Noodles seem to be the one food everyone can agree on. From Mac and Cheese to Pasta Primavera, noodles can simply not be turned down. It is even said that consumption increases up to 20% in cold weather months. They cross all nationalities, and come plain and buttered, or spicy and hot. Noodles are one of the most internationally recognized foods– almost every country has their own take on them. In honor of March being National Noodle Month, we took a closer look at the universal food favorite.
The debate over the origin of the simple noodle has long been in boiling water. Did they come from Italy? China? Both nationalities have laid claim to the noodle and the argument seems to be never-ending; but the oldest theory seems to be this: in the late 13th Century explorer Marco Polo discovered pasta while traveling through China where they were making variations of noodles with rice flour. He dutifully brought samples and recipes back to Italy where the Italians made it popular and began experimenting with wheat and semolina flour in place of the rice flour. Until recently, this was the most accepted story. But food researchers and historians have discovered a more likely one: the Arabs probably introduced the world to pasta. Bringing variations of their noodle products along for trade on the famous Silk Road to China, the Arabs did in fact bring pasta to Italy as well (sorry, Marco) during their conquests of Sicily in the 8th Century. With them they also brought spices, spinach, eggplant, and sugar cane. Even today any old Sicilian pasta dishes still include other Arab culinary introductions and influences such as raisins and cinnamon. (The Southern region of Italy is also known for its sweets–thanks to sugar–another culinary gem brought by the Arabs.)
It was the Spanish settlers who originally brought pasta stateside. Thomas Jefferson also helped the rise of pasta-popularity in the new Americas. In the mid-1780’s Jefferson was in Paris where he ate macaroni and instantly fell for the dish. He liked it so much that he returned with two cases and when he quickly ran out, he sent for more from a friend in Naples, Italy.
The noodles of today have come a long way since the early days of paste. (Pasta literally means “paste” in Italian.) Today we have entire restaurants dedicated to them; they are covered in everything from red sauces, spicy peanut sauce, cheesed, buttered, herbed, souped-up, filled, and layered. They are made with rice and grains for the gluten-free, and made with flour and eggs to be thick and indulgent. While it can be difficult to find just one favorite noodle dish, here are few of our choices for crowd-pleasing noodles for the simple eaters and the daring diners.