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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Who doesn't like spaghetti? What? You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!

Look closely... that is spaghetti (originally called macaroni as were all pastas in the 19th century) hanging to air-dry in a macaroni restaurant in Naples, Italy in the late 1800s. Sanitation was less than desirable and forks were unheard of for the street people who literally ate macaroni ate by the handfulls as a staple. Meat and vegetables were an expensive food, only for the wealthy. 

The pasta-eaters of Naples were a major tourist attraction of that time, written up in guide books of the city. Restaurants would put out dishes for the beggars to attract a crowd and sometimes, tourists would "buy for the house" just to see the scrambling for food and the show of eating 'Naples style.'

Pasta was to be swallowed hot from the water in a single, uninturrupted mouthful using both hands and pausing only to clear the esophagus. Red sauce, meat balls and other toppings and additions came later. So what could be wrong than to feed the hungry and delight the onlookers at the same time?

This, of course, was before restaurant scoring which is good because negative numbers might drive off the customers.

While Naples had a reputation for the finest of macaroni, the working poor and beggars got only the cheapest flour, sometimes mixed with dirt to stretch ingredients. If available at the time, beef fat was added to the water for some flavoring. Nonetheless, it still filled the bellies of the hungry who often lived to ripe young ages.

Legend has it that Marco Polo brought macaroni back from China in the 12th century but Italians find that hard to accept, thinking they were born with tomato sauce in their blood. Want proof? Try ordering chow mein lasagna next time you're in a Chinese restaurant and see what you get.

Side note to authenticate pasta expertise: All four of my grandparents immigrated through Ellis Island from Italy and my parents were first generation American born... so I guess genetics made me a pasta expert and a gourmet "pasta from scratch-to-the-table in less-than-an-hour" specialty chef.

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