Africhef for great South African Recipes and South African Cooking

The Origin and History of Pasta
Where Pasta Comes From

As with most foods which are popular and which have spread throughout the world the history of pasta has been romanticised through legend and myth.

A romantic story about Marco Polo bringing pasta back to Italy on his return from the mystical China was given credence for many years.

The origin and thus the history of pasta depends on how you define it.

There exists valid evidence that the ancient Etruscans prepared a food made out of a wheat and egg paste, which is basically what pasta is, however the Etruscans baked their “pasta” and didn't boil it

We have to decide whether a baked wheat and egg mixture so different to a boiled mixture that they are two different types of food.

Archaeologists have discovered artefacts from 3,000 years ago that look astonishingly like present day pasta extruders and dies. Unfortunately the food, if indeed it was food that these artefacts were used on was not preserved.

There is no doubt that the ancient Greeks used some form of flattened dough that resembled lasagna.

However this wheat, egg and water mixture was roasted on hot stones.

Whether this should be called “baking” and whether the end result should be called 'pasta' is best left to semantics.

By the first century AD, Romans were eating a layered dish made out of 'lasagna' and meat or fish.

References in the Talmud show that cooking noodles was commonplace by the 5th century AD.

The claim that pasta spread from Arabia to Italy via the incursion of Islam into Sicily is undoubtedly given credence by these written records.

It stands to reason that the Arabs would have taken foods with them which travelled well and certainly a flour based product in the shape of strings which was produced in Palermo round about this time would certainly fit the bill.

I have previously referred to the myth or legend surrounding Marco Polo and his supposed bringing back pasta to Italy on his return from China in 1295.

Unfortunately for this story however, there are Italian recipe books from 20 years earlier which contain references to, and recipes for, pasta dishes.

One thing is certain however and that is that Marco Polo did indeed encounter pasta on his travels through China.

Once we understand that China is a very ancient civilisation/culture dating back over 5,000 years it becomes apparent that the Chinese knew about pasta very early on in their civilisation.

.As Italian and Spanish explorers sailed the seas in search of new lands, during the 14th century, pasta spread to the “New World” of the Americas.

By the 15th century pasta “tubes” were being enjoyed in Italian monasteries.

By the 17th century pasta was a common food throughout the region.

In the New World, pasta grew in popularity through the 18th century. By its end, it graced the table of Thomas Jefferson and commoner alike.

When the American Ambassador returned from France in 1789 he brought with him a macaroni maker that he used to delight friends.

The ubiquitous macaroni and cheese, certainly together with spaghetti bolognaise, one of the most popular pasta dishes achieved the status of soul food or comfort food amongst American slaves in the Deep South by the time of the civil war in the mid 19th century.

The large Italian immigration into the USA around the beginning of the 20th century placed pasta firmly on American tables.

In much the same way a large influx of Italians into South Africa ensured that macaroni cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and a great many other forms of pasta became an integral part of the South African diet.

In fact pasta can justifiably be considered a staple of South African and American diets, at least insofar as the Italian section of those populations are concerned.

One thing is abundantly clear, no matter which story of pasta's origins appeals to you, pasta, in its many forms is here to stay.



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