The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Noodles in the East, Bread in the West

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Noodles in the East, Bread in the West

Why does this (generalized) demarcation hold: noodles in the East; bread in the West? 

Is it because the lack of energy resources in the East (compared to the West) discouraged the use of energy hungry ovens?

I realize there's no mutual exclusivity here (there's bread in the East, noodles (esp. pasta) in the West), but it seems like the history of bread is so much more rich in the West.

-=-

Also, can anyone recommend a good bread book on Asian breads? I have plenty noodle books, but none for Asian breads, preferably one that documents authentic recipes (i.e. not overly influenced by Western occupation, like French Indochina [e.g. You can get great croissant and baguette in Hanoi.]). 

 

 

 

yy's picture
yy

I'm not going to comment on the differential histories of bread vs. noodles in east vs. west because I'm not a cultural or nutritional anthropologist, but I would really, really hesitate to say any particular culture is "richer" than another. Even if we ignore the fact that there is a great amount of variability within, nevermind across cultures, the questions you've asked are complex enough that they probably can't be handled comprehensively on an internet forum. 

Unfortunately, there aren't any good (English) books on Asian breads. I've looked everywhere for one, to no avail. Any tips would be greatly appreciated from fellow TFLers

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

OK. Not "richer", but "more established"?

I wouldn't hesitate to say the noodles are more central to Eastern cooking, bread to Western, although neither is exclusive.

Nim's picture
Nim

Not if you count naan, parathas, idlis, dosas, chapatis, tandoori rotis, bajra (millet ) rotis, spiced breads, lentil breads, and all this is from just one country, India, only a part of Asia. And note that these are all complex and fundamentally different "breads".  Western bread comes in different shapes and combinations ( and I love them all!) but they are wheat, white and rye. So, it is really accurate to say Breads are 'western" only if your fundamental definition of what constitutes bread is narrow enough to begin with.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

...which is certainly part of Asia and has some wonderful breads, but noodles? 

I was going to use the "Far East", but that includes India.

If I must list them, I primarily mean China, Japan, Korea, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.


 

 

jennyloh's picture
jennyloh

although noodles are not widely found in India,  but there's a adaptation of noodle formed food - Putu Mayam,  made from rice flour and noodle formed,  eaten with orange sugar, at least in Singapore/Malaysia.  Fantastically wonderful! check this write up on it - http://ieatishootipost.sg/2011/10/heavens-indian-curry-manna-from-heaven.html?m=0#more


 

Nim's picture
Nim

There are various kinds of rice noodles in different parts of India; many are steamed and are breakfast dishes in India. They are known as Idiyappam, Sevai, dal dhokli (flat broad noodles) to name a few.

darkman013's picture
darkman013

I'm of Chinese decent, and my family eats a lot more rice than we do noodles.  And even most of the noodles we eat, aren't made of wheat.  I assume, with no factual basis, that wheat doesn't grow as well in asia as in europe.  Wheat doesn't grow well in northern europe either right? (thus they grow rye) 

yy's picture
yy

That's a regional thing. My father's side of the family is from the Hunan province (southern), and my paternal grandparents don't feel like they've eaten a meal unless they've had rice with it. On the hand, the maternal side of my family are transplants from Shanghai who have lived in Beijing (northern) for the past 50 years, and their diet is far more wheat based - lots of varieties of buns and unleavened breads.  

 

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

 ...lots of varieties of buns and unleavened breads.

Alas, it'll likely be in Mandarin or Cantonese.

darkman013's picture
darkman013

Of course I know that the north eats noodles.  But I was arguing why I thought bread didn't take off in asia.  A second hypothesis would be that rice can feed more people per acre than wheat, and thus is more favorable.  The only wheat fermented bread I can think of is bao.  I can't find a history of baos, so I don't know when it was introduced into the culture.  I only wonder this because its my understanding that the Chinese only fermented rice for alcohol and tsing tao is a product of german beer making.

You noted varieties of buns.  Is this the same dough with different fillings?  Also, do you know when they were created?  was it after western influence?  Was yeast (for bread) introduced by the west?  I know asia has lots of breads now, but don't know about the past.

Hope this isn't too garbled to read

 

yy's picture
yy

There's no "of course" about it because no cultural details are granted or obvious. I can only speak from experience as, again, I am neither a nutritional anthropologist nor a food historian. As for Chinese buns, no, they are not all the same dough with different fillings. "Buns" is really an umbrella term for a lot of items that don't have direct translations in English. They can be leavened or unleavened, lean or enriched, pan fried, fried or steamed. For each kind of dough, there are indeed multiple appropriate fillings, like you said. 

I don't know if I agree with the general implication that noodles and bread lie on two ends of a single spectrum. I think the two are evolutionarily distinct, so to speak. They also each exist of their own merit, and not just as a by-product of some environmental deficiency. How they first arose in history, how they have transformed throughout time and why they persist today are three related yet distinct questions. Anyhow, very interesting topic indeed. 

 

jennyloh's picture
jennyloh

there's also differences whether you are from north or south - buns in the north, rice in the south.

anyway, there are indeed very very few books on Asian Breads - I've got one called Magic Breads from Alex Goh,  a Malaysian,  who created beautiful Asian breads.  tried, his recipes and was pretty successful with it.  The recipes are in English.  check out my site for a couple of the recipes that I tried:  www.foodforthoughts.jlohcook.com

We have a couple of TFLers and other bloggers who had indicated their use of Taiwanese or Japanese books, mainly in the local languages.  check out happyhomebaking - singaporean baker,  TFLer - Shaoping - her mention of Japanese recipes.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

I don't see the book listed in the usual places, but I'll try to find it. 

Thanks for the link to jlohcook and the others. Time to explore.

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

I've never been to China, but my niece is currently doing a 5-year stint in Shanghai as part of her job.  She tells me ovens really are not that common; they are considered more a western item and some view them as somewhat of a status symbol.  Their first appartment didn't have one, so they made everything with stovetop materials or their rice cooker.  Since breads like pitas, chapatis, naan and the like can easily be managed on a stovetop, I imagine that's why you would find more of these kinds of breads and fewer varieties of oven baked breads.  

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

...as is the fuel required to heat them. If you look at the history of bread baking, a true oven available to the masses was a luxury 300 (or more) yrs ago plus it required more fuel and experienced bakers educated in it's use.

In the history of  bread, it seems to me that there have always been two types of bakers - professional bakers and home bakers.

Home bakers, in the past, mostly could not afford the expense of an oven and the expense of the fuel required to heat it.

From this simple economic fact, we gain a rich tradition of bread baked via direct heat and/or by steam. Unyeasted flat breads are a rich tradition from India and other geographical regions. Steamed breads (which may use yeast) are a rich tradition from China and other Asian countries.

As a home baker, I am continually enthralled by the knowledge and skill of th0se home bakers who have gone before me.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

...I read last year on how the availability and cost of cooking fuel heavily influenced everything in food history, from the types of cooking vessels used and techniques developed (all the way) to the types of plants and animals domesticated. It was a really fascinating article. If I find it (I think it was on longform.org), I'll post a link here for you to read.

This also reminds me of a quote from another book (I think it was either the Sundays at The Moosewood Restaurant or The Great Peasant Dishes of the World) that said all of the great dishes of the world come from the peasant class. Since they were responsible for growing, collecting, tending, and butchering the plant and animal stocks and cooking meals for the upper classes, all great dishes trickled up from the peasant class to the upper class and eventually trickled down from the upper class to the middle class. 

AnnaInMD's picture
AnnaInMD

what a cool site and articles.. Thanks for sharing !

Anna

 

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

Glad you like. If you set up a http://www.instapaper.com/ account, you can save articles for later reading. It's great, because just too little time to read everything you want on that site. Just press the "Saved" button and it gets saved to your instapaper account. 

Here's the food section: http://longform.org/category/culture/food-culture/

-=-

Another site of similar quality is: http://longreads.com/

They're both curated, long-form journalism.

It's rather hard to find an article on either of those sites that isn't worth reading.

AnnaInMD's picture
AnnaInMD

Been reading for an hour and have forwarded the two sites to friends.

thanks much, Thomas.

anna

darkman013's picture
darkman013

This is kind of interesting so I did some reading on wkik (yea I know you shouldn't trust everything on there)

Bread yeast was obtained from making beer.  But apparently rice had a better yeild in China and the fermentation of wheat was stopped.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_beer#Asia

Under prehistory, It talks about which regions domesticated what. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_bread

As previously stated by yy, nothern China does have wheat, and made bread.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantou

So in conclusion, wheat isn't as universal in Asia as in Europe.

 

Another theory would be that I, and I assume you, live in a western culture and thus have a western view of bread.  Or that the main use of wheat in europe is for bread and main use of wheat in asia is for noodles.

 

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

...energy resources, as it's obvious that both East and West (and by no means the entire geography of either) domesticated wheat.

Both have wheat and both use fermentation–Chinese porceline vessels for Shaoxing wine, fermented vegetables, and fermented tea (as well as those for Japanese miso) are gorgeous, priceless–so why does one have more bread, the other more noodles?

(For all I know, and that is little, the variety of breads and bread technique is just as rich in the East; but, because of the lack of published works, language barriers, etc., we (the West) know little of it richness. Hence the call for books.)

Thanks much for the wiki; will read it tonight.

Thomas 

jennyloh's picture
jennyloh

here's an article on the history of Mantou - the plain steamed white bun,  http://www.chinatownology.com/bao_and_mantou.html  and this was discussed in the China History forum on its accuracy - http://www.chinahistoryforum.com/index.php?/topic/5843-did-zhugeliang-invent-mantou-%26-39314%3B%26-22836%3B/  Doesn't seem like there's any conclusion unless I search into the chinese history in chinese. 

Whether its rice  or bread - I think its to do with the terrain?  why rice are more abundant in south,  because of water.  In the north,  they have less water, and usually harvest only once a year.  the terrain drives the kind of food that we eat,  which is unlike now, we can import anything aruond the world.

and by the way -  most people in the East (Asia including India) eat rice, and not noodles.  so, this demarcation is not quite accurate.

oh another article that I found on towards a rice eating culture in Sri Lanka,  settting up their bread ordinance,  maybe that also explains why bread does not quite take off as much in Asia - to protect the farmers.   http://www.dailynews.lk/2007/08/14/fea02.asp

 

 

 

 

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

...I was also thinking about cattle/oxen domestication too, how wheat is much harder to grow than, say, rice, and how the lack of large populations of domesticated "beasts of burden" would affect the outcome, especially as you contrast it with India, with much of its food dependent on the cattle domestication–even their cooking fuel for much of history was cow dung.

So many variables, but interesting to think about...

I'm rather convinced that, collectively, there's probably a lot more history and subtance to bread in the East than we think there is.

(Maybe we should dispatch http://www.fuchsiadunlop.com/ to write another book, her first three being so unbelieveably great).

Thanks for the links.