Marco Polo and Noodle



There are also written reports of "food made from flour in string form" in Sicily, described by an Arab tourist named Idrisi in 1154, long before Marco Polo's trip. There were even noodles called Rishta in the Middle East at that time, food that originated in Persia.

Also, at the Spaghetti Museum in Pontedassio, Imperia, there are documents from 1440, 1279 and 1284, which refer to pasta, maccheroni, andvermicelli as famous food before Marco Polo's return in 1292. There is no truth at all to the legend that Marco Polo bring noodles back from China.

We don't know whether the "filament noodles" were a customary invention in Italy, or whether they came from the Middle East. We also don't know why only in Italy, and not in other countries in Europe or the Mediterranean, are they a staple in the diet. This noodle idea might have traveled along the Silk Road from Central Asia to Bukhara in the Middle East, where theristhta are known. It is also possible that these noodles were introduced to Italy by the Arabs when they dominated Sicily.

Although I certainly do not intend this post to be a treatise on the history of pasta, it is not like a large expanse of imagined lasagna, baked in the oven with a little liquid, into lasagna cut and boiled in water or milk, for finer dough then to be for this purpose, which then it becomes dry paste. Noodles didn't become such a big hit in Italy until around the time the New World was "discovered" and with that, that fruit we now associate with an Italian pasta dish: tomatoes. This is a match made in heaven and although mass production was available, through the 15th century tagliatelle press, it didn't make either. It was not until the 18th century that the process of refined dried noodles to a state that could be stored for a long time, even up to two years, so that dried macaroni and vermicelli products became a commercial success.

That is not to say that dry pasta did not exist before, in fact, according to some, Secca pasta had existed in Italy until the century before the birth of Polo. However, pasta is not always considered fine dining, but rather a dish of farmers whose haughty city dwellers may have turned their noses up. Press pasta and the drying process, therefore, make pasta important during lean economic times, and during the 17th century when there was overload and problems with food distribution and availability, pasta became an important staple for feeding poor city dwellers. That and tomato sauce that actually brought spaghetti into itself, like grated cheese was already used as a principle topping and flavoring for inexpensive pasta dishes, but after being combined with tomato sauce, which was first introduced in the late 1700 and firmly founded by 1820, it really departed. Tomatoes where ingredients are far more accessible than meat sauces (ragù).

Marco Polo really has nothing to do with all this. In his book, he only seems to have compared the dishes he experienced in China to macaroni. He might have brought back the sample, but he certainly didn't bring back the hard wheat dry pasta, because so many people imagined. Too bad, because it's a good story.

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