MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Author Jen Lin-Liu runs a cooking school in Beijing and she has a passion for noodles. Once, on vacation, she found herself thinking a lot about Marco Polo, the 13th century merchant who supposedly brought noodles from China to Italy - emphasis on supposedly. Lin-Liu looked deeper into the story and found it lacking, so she kept looking and eventually decided to travel the Silk Road in search of the noodle's humble beginnings.
She's now published a book about her trip called "On The Noodle Road." Here's writer T. Susan Chang with a review.
T. SUSAN CHANG, BYLINE: This is Lin-Liu's second book. Her first was called "Serve The People." It was the story of a girl who grew up in the U.S., moved to China and started a cooking school. This book picks up where she left off, still in China, newly married, still running the school but wondering what to do next. So she travels the Silk Road looking for the origin of the noodle. It's a route that, for the Western traveler, holds a lot of opportunity for misadventures.
Guides who are really government minders, visa office mix-ups, haggling over prices and the constant struggle of being a woman alone in conservative cultures. The good news is that Lin-Liu is hungry not just for food, but for knowledge. Her story is strongest when she's meeting women in their own kitchens.
The bad news is that she's more journalistic than lyrical. You won't find mouth-watering prose here. And when the noodle trail turns cold, so does the book. Here's how she tries to resolve her quest: "Maybe noodles had taken a roundabout tour of the Middle East and North Africa on their journey to Italy. Or perhaps culinary exchanges had taken place between the Italian peninsula and Asia Minor. Or perhaps it was a coincidence? After 7,000 miles, the connection was still a mystery."
And I can say, after more than 300 pages, so is the book's mission. "On The Noodle Road" ends up being a lot of things - an odyssey, a travelogue, a documentary on the global state of women and wives, even a cookbook in a limited way. It makes you wish that the world's cultures could mingle a little more freely, making peace by breaking bread or slurping noodles.
For now, though, this book stands as a tantalizing glimpse of what could be.
BLOCK: The book is "On the Noodle Road," by Jen Lin-Liu. Our reviewer is T. Susan Chang, cookbook reviewer for the Boston Globe.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.