Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Marco Polo and spaghetti

The back-and-forth of yesterday's blog post reminded me of another thing I wanted to write about: noodles.

Everyone "knows" that noodles were invented in Italy, since that's where pasta comes from.

But then, everyone hears that, no, they weren't. Like so many things, they were actually invented in the Far East first. Marco Polo, on his historic trip to the Orient, brought them back from China. An amazing fact, and that's why everyone hears it.

Too bad it's not true. Oh, Marco might have brought some noodles back with him. China sure had noodles by the 14th century. However, Marco also brought noodles with him (dried, in baskets) when he left. The fact is, they'd been making noodles in Italy for more than a thousand years by that point. Depending on your definition, perhaps the first Mediterranean noodles were the flat bread used in a layered dish with meat and cheese, called "lagane" (and surprisingly similar to today's lasagne, sans tomatoes of course), made by Etruscans in the first century AD.

The fact is, depending on how broadly you define "noodle", they were invented in many places independently. The Chinese get full credit for inventing them, but so do the Italians.

(Incidentally, the account of Marco Polo's voyages is a fascinating subject in itself. It includes a few things that one would have to go to China to know about, that were not known in the west. However, large parts of it were also lifted verbatim from a fictional account written long before Marco's travels. And there are other reasons to doubt his story. I guess that's another reason to invent time travel or at least FTL.)

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