Noodle soups are a staple in most American homes. From the iconic white-and-red Campbell's can to Grandma's spaetzle recipe, each family has a favorite soup that comforts, nourishes and simmers from the stove top. The noodle soup has a culinary history that spans the globe, going back to the ancient Middle East, China 100 AD, Japanese in the 7th century and Marco Polo's Italy.
History of noodles
If you think the noodle is an Italian discovery, you're wrong. Though Italians may have made pasta popular throughout Europe, wheat noodles have their origins in the Middle East. The Chinese were the first to produce a long, thin noodle made from flour. The Chinese shared noodles with the Japanese, and it is believed that Marco Polo, in his 13th century travels to China, brought the noodle back to Venice.
When noodles met soup
In Asia, noodles were a natural partner with broth-based soups. Because noodles kept well, they could be cooked with the broth from chicken or hot water. The two most popular and enduring types of Asian noodle soups are the Chinese/Japanese ramen and the Vietnamese pho, made with rice noodles.
Noodle soups in Europe
Beginning in the 18th century Italians began putting small noodles in broth, often given to the sick because they were easy to digest and nourishing. In central Europe, spaetzle were common egg noodles sometimes served in broth but most often served alone or in a meat-based gravy. In Europe, a soup broth was still considered complete with potatoes, vegetables, barley and sometimes meat--no noodles necessary.
The 20th Century
Noodle soups became a convenience and health food in the 20th century. A large part of the popularity grew out of Campbell's soup company, which started advertising chicken noodle soup in the 1930s. It was only after World War II, with Japanese facing food shortages that the instant noodle developed. With the increase of pre-packaged and convenience foods, noodle soups became a trusty friend of college students, busy moms and single cooks.
Chicken noodle soup is considered the most popular noodle soup in the world. Many countries, from Southeastern Europe to Asia to Latin America have their own versions of a chicken broth-based soup mixed with wheat or rice-based noodles. In all cultures folk wisdom says the soup has a curative property that helps with flus and colds. And folk wisdom is correct: Chicken noodle soup has anti-inflammatory properties and helps with stuffy noses.
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