The History of Pasta
The history of pasta is mired in controversy; plenty of cultures take credit for its invention.
Here’s our best effort at piecing toegther this complex noodle narrative.
In 2005, at the Laija architectural site located in Northwestern China, an assortment of perfectly preserved items from this date is unearthed, including noodles mounded in an earthenware bowl.
Horace, the great Roman poet, references fried sheets of dough called lagana.
A Greek physician by the name of Galen mentions itrion in his writings, referring to the mixture of water and flour.
Noodles are referenced in a book written during China’s East Han dynasty. Called mian pian, they are made by breaking small pieces off of a larger bread or cake before being boiled in soup.
A string-like pasta made of semolina called itrium is mentioned in the Talmud, a Jewish text.
A record of China’s Tang dynasty notes the first occasion on which noodles are made into strips.
During Japan’s Nara period, thin, ramen-like noodles referred to as mochi are made of rice flour and eaten in the Imperial Court on special occasions.
A Buddhist monk develops udon, Japanese wheat noodles.
Mian (wheat-based) and fen (rice-based) become China’s formal names for noodles, and noodle shops become popular in Chinese cities.
Muhammad al-Idrisi, an Arab-Muslim cartographer, geographer, writer, and scientist, writes that itriyya (the Arabic cognate of the Greek word itrium) is manufactured and exported from
Thin noodles made with wheat instead of rice flour begin to appear in Japan.
Records indicate that this is the century in which reshteh, a thin egg noodle, is developed and eaten in Persia.
During China’s Yuan Dynasty, the ability to dry noodles for the purpose of preservation is developed and practiced.
According to Pasta: the Story of a Universal Food, the first recorded reference to pasta products in Italy appears in this century.
China’s Ming Dynasty records the advent of hand-pulled noodles.
Very thin wheat noodles are served regularly as a light meal, known as tenshin, at Buddhist temples during the Japanese Muromachi Period.
A dish of cold noodles in soup, called naengmyeon, finds footing in the Korean diet during its Joseon Dynasty.
During Chinese Qing Dynasty, fishermen sell wheat noodles from baskets that hang from a pole carried over their shoulders during typhoon season when it was too dangerous to fish.
Italian sailing ships from Europe are stocked with pasta.
Spaghetti and tomato juice are recorded in the cookbook L’Apicio Moderno, penned by Italian chef Francesco Leonardi.
Germany’s späetzle appears in documents, though medieval illustrations are believed to document a much earlier birth date for this Eastern European staple.
Ramen noodles become popular in Japan, providing sustenance to working class people. The Sicilian delicacy known as spaghetti becomes popular across Italy, and the arrival of industry and pasta factories enables this process.
Immigrant Hector Boiardi founds Chef Boyardee in Cleveland, Ohio, introducing middle America to spaghetti, creating one of the first well-accepted industrialized convenience foods in America.
Italy’s annual consumption of spaghetti doubles from just over thirty pounds per person before World War II to sixty-one pounds per person.
Instant ramen is invented by Japanese-Taiwanese businessman Momofuku Ando.
Annual pasta sales in the US are $8.361 billion, $2.809 billion in Italy, $1.402 billion in Germany, and $1.179 billion in France.
Sources include John Roach, “4,000-Year-Old Noodles Found in China,” National Geographic, October 2005; B.L. Ullman, “Horace Serm. I. 6. 115,” “Classic Philology,” volume 7, no. 4 (October 1912); Silvano Serventi, Françoise Sabban, Pasta: The Story of a Universal Food (Columbia University Press 2012); Rachel Carter, Ramen, Soba & Udon: Plus other noodle dishes (Parragon Books limited, 2014); “Noodles in Asia,” Encyclopedia of Food & Culture (The Gale Group, 2003); and others.