previously, we’ve covered the history of instant noodles and how they’re made. They were invented by Momofuku Ando (1910-2007) to help Japanese citizens deal with various crises in the aftermath of WWII.

What Ando didn’t realise is he was about to spark a massive, international, multi-billion dollar industry. And after the COVID-19 pandemic, instant noodles became even more popular (i.e. due to their cheapness and ease to make).

In 2021, the industry raked in $51.65 billion. It’s expected to be hitting $81.84 billion by 2029.

The downside to that is… unfortunately, instant noodles aren’t good for you.

They helped solve a hunger crisis post-WWII, but now it’s just feeding the increasing global obesity crisis. They can be low in calories, but make up for it by being high in fat, carbs, and salt.

You do get some micronutrients from instant noodles, but little else. Some instant noodle packs contain 88% of your daily recommended salt intake. Luckily… you can choose some healthier options over that.

The Range of Healthier Alternative Noodles

There are loads of vegan noodle varieties around much healthier than the more traditional noodle varieties (and certainly the instant variety). Japanese soba noodles are a fantabulous starting point.

We’re plugging Clearspring as we love its products. It’s an English firm specialising in organic Japanese foodstuffs. Its noodles are the shizz!

If you’re vegan, or want the healthier option, then these are a great starting point:

  • Ramen
  • Udon
  • Somen
  • Soba
  • Glass (note—these aren’t really made from glass)
  • Rice
  • Lentil
  • Edamame

Again, the range is so colossal now it’s difficult to convey the full vastness of the Noodle Universe within this one post.

But the good news is you can enjoy healthy noodles. There’s really no need to be munching down on instant pots that have about the nutritional value of a dead rat.

How Do You Make Noodles, Please?!

Masterchef John Zhang is on hand here with a guide to making oodles of noodles. Here he’s making scallion oil and soy sauce noodles.

To get some of the stringy stuff together, the ingredients you’ll need are:

2 cups all-purpose flour (divided)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 large eggs lightly beaten up
1 tablespoon of cold water
1 tablespoon of canola oil

The joy of noodles, of course, is the enormous variety of dishes you can make with the things. Go forth and try it all out if you fancy—you’ll be a noodle master in no time.


  1. I can’t ever hear anyone say unleavened without thinking about the Mr. Show bit about the 13th apostle – and I’ll throw in this miraculous unleavened bread leavenator! In case you were wondering.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had to Google Mr. Show, possibly not one that took off in England. We had Friends and Frasier mainly. But! Bob Odenkirk and David Cross there. Their careers failed badly, eh!?

      Bread noodles could be a thing. You’re onto something there, I reckons.


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