So. I have opinions about this book. I read her first book which I liked, although it isn't my favorite book about food in China. This book begins with the author in Italy noticing the same noodle-making techniques that she learned in China. Well, duh. But then she decides that noodles must have been invented somewhere between Italy and China and sets off to figure out where. She goes from Beijing west to Xinjiang, and then on through Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, and to Italy.
First, let's get the personal-life stuff out of the way. You might think this is just a food book, but the author blathers on way too much about her personal life, especially her relationship with her husband, and it isn't even insightful. She's simply irritating and childish. And I would have quit if I hadn't nearly been through the book when I got to her opinions about women who "follow" their husbands for their jobs. Don't both partners have to make compromises sometimes if you want to live in the same house? And who says you're automatically a lunching, tennis-playing snob if you move internationally for your spouse's job?
Second, she was so naive about traveling in Central Asia, Iran, and Turkey, and particularly about the realities of being a woman there (especially for someone with so many opinions on the correct way to be a woman). I got absolutely nothing useful out of any of that.
Finally, the food part. This is why I read the book, and it was also a little disappointing, although there were some bright spots. The China part was good, but then she hit Central Asia and for the rest of the book she griped about plov, even when she wasn't in Plovistan. Yes, you're going to get lots of plov if you show up at strangers' doors in Central Asia asking for food. It made me wonder how she prepared for the trip. She writes about doing lots of research and contacting people for the trip, but ends up often clueless or disappointed. Central Asia isn't the easiest place to research, no, but I can't see how you can say you tried and then not realize the central role plov plays there and that noodles really aren't that big of a deal. Or maybe she was just too far into her idea of a noodle road that she had to pretend it existed?
There were also lots of mistakes. She kept saying that ash means noodles. Not really. Maybe it does in ashlyamfu (I don't know since I don't speak Dungan), but ash is sort of like soup in Farsi and usually doesn't have noodles, and it generally refers to plov in Central Asia (although it's entirely possible it used to refer to noodles before rice took over). I'll skip the rest of the mistake nit-picking here.
She did redeem herself when she liked the ashlyamfu. I could never have forgiven that.
I actually think a book tracking down the subset of food wrapped in dough (whether it's steamed, fried, boiled, baked or anything else) would be more interesting since I think that type of food is generally more widespread throughout the region she traveled than noodles.
So I can't really recommend it, but I did have fun being irritated by the book.