The Travelling Thread
Story by Varud Gupta | Art by Allen Shaw
This story was first and foremost an ode to travel, to the people that one meets along the way, and the different ways of life one is able to experience while in a new country. At the heart of the story is how travelling and experiencing different cultures can shape our perspective on life, and the same holds true for travellers through time. But more than just travel, this is a piece about history, food and the under-represented people who made it possible for civilisations of the past to connect.
The Silk Road
The age of the Silk Road is by far one of my favourite periods of ancient history – for the setting, the mingling of cultures, and especially the food that was exchanged. From China, through the Middle East, and into Europe, the Silk Road spanned not just half the globe but also hundreds of years from the Han Dynasty in 130BC to the rise of the Ottoman Empire in 1453. Through a network of routes over both land and sea, it was the channel for the exchange not just of commodities such as silk and spices, but of cultures, traditions and ideologies.
A Lost History
When speaking of the Silk Road, we often talk about the Chinese Empire or of individuals such as Marco Polo whose accounts of the time have become popularised. But not as much is told about the Arab traders who unified much of the route from the east to west. The Arab trade became such a crucial part of the Silk Road that, for example, in the Chinese city of Xi’an, the Muslim Quarter exists as a relic of that time that is still thriving. Caravans of traders from western Asia travelled across cultures bringing with them everything from food to ideas.
A Tangled Thread
One particular dish of importance consists of the strands of grain some call pasta while others call noodles. While the origin of the noodle / pasta is one continuously debated – and most probably the result of simultaneous or multiple discovery – we do know that most cultures across the entire region have a dish of a similar nature. Over time, and with the help of routes dominated by Arab travellers, the techniques and preparations of those grains have mixed and melded: from the noodles of China, with the wheat of Baghdad, and then the saucy preparations of Italy, together combining in what has come to be known as pasta today.