No matter how tempted you might be to skip straight to the 20 mouth-watering recipes included in Jen Lin-Liu’s On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome with Love and Pasta (Riverhead Books, $28), don’t; it would be like inhaling dessert first and spoiling an elegant five-course gourmet meal painstakingly prepared for you. Instead, take the time to savor this flavorful and thoughtful travel memoir that takes readers (as the subtitle declares) globe-hopping.
As the owner of the Black Sesame Kitchen, an acclaimed cooking school and restaurant in Beijing, Lin-Liu already knew a thing or two about noodles. In theory, she launched her six-month journey — through China, three Central Asian republics, Iran, Turkey and Italy — to trace the history of the noodle and the movement of food and culture along the Silk Road.
In reality, this American of Chinese heritage was also noodling over her ambivalence about her new role as a wife and her lifelong identity crisis. “I was exploring the idea of what it means to be Western and Eastern and where its confluence was along the road,” she tells American Way.
She finds the culinary confluence in Kyrgyzstan, where she blisses out on Chinese Muslim food with Russian influences. “That’s truly what fusion food is,” she says. “It’s not something a chef can create overnight in a restaurant in New York or London. It’s something that has been done for centuries by overlapping cultures.”
As Lin-Liu cooks alongside women on her journey, she exchanges kitchen confidentials that help her gain new perspective on marriage. “I saw that my role as a newlywed bonded me to women across the Silk Road and helped me understand them,” she says, “even if my situation was vastly different from theirs.”
In the end, the one constant throughout Lin-Liu’s trip is not noodles but hospitality. Her varied hosts invite her to a wedding, slaughter a sheep in her honor, tend to her ailments and welcome her repeatedly, with open arms, into their homes and kitchens. And as you (finally!) recreate those mouth-watering recipes from her journey, you’ll be glad you’ve welcomed Lin-Liu into your kitchen too.