I’ll have the string with meatballs, please By Nury Vittachi
I’ll have the string with meatballs, please
By Nury Vittachi
You may have seen the recent news report that rice consumption in Asia has fallen sharply as people throughout the region turn to pasta. This worries me. I think pasta is weird, dangerous stuff.
An Italian friend named Giovanni once tried to convert me by inviting me to a pasta buffet at a hotel coffee-shop. I told him that I’d had it at my office canteen but he sneered: “Asian noodles are nothing like real pasta.”
The first thing he showed me was farfalle. This consisted of small blobs of shaped pasta. Next he showed me conchiglie. This consisted of small blobs of shaped pasta. Next came penne (small blobs of shaped pasta). Then we had cavatelli (small blobs of shaped pasta).These were followed by rotini, orecchiette, fusilli and gemelli (all of which were small blobs of shaped pasta).
The weird thing was that he introduced each one to me as if it was dramatically different. At this stage, I began to back away from him and started eyeing the door.
I mean, what’s the deal with this? Can you imagine if we Asians did this with our food?
Hello, foreigner. Try this squarish chunk of chicken curry. Isn’t it yummy? Now try this—it’s a rectangular chunk of chicken curry. How different it tastes! Now have a bite of this: it is a trapezoid chunk of chicken curry. Completely different again, am I right?
I wanted to shake him and say: “Giovanni: get a grip on yourself. These are all the same thing.”
But I didn’t. Europeans are dangerous, violent people. Look at all their wars.
A few days ago, I accidentally bought a packet of macaroni—a pasta shape I associate with small children. Well, would you believe it: my youngest child ate four bowls of it (plain, no sauce) and begged to have the same thing the following day. The ingredients and brand were exactly the same as the pasta my wife bought last week. The only difference was the shape.
To find an explanation, I consulted my mentor/ bartender. He said different pasta shapes tasted different because they retained different amounts of sauce. But that didn’t explain the reaction of my child, who eats her pasta sauce-free. He suggested that shapes had different associations. Macaroni was kid’s food, fettuccine was wine bar food and spaghetti was canteen food.
But my belief that pasta was weird was reinforced when I got someone to translate pasta names for me. Fusilli means “guns”; oreccheitte means “children’s ears”; strozzapreti means “priest-stranglers”; ditalini means “children’s fingers”; vermicelli means “tiny worms”; spaghetti means “bits of string”; agnolotti means “the ears of lambs”; linguine means “the tongues of small ones” and so on. (You see why I think Europeans are violent?)
Anyway, I wouldn’t tell the Giovannis of this world, but it has just been proved that Asian noodles pre-date Italian pasta by thousands of years. Scientists recently found the world’s oldest bowl of noodles, right here in my office canteen. No, wait, I mean they found them in an archeological dig at Lajia on the Yellow River in China. Radiocarbon dating revealed that it had been cooked 4,000 years ago.
But amazingly, they exactly like the noodles cooked at my office canteen. The only difference is that it looked fresher.
Now you know why I prefer rice.