By Ken Albala
Food historian publishes book on noodle soup
Ken Albala’s forthcoming book on Noodle Soup (title still pending) just went into production with the University of Illinois Press and should be in print sometime next year. The book is a history, philosophy, technical manual, and cookbook on noodle soups around the world. The final stage was selecting 40 images from several thousand photos taken over the past 2 years. Albala shot them all himself, on a camera and his i-phone, which sometimes takes better images!
In the meantime, this semester he has been doing various talks and public demonstrations in places as far flung as Germany, Brazil and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He is also being featured in an upcoming article for Cooks Science, a new magazine from America’s Test Kitchen. Last week a journalist came to interview him and he made 7 different batches of noodles by hand, including flat wheat noodles, extruded starch-based noodles and the strange alchemical Japanese shirataki noodle, made of glucomannan, which has no calories. They even made a quick fruit noodle served in bourbon. This week a photographer will visit to do the whole thing over again and take live action shots for the magazine article.
While it’s a pleasure to be finished, book publishing is a little more complicated than just turning in a manuscript. In a few months a copyeditor will send the entire text back at which point he will be asked to make any necessary revisions. Then a month or so after the book will be typeset and he will be asked to proofread and index the whole thing, by which point he will probably never want to see it again. But then, with any luck, the round of interviews and talks only ramps up again for marketing purposes. And maybe a year later book reviews will hopefully start coming in.
Oddly, writing a book is often the easiest part, and certainly the quickest. Most of the time on this project was spent on research, in fact every morning since the summer of 2014 was spent testing a new noodle soup. The writing took place at a frenetic pace in the span of a few short months, in fact, a third of it was written at a retreat in a single week, 5,000 words a day. The entire book is about 75,000 words. Just think of that when you are assigned a 3,000 word research paper. The last major project he worked on (as editor) was the Sage Encyclopedia of Food Issues which was 990,000 words with 450 entries.