Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Citizenship of the pasta

Several magazines and newspaper published recently articles about the archeological discovery in China of noodles made with millet so old that the authors of those articles felt forced in concluding that the Chinese bitted the Italians in the invention of the pasta. In those articles also was reported that Italians learn about noodles in consequence of Marco Polo trip to China.
Being an Italian and passionate about history of the nourishment of the man kind I very much appreciate the articles for the valuable information about this discovery. But let me correct the content.
First we need to distinguish the shape from the ingredient. When we talking about food the ingredient is the important element, not the shape. If we want to speculate who invented the noodles or spaghetti shape is even ridiculous, because there is not doubt that this shape was discover at different times by many people in different parts of the world. Give to a child a piece of a dough and you will see him reinventing the ball and noodle shape playing with his hands. Italy never claimed the paternity of the noodles shape invention. Italians claim that they were the first on creating the pasta. In Italy the word “pasta” only refers to products made exclusively with wheat (mostly durum semolina wheat flour). Wheat is an ingredient not a shape. When we say “pasta” in Italy It does not matter if we call it maccaroni, spaghetti, penne, cappelli d’angelo, bucatini, etc. we means a product with different shapes always made with wheat.
For example a noodle made with rice we do not call it pasta, but if we are talking about spaghetti we call them rice spaghetti (spaghetti di riso), if we are talking about penne made with millet we call them millet penne (penne di miglio) and so on. The word noodle indicates more a shape certainly not a cereal. For what I was reading in Italy the Italians admit that is possible that the extruded noodle shape came from China to Italy, but those products were made of rice not wheat.
We know for a fact that the ancient Romans were using rice imported from the far east like a medicine (rice was not cultivate in Europe at that time). For that is much more credible that the rice noodles reach Italy long before Marco Polo. The Italians were the first to use wheat for the production of spaghetti and they invented also many other shapes never used in China or elsewhere before. Also because they were the first in understanding and developing the use of the durum semolina wheat pasta, that aloud the conservation of the shape after cooking without clumping together. After the Italians start using wheat, this use went back to China were in certain Provinces now they use also wheat. For what concern other countries claims about the paternity of the pasta why all over the world everybody use the Italian words Spaghetti, Maccaroni, Bucatini, penne, etc. if they invented them? This typical Italian words sound Arab, German or Chinese to you?
Ferdinando Petacci


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