Chinese, Arabic, Sometimes Sicilian
Without doubt, pasta is one of the world’s most popular foods. Since the era of the Holy Roman Empire, pasta, made from the flour of hard wheat with water and salt added and cooked by boiling, has earned the reputation as an Italian dish. It is not difficult to believe that with the abundance of several varieties of durum wheat that thrive in the dry climates of Italy, pasta came out of ancient Sicily. But was it truly invented there?
China was where popular history points as the birthplace of spaghetti, and that it was the famous explorer, Marco Polo, who brought the knowledge of the dish back to Venice, Italy. The spaghetti Polo might have encountered must have been the long noodles made from either rice flour or hard wheat flour that exist at the time. Now, during the Middle Ages, the variety of durum wheat known in Sicily then was introduced by the Arabs. How come?
Early in 1154, about a century before the birth of Marco Polo and before the death of Sicily’s King Roger II, a court chronicler and geographer named Edrisi completed a detailed geographical survey of Sicily. He was born in northwestern Africa, educated in Spain, and knew the Muslim Mediterranean well. Edrisi arrived at Palermo in 1139 and began his work of global geography. It resulted in The Book of Roger, It was one of the most important scientific works of the Middle Ages, praised by Sicily’s Muslims, Jews and Orthodox Christians, except the Roman Catholic Church. It had a scientific approach, different from Marco Polo’s objective treatment of his travels.
The book mentions other places explored by the author like England, Scandinavia, and Russia as well. It mentioned the Sicilian town of Trabia where the people made a form of pasta from hard wheat, shaped into long strands, and manufactured in large quantity for export to other regions. The author must have considered this important because the ‘spaghetti’ enjoyed a thriving market even outside Sicily. Trabia’s pasta (better known as vermicelli from the Italian word for the “thin worms” represents the earliest industrial production of pasta. It’s an industry that has changed the world’s tastes.
It was only a few years ago, when the promoters of Sicily’s tourism rediscovered this little known work did they use it to promote the origin of spaghetti. Now what do the Chinese have to say about that?
Or…If It’s This Delicious, Who Cares?
Try our famous Spaghetti Polpette at Amaro Bistro, a truly Italian-American dish. Ours is spaghetti with homemade pork and veal meatballs in delicious marinara and parmigiano-reggiano cheese.