Pasta in the Middle East and Mediterranean

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Far to the west of China, in the homeland of wheat, the earliest indications of pasta-like preparations come in the 6th century. A 9th century Syrian text gives the Arabic name itriya to a preparation of semolina dough shaped into strings and dried. In 11th-century Paris, mention is made of vermicelli, or “little worms.” In the 12th century—around 200 years before Marco Polo’s travels—the Arab geographer Idrisi reported that the Sicilians made thread-like itriya and exported them. The Italian term macaroni first appeared in the 13th century and was applied to various shapes, from flat to lumpy. Medieval cooks made some pastas from fermented doughs; they cooked pasta for an hour or more until it was very moist and soft; they frequently paired it with cheese, and used it to wrap around fillings.