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Which came first: pasta or noodles?

pasta and noodles varieties

Plot spoiler. Its noodles. The Worldwide Pasta Affiliation nonetheless can’t deliver itself round to this easy admission. Lovers of Italy, doff your cap to China! … Nicely, at the least that’s how I used to be going to start out this text. That was earlier than I began studying Jen Lin-Liu’s pleasant guide: On the Noodle Street. She’s not so positive the story is that straightforward. Like Marco Polo, she travels the Silk Street, however in reverse. She is on a 21st century quest to hint the journey of noodle from East to West. No another decided might be imagined. And, her quest is private.

Travelling by means of cultures that straddled East and West, I figured, may reconcile what I’d felt have been opposing forces in my life; perhaps I’d discover others who relate to my wrestle. …

Jen Len-Liu, On the Noodle Street: From Beijing to Rome with love … a real story, Allen & Unwin, 2013, p 14

In the identical method that the tomato turned inseparable from Italian delicacies, there’s much more to say. In fact, the dishes related to each pasta and noodles are extremely numerous (and scrumptious). Each, additionally, have turn into international meals eaten around the globe. Jen Lin-Liu’s notes the similarity of quite a lot of shapes. Cat’s ears noodles and orecchiette are comparable. Wantons and ravioli are the identical concept. Hand pulled noodles and angel hair find yourself as comparable merchandise. Nevertheless, some Italian flavours additionally remind her of China. Parmigiano reggiano over pasta evokes for her umami. Olive oil and vinegar reminds her of the flavours of sesame oil and black vinegar. In fact every meals tradition additionally has its personal distinctive creations that we will solely really respect by consuming them. Each cuisines are what the Italians name “cucina povera”: greatest as rustic home-cooked meals.

The Case of the Ghost Noodles of Lajia

Earlier than we start the journey ourselves, what’s the proof that noodles have been round earlier than pasta? Because it seems in 2005, archeologists unearthed a 4000 yr previous bowl of noodles in north-west China on the archeological website of Lajia. This units anybody eager to argue that pasta got here first, a reasonably excessive bar to leap. In Lajia, which some have in comparison with Pompeii, individuals are captured within the prompt that an historic catastrophe swept over them. In Lajia’s case an enormous mud-slide buried the individuals of Lajia, entombing them till found by archeologists hundreds of years later. Jen Lin-Liu met Lu Houyan, a scientist concerned, and quotes his easy (if certified conclusion).

I can’t say for positive that the Chinese language have been liable for bringing noodles to the West, however I may be very positive that nobody will discover a noodle that’s older than this.

Lu Houyan, cited in Jen Len-Liu, On the Noodle Street: From Beijing to Rome with love … a real story, Allen & Unwin, 2013, p 14

He concludes that the Lajia noodles are of millet flour (moderately than the durum wheat of pasta). Doubtless, a sort of dough press was used to make them. Properly that’s it then. Case closed.

Not so quick. We’re a great distance from displaying that noodles travelled from East to West. For one factor, pasta is manufactured from durum wheat. Wheat isn’t native to China (or Italy for that matter). It solely arrived in China’s heartland lengthy after the catastrophe in Lajia. Wheat comes from the Center East. There it was first cultivated and from there it unfold west and east all through Eurasia.

A Scientific Controversy

One other drawback for the Lajia discover is the scientific controversy it has sparked. In 2010, Chinese language workforce analysed the Lajia analysis, and tried to re-create the “millet” noodles. They disputed the “millet solely” noodles rationalization, and argued that the Lajia noodles weren’t made solely of millet. They identified that wheat had already arrived on this a part of China as early as 2500 BC. Maybe the noodles have been product of a mix of millet and wheat. Though a powerful image was taken of the noodles once they have been first unearthed, they later disintegrated. Our ghostly noodles have vanished, solely whetting our urge for food to seek out out extra.

In 2014, the dissatisfied unique scientists revealed their very own complete response. They re-analysed their finds, establishing that solely millet was current (no wheat). Additionally they carried out experiments, based mostly on conventional strategies, making millet solely noodles.

Historic Roman Diets: The place’s the Pasta?

One factor is obvious. In contrast to Lajia, nobody has but dug up a bowl of spaghetti in Pompeii (or anyplace else in historic Italy). Actually, we all know quite a bit about about what the individuals of Pompeii, and Romans extra usually, have been consuming. Pasta simply wasn’t on the menu and positively it wasn’t the staple meals it’s in Italy at the moment.

Archeologists have discovered all types of meals stays in Pompeii: wheat, barley and millet of varied sorts as carbonized grains. The individuals of Pompeii baked these grains into bread, however not, it will seem, into pasta. Pompeii was a considerable city centre and Pompeiians ate a really numerous eating regimen of regionally produced and imported meals (besides pasta). There isn’t a cause to assume that the absence of pasta was uncommon. The outline under provides a good suggestion of what they (and different Romans) did eat:

The standard Roman meal of the decrease courses consisted of bread (wealthy in bran and impurities), wine, greens—onions, garlic, and chick peas have been typical of the decrease courses … —lard, some fruit, and olives. Actually, Cato informs us that olives and bread have been the essential meals of farmers and the working class … Greens have been in all probability probably the most frequent accompaniment to bread however they might alternate with different poor dishes like fish and cheese. Meat was usually a luxurious, however some varieties have been obtainable to the much less well-to-do courses, like sausages, ham, or poultry, which might type a part of the weight loss plan of city populations … Within the countryside, the consumption of meat was rarer and usually associated to festive events. Puls—a porridge of cereals combined with water, salt, and somewhat oil … —and dairy merchandise have been an alternate supply of protein, …

Giovanna Belcastro and others, Continuity or Discontinuity of the Life-Fashion in Central Italy Through the Roman Imperial Age – Early Center Ages Transition: Food regimen, Well being and Behaviour

Certainly Belcastro and her colleagues hint the evolution of food plan in Italy in early Center Ages. Their conclusion is that the identical sort of food plan continued, with a slight improve within the consumption of protein.

Lasagna and Lozenges

Thus the unfold of pasta as a part of the Italian food regimen happens someday later in historical past. But there are snippets of issues that would “at a stretch”, be pasta. No matter they’re, we have to keep in mind that they’re the exception moderately than the rule.

Some say historic Etruscan frescoes are proof of historic pasta. Others disagree. Nevertheless, whether or not they have been or not, it’s fairly clear that the Etruscan custom didn’t survive. Roman complete conflict eradicated their tradition from the Italian peninsula.

Historic Latin texts do nevertheless converse of “lagana”, one thing which over many centuries might have ultimately advanced into lasagna (at the least one type of pasta). Silvano Serventi and Françoise Sabban e-book Pasta: the Story of a Common Meals notes that lagana, initially from the Greek “laganon”, was a skinny sheet of dough. Lagana’s superficial similarity with lasagna is dispelled once we study that the traditional Greeks flavoured it with lettuce juice and spices and deep fried it in oil. The later Greek Grammarian Hesychius outlined it as: “a kind of small cake, made out of the best wheat flour and fried in a frying pan in olive oil.”

In a 4th century cookbook it exhibits up in a extra acquainted type as layered pastry, alternated with meats, cooked in an oven. In distinction to trendy lasagna, this lagana wasn’t boiled within the cooking course of. The church fathers have been utilizing the identical phrase to explain a dry flat bread utilized in spiritual ceremonies. Within the sixth century, Isidore of Seville describes laganon as first boiled then fried in oil. Trendy lasagna should wait many centuries extra. Eight hundred years later, we discover references to “lozenges” of pasta (concerning the measurement of a hand). These is perhaps fried as a “fritters” or mixed in cake like preparations. Certainly the phrase “lozenge” referred to the form, moderately than to a specific approach of cooking. The fried model, in time developed a brand new identify: “fritelle”.

A modern-day Roman cookery e-book provides us Horace’s recipe for “Fried Pasta” with leeks and chick pea soup. Primarily, lagana was paper skinny strips of dough fried in oil. The author theorises that as Romans tended to not use cutlery, they as an alternative used the fried items as edible scoops when consuming soups. Some might say that is pasta. I’m not satisfied. A brand new model of Horace’s “chick pea” and “pasta” dish is now a standard Salento favorite.

Noodles Make a Splash in China

In the meantime, again in China, noodles are starting to “make a splash”. In contrast to the West the place “durum” wheat was ultimately to be the inspiration of all kinds of dry pastas, in China durum wheat didn’t exist. As an alternative softer wheat varieties that the Chinese language cultivated have been greatest suited to creating recent noodles cooked instantly. Already references to “bing” – a generic phrase that included each pasta like preparations and wheat bread have been rising round 200 BC. By 300 AD the scholar Shu Xi writes his “Ode to Bing”.

His poem is a paean to all kinds of “bing”. Every season has its personal bing. A few of these he mentions evoke the various shapes of Italian pasta recognized at this time. “Canine’s tongues”, “piglet ears”, “dagger laces”, “cupping glasses”, “candles”, instantly call to mind comparable shapes present in Italian pasta. China was nicely forward of Italy as we will see. By the tenth century pasta like meals turned generally known as “mian”, and China continued to develop its numerous experience.

By the Tang dynasty (600-900) AD, pasta like preparations have been part of on a regular basis life throughout China. With the Mongol mastery of each East and West from concerning the yr 1179, Arabic treatises started to reach in China, together with treatises coping with the making of varied pastas. In China, “noodles” all the time remained a recent dough custom. The Chinese language tailored it to supply noodles with all kinds of different merchandise, comparable to beans. Furthermore their extraction of gluten from dough, enriched Chinese language delicacies in different methods.

Lady kneading dough
Tomb of Zhao Dajun
10th Century AD

By the Mongol (Yuan) dynasty the Chinese language noodle custom got here in innumerable types. Now referred to as “mian” it included (adopting the phrases in translation utilized by Serventi and Sabban) pasta slipped into water, purple tagliatelle, fettucini, yam pasta, string pasta, hanging pasta, palmettes, turquoise vermicelli, hen foot pasta, hand stretched pasta, hand rolled pasta, reduce pasta, wonderful pasta and hook pasta. Right here is an astonishing and early noodle custom that Italy was to rival solely centuries later. It’s time to return to the Italian scene.

Pasta – Tria – Ittriya – Sicilian Threads

XIVth Century Illustration of Pasta Making from “Tacuinum Sanitatis”, a Latin translation of a piece by Baghdadi scholar, Abu’l Hasan Ibn Butlan, 1075AD – Taqwīm as‑siḥḥah تقويم الصحة (“Upkeep of Well being”)

The picture above from a medieval image ebook on good well being, the Tacuinum Sanitatis seems on-line in quite a lot of locations, together with in an article which confidently begins by telling us we’d like lose no extra sleep. Pasta was “invented in Italy”.

Regardless that the author with little thought will realise from his personal caption that the illustration factors to pasta being within the Center East, not Italy, it’s as if the connection is invisible.

Because it seems, we discover three Latin variations of the Tacuinum Sanitatis in several European cities. Two variations seek advice from pasta as “tria”. As we will see under that is just like an Arabic phrase for pasta. By the way additionally it is the identical phrase utilized by historic Greeks and Romans a lot earlier – though for flat cake-like preparations. All three variations of the Tacuinium include primarily the identical dialogue. The writer observes that pasta is “very nourishing” and that it’s “good for the younger”, and that it must be ready with “nice care”. One model of the Tacuinium attributes, Abu’l Hasan (the unique Arabic writer) because the supply, and in one other (in a further word) it cites no much less a determine than the world well-known Persian thinker and scientist Avicenna (Ibn Sina)! Too quickly to show down the mattress covers simply but.

If we low cost lagana (which we’ve already mentioned), the primary recognisable references to one thing like spaghetti in Italy comes from Sicily through the Norman kingdom. Barilla pasta know this, and state as a lot of their historical past of pasta. They proclaim Palermo the capital of pasta:

Palermo è storicamente la prima, vera capitale della pasta perché le prime testimonianze storiche di produzione pasta secco al livello artigianale-industriale si riferiscono all’XI secolo in Sicilia, regione allora profondamente influenzata dalla cultura araba …

Palermo is traditionally the primary, true capital of pasta as a result of the primary historic proof of manufacturing of dry pasta at an artisan-industrial-scale happen within the eleventh century in Sicily, a area then profoundly influenced by Arab tradition.

Barilla, La Pasta, storia, technologia, e segreti della tradizione italiana 
(personal translation into English)

We’ve already met the geographer Al Idrisi in connection together with his exceptional map making exploits, for the Italo-Norman King Roger II. Round 1154, Al Idrisi wrote within the “Ebook of Roger” (an Arabic textual content) that Trabia in Sicily was a serious producer and exporter of a pasta product referred to as in Arabic “itriya” (one thing very wish to at the moment’s hand-made dried spaghetti).

… si fabricca tanta pasta in forma di fili – chiamata triyan …che si esporta ne tutte parte, nella Calabria e in tanti paesi musulmani e cristiani anche by way of nave

Pasta, referred to as itriya, is manufactured within the type of threads and is exported in all places, to Calabria and in lots of Muslim and Christian nations, together with by sea.

Al Idrisi, The E-book of Roger, cited in Barilla, La Pasta, storia, technologia, e segreti della tradizione italiana 
(personal translation into English)

Aside from anything, this temporary extract exhibits that folks have been consuming a spaghetti like pasta throughout the Mediterranean. Pasta crossed each the spiritual and geographical boundaries. Extra, Sicily was a serious producer, as it’s the solely such website which Al Idrisi’s notes in complete almanac of the recognized world. Much more considerably durum wheat (the important ingredient of dry pasta) was launched to Sicily throughout its Arab interval.

Pasta Throughout the Mediterranean

From this level, the hunt for the origins of pasta takes us via Spanish (and Arab-Andalusian) culinary historical past the place quite a few culinary texts point out “fidaws” and itriyya as stringy dough. The medieval literature speaks of a longtime tradition of utilizing such pastas. It’s a tradition that can also be related with Algerian “rechta” – a phrase which hyperlinks these western pastas with “rishta” – noodles in far off Persia.

Right here is proof as to how pasta as we all know it, was absorbed into Italy. As we hint again the story, we discover that within the ninth century the Arab author Ibran Al Mirad, described numerous types of pasta. In one other supply we learn the next:

As early because the ninth century, the Syrian doctor and lexicographer Ishu bar Ali referred to itriyya as dried strands of semolina dough which are boiled. One of many foremost medical authorities of the Center Ages, Ishaq ibn Sulayman of Egypt, discoursed on the preparation of pasta in his 10th-century Kitab al-Aghdhiya wa’l-Adwiya (The E-book of Meals and Cures, recognized within the West as The Guide on Dietetics). Additional east, the late-10th-century lexicographer al-Jawhari, who hailed from the Silk Street metropolis of Otrar in southern Kazakhstan, outlined itriyya as a meals just like hibriya, or “hairs” (probably “flakes”) created from wheat. …

Tom Verde, Pasta’s Winding Means West

Certainly as early as a fifth century boiled pasta makes an look in Jewish spiritual regulation (as talked about above), as a consequence of its exemption from tithing. The dry pasta (which Italians have been later to make their very own in innumerable new types) comes from, or via, the Center East. It wasn’t invented in Italy.

Apparently, to the extent that pasta may need been “Center Japanese” prior to now, it’s these days marginal in Center Japanese delicacies. Meals cultures proceed to evolve in all places, and rice has taken the position that pasta performed, or may need performed prior to now, in that a part of the world.

Pasta – An Italian Staple Meals at Final

So when did pasta develop into an Italian staple? Once we think about the reply to this query, any instinctive presumption for Italian invention evaporates. Even within the 1500s pasta, though recognized, was not a core a part of the Italian food plan, and was greatest recognized in Sicily.

As Albert Capatti and Massimo Montanari recount in Italian Delicacies A Cultural Historical past, it took centuries for pasta to develop into a staple. By the seventeenth century, the breakthrough got here in Naples when new technique of manufacturing lowered the fee, making pasta the meals of the poor. A lot so, that when visiting Naples in 1789 Goethe wrote that “macaroni of all types … are discovered all over the place at a low worth.” Additionally on the finish of the identical century a Parisian might advise a pal, “Are you serving soup to an Italian? However Italians eat nothing however macaroni, macaroni, macaroni.” Not lengthy after the tomato can be added. Italian delicacies as we all know it has arrived.

Spaghetti manufacturing, Naples, 19th century

These accounts current the large image, however maybe they’re lacking one thing. Within the image within the Tacuinium, ladies are making pasta in what seems to be a easy home course of. This was one thing the illustrator noticed, maybe in Lombardy the place the picture might have been created. In Puglia (and lots of different elements of Italy) kinds of pasta corresponding to orecchiette and fusili, the culinary artwork (primarily) of numerous ladies, present the eminent practicability of manufacturing pastas of all types with out difficult equipment. Certainly a majority of these pastas even have histories that the historical past books haven’t captured.

Jen Lin-Liu’s Noodle Street

What of Jen Lin-Liu’s journey? We left her originally of her odyssey. Her journey is certainly exceptional. As she travels West, she concludes (as others have accomplished) that noodles and wheat are intimately related. Her journey takes her by way of Lanzhou, the house of “hand pulled” noodles: an initially Hui culinary artwork of spectacular talent. She is not within the Han heartland, and in place after place she finds distinctive noodle dishes which the individuals of the area declare as their very own.

The belief of the complexities of ethnicity in China grows as she turns into conversant in the nation. Rising up in America she is just “Chinese language”, a minority in a majority “white” nation (as America conceives itself). In China, individuals she meets see her as “Han” in distinction to the opposite ethnicities of the huge nation. Instantly she is a part of the “majority”. It’s a position with which she is unfamiliar and never totally snug.

As she travels west she encounters increasingly more “noodle” dishes. In Tibet she finds “Momo” – a yak dumpling. The Uighur individuals additional west use hand pulled noodles and a type of tagliatelle, however locals inform her that they’re Hui dishes from additional east. Bread was the Uighur staple of selection. Right here, nevertheless she first describes the meat dumplings referred to as “manta”, a dish that seems in numerous varieties from western China to Turkey.

In Kyrgyzstan, her host tells her that the delicacies is “principally meat and dough.” Formed into squares and strips, the dough is added to quite a lot of meat dishes. Hand pulled noodles have been nonetheless on the menu, even having now left China. In Uzbekistan she finds manpar, sq. noodle soup which additional east in Tibet glided by the identify of mian pian. Right here she additionally notices that the “manti” are made with egg, a follow linking to the egg noodles of Italy far to the west. But dominating the delicacies of a lot of this area is rice pilaf, recognized regionally as “plov“.

The Silk Street, Wikipedia CC BY,

Rice’s culinary triumph turns into much more evident as she explores Iran. It takes her some pages of describing the scrumptious main meals of Iran: ghormeh sabzi (lamb stew with inexperienced herbs), fesenjoon (a hen dish served with rice), khoresht kheme (a chick pea soup), kebabs and kubideh are amongst these she mentions. Iranians serve rice in quite a lot of methods together with as bagholi polow (a pilaf with dill and fava beans). Tah-dig, a golden crust on the underside of the rice dish is all the time probably the most prized. Nevertheless even right here the noodle is current within the type of ash-e-reshteh or ash-e-lakhshak. It’s a noodle soup current in Persia again to the ninth century. She notes furthermore that the phrase for “prepare dinner” – ashpez – references “ash” – the central Asian phrase for noodles. Although at this time noodles usually are not rated extremely on this a part of the world, or in Turkey, as she discovers.

With extra adventures in Greece and Turkey (the place she finds su borek – a Turkish lasagna), lastly her journey takes her to Italy. Puglia to be exact, the place she observes “I had no concept consuming could possibly be so exhausting”. It’s an statement that introduced a smile to my face, understanding precisely what she means. Her journey involves an finish as she explores Italian regional cuisines.

Her ebook is as a lot about life as it’s about meals. Right here we now have solely traced a small subset of the tales her e-book recounts. Her encounters weren’t solely with meals, however with many women and men who helped her on her journey. It’s an intimate account of her relationship with herself, her husband and the world round her. There are, in any case, extra necessary issues than noodles. I like to recommend you to her ebook.

Ribbons of Dough By way of Geography and Time

This text has grown longer than it aught, however its pursuit has taken us far afield, to locations and ideas we’d not have in any other case found. If the phrases weren’t already so many, I might inform you of koshari,Egypt’s nationwide dish combining each pasta and rice, or the three conventional styles of Syrian ma’ccarona, or Lebanese manti, and so many extra dishes during which pasta options.

Tomato sauce and pasta, so defining of Italian tradition in our period, are money owed Italy owes to the world. For if the land we at this time name Italy had been an island to itself, Italian delicacies would by no means have come to be. Italy has repaid the debt within the distinctive and notable contribution of Italy’s delicacies to the world’s meals cultures.

The phrase pasta (dough) is Italian, however the meals … that’s really international. We will say the identical for China’s noodles and the worldwide delicacies to which it has contributed. Undoubtedly meals cultures will proceed to evolve in all places, and be the higher for it, as they proceed borrow from one another.

Chosen Sources

Jen Len-Liu, On the Noodle Street: From Beijing to Rome with love … a real story, Allen & Unwin, 2013

John Roach, four,000-Yr-Previous Noodles Present in China, Nationwide Geographic

Wei Ge, Li Liu, Xingcan Chen and Zhengyao Jin, Can Noodles be created from Millet? An Experimental Investigation of Noodle Manufacture Along with Starch Grain Investigation Archaeometry, 53:1, pp 194-204 (2010)

Houyuan Lu, Yumei Li, Jianping Zhang, Xiaoyan Yang, Maolin Ye, Quan Li, Can Wang, Naiqin Wu, Element and simulation of the four,000-year-old noodles excavated from the archaeological website of Lajia in Qinghai, China

Erica Rowan, Elisa Rastelli, Valentina Marriotti, Chiara Consiglio, Fiorenzo Facchini, and Benedetta Bonfiglioli, American Journal of Bodily Anthropology, 132: 381-394, (2007)

Erica Rowan,Sewers, Archaeobotany, and Eating regimen at Pompeii and Herculaneum, in ed. Miko Flohr and Andrew Wilson, The Financial system of Pompeii, Oxford College Press, 2017

Giovanna Belcastro and others, Continuity or Discontinuity of the Life-Type in Central Italy Through the Roman Imperial Age – Early Center Ages Transition: Eating regimen, Well being and Behaviour

Melitta Weiss Adamson, Regional Cuisines of Medieval Europe: A Ebook of Essays, Routledge New York,2002

Silvano Serventi and Françoise Sabban, translated, Anthony Shugaar, Pasta: the Story of a Common Meals, Columbia College Press, 2000

Silvano Serventi and Françoise Sabban, translated, Anthony Shugaar, Pasta: the Story of a Common Meals, Columbia College Press, 2000

Mark Grant, Roman Cookery: Historic Recipes for Trendy Kitchens, Serif London, 1999, 2015

Vincent Scordo, The Historical past of Pasta Shapes – The Italian Individuals and Pasta

Tom Verde, Pasta’s Winding Method West

Barilla Pasta, La Pasta, storia, tecnologia e segreti della tradizione italiana

Alberto Capatti and Massimo Montanari, Italian Delicacies A Cultural Historical past, (translation by Aine O’Healy), Columbia College Press, 2003