The Italian Almanac

I don't really think they were eating this in ancient China

Italian News - October 14

THE first known bowl of pasta was filled not with Italian spaghetti but with Chinese noodles, archaeologists have discovered. A dish filled with beautifully preserved yellow noodles from 4,000 years ago has been unearthed at a dig near the Yellow River in northwestern China, settling a long-running dispute about who invented it.

The noodles from the Lajia archaeological site, which are about 50cm long and 3mm in diameter, appear similar in style to a traditional variety called La-Mian, which are still popular in China. Like La-Mian noodles, they appear to have been made by stretching dough by hand, though the ancient dough was made from millet flour and not the wheat, barley or rice that are used today.

The find, details of which are published today in the journal Nature, proves that the Chinese were shaping flour into noodles and boiling them for the plate at least 2,000 years before the practice first emerged in Italy. The origins of Italian pasta remain uncertain, with various theories attributing the first recipes to the Etruscans, Romans and Arab traders.

An Etruscan tomb from the fourth century BC, just north of Rome, has a mural showing servants mixing flour with water, along with a rolling pin and shape cutters. The Etruscans and Romans, however, are generally thought to have baked rather than boiled dough shapes, which would have had more in common with pizza than pasta.

Boiled pasta is more likely to have reached Italy from the Arab world between the 5th and 8th centuries. The popular belief that it was brought back from China by Marco Polo, however, is a myth: a document from 1279 shows that Genoese soldiers carried pasta among their provisions, 16 years before the explorer returned from the Orient.