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WHEN I was in school the average tiffin we carried to school was paratha, puri or sandwiches or it used to be a variation of the three and occasionally, it would be pakora. Then somewhere between my school years and my son's school years came a jingle, which said in just two minutes and the noodle fad was born. Today I often see noodles in my son's tiffin. A healthy wholesome meal to compete with the school canteen's soft drinks and burger which hold so much sway over a school boy's mind. Coming back to the topic of noodles, they have been around in China for a long, long time. When Marco Polo visited that country in 1270 A.D. he recorded their usage. Some people say that Marco Polo carried the concept back and spaghetti was born, but many people dispute that theory saying pasta was always there well before the noodle from China was got by Marco Polo. Though what is not disputed is the fact that the noodle got its name from the mid-European (Germany, Bavaria, Austria) word for dumplings i.e., nudlen, knodl or knodel. The original Chinese word for noodle is `mein' - hence, chow mein . Original noodles were always made with egg and so you will see egg noodles as a very common term used for it. If they are not made with egg it is supposed to be mentioned on top of the packet that they are plain noodles.

Noodles are a symbol of longevity in China and are often served at birthday parties as a wish for long life. Though Maggi will probably take the `chosen one' place in Indian markets, there are many types of noodles. Apart from the Chinese egg noodles are the noodles made from rice which are soaked in warm water and not boiled. Then there are the transparent variety or glass noodles or cellophane noodles made from moong bean starch paste. Bijon noodles from South-East Asia is made from corn kernels. From Japan came a number of different noodles one being shirataki (white waterfall) made from the starch of a tuber which colloquially is called the Devil's Tongue. There is of course the famous Soba noodles made with golden buck wheat. Then there are noodles like cellophane called Udan Sotanghan used in the fish soup like laksa. Udon noodles are flat ribbon-like noodles served in hot dishes with mixed meat or vegetables. There are many more like miki, misua, somen and so on. India also produces noodles called seviyan and of course, falooda. Most noodles are made into a stiff dough and then they are passed through machines to cut them into long strands. Then they are steamed partially dried, packeted and sold in the market. Noodles are also very versatile. Try a noodle soup with vegetables. Try tossed noodles with a little Indian gravy like a Roganjosh. Crisp fry your boiled noodles by tossing in a little cornflour and then fry it. Top crunchy noodles with any spicy, thick gravy for an innovative meal.

So needle a noodle and come up with some creative meals.

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