Did Pasta Really Originate from China?

Many believe the story that Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy after returning from China as detailed in the explorer’s 13th century writings “Polo’s Travels.” However, in a recent article published by The National Geography in its History Magazine, the writer disputes the story by citing earlier writings that indicate pasta was already in existence even before Marco Polo returned from his new world exploration expeditions.

First off, Alfonso Lopez, author of the article entitled “The Twisted History of Pasta,” was able to clear away the muddle about the reference to Polo’s Travels as basis in determining the origins of pasta.

Italian Pasta Did Not Originate from China

While in the passage Polo mentioned about a tree from which pasta-like ingredient was made, the tree was actually a sago palm tree which produced starchy food. According to Lopez, Polo only mentioned that the starchy sago reminded him of the pasta in his home country. That alone indicates that even before Polo arrived from China, pasta was already available in Italy, albeit still rare. In fact in another passage, Polo mentioned a an italian soldier from Genoa whose prized possession includes a basket of macaroni.

Pasta Came to italy as a Result of Mediterranean Trading During the Middle Ages

The article went on to explain that not a few historians made other claims based on a “relief” noted in one of the 4th century B.C. Roman tombs. That the relief resembled a pasta making, which denoted the device was already in existence at the time.

Other historians though disagreed by pointing out that any other record that made reference to a dish that resembled pasta, was rare. The general consensus most historians agreed to was that pasta came around in Italy as a result of the widespread trading in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages.

Starting from the 13th century onward, historians noted that there were already records across the Italian peninsula that frequently named pasta variations like macaroni, gnocchi, ravioli and vermicelli, just to name a few.

Pasta was Food for Wealthy Italian Nobles Up to the 16th Century

During the Middle Ages up to the Renaissance period, pasta was regarded as food for the wealthy as they were acquired through trade. Moreover, pasta dishes were concocted with as many ingredients as possible that a 16th century author named Giulio Cesare Croce included pasta in his list of Italy’s “fattening dishes.”

In Naples and in the neighboring regions during the 17th and 18th centuries, the production of pasta had begun to surge. Many commoners during the period had very limited access to meat, while the ingredients used for making pasta were being sold by landowners at a much cheaper price. As a result, from 1700 onwards, pasta became a staple food among many Italians, particularly Neapolitans. So much so that they earned the moniker mangiamaccheroni or macaroni eaters.

During the age of industrial revolution in the 18th century, the introduction of a mechanical press known as torchio made pasta-making a lot easier; and from then on, industrial-made pasta made a dramatic spread across Italy.

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