Much like language or the wheel, the exact genesis of noodles is a hotly debated topic. One popular theory is that Marco Polo schlepped pasta from China back to Rome during his 13th century wanderings—although Italians and quite a few historians would dispute this. In all likelihood, noodles were simply one of those brilliant ideas that occurred to human beings on various corners of the planet.
Today, it’s hard to think of a more richly varied dish. One could spend a lifetime downing bowls of noodles, ranging from silky tonkotsu ramen to hand-pulled Lanzhou-style la mian without ever approaching boredom. From a soba shop in Kyoto that has been serving ethereal buckwheat noodles since 1465 to a family-run factory in Yogyakarta where cows still grind dried sweet potatoes and cassava into flour for “ugly noodles,” the following are celebrations of starch in its most glorious form.