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Offbeat 10 July 2015

I like noodles, a lot. They weren’t a big feature of my childhood. In those days, the starchy bits of the world were made of rice and potatoes, with spaghetti bolognaise as a treat on Friday, neatly cut up by my mother to avoid the hanging bits staining my shirt. I liked it so much I even learned how to spell the words.

I’m not sure where the different types of noodles began to feature. I can’t remember them until I was probably well out of school. Everything seems to have been spaghetti up until they arrived.
I don’t know much about them. I know that they are made with flour of some or other sort, wheat or millet. Depending on the variety of the noodle, they could also be made with a fair amount of food colouring. Here’s something interesting though, although there are opposing claims about who invented the noodle, the Italians are currently losing to China on the basis of 4,000 year-old noodles found in China in 2005.
Now here’s today’s mystery… Who put the hole in the macaroni, and more importantly, why? The mighty Wikipedia provides no answers. Neither do the one or two food encyclopaedias on the web. Apparently, when macaroni is made by hand, which is the way all foods were first made before the invention of the laboratory and the square watermelon (for easier packing), the hole is made with a pin.
What sort of a person sits down and pricks the thin ends of a couple of hundred bits of rolled dough with a pin? I assume it was a she, because the kitchen was predominantly the terrain of women, back in the days when macaroni was invented. Was she thinking of stuffing them with something? Was she bored enough to do that sort of thing? Was she trying to vent her frustration with a pin? Or was she just completely round the bend.
It’s not one of life’s great mysteries, but it’s a great toy for the head.
Noodles represent a pinnacle of civilisation, even though they are woefully under-represented alongside other important things like fire, paper, movable type, computers and console gaming. Think about it this way…
We started out with scratchings on rocks, headed on in succession to language, tablets, paper, movable type, computers and finally ended up with text messages, which somehow leads us back to the first basic grunts when language was invented. It’s the same with food.
First there were green, growing things that you picked from the ground or picked off trees or plants, which were somehow better than the crawling or dead things that you picked off the ground or trees or plants. Remember at this point that until humans invented decent weaponry, scavenging was a legitimate survival strategy.
Then came a degree of processing with the invention of flour and baking. Finally, processing reached the point where noodles were manufactured, probably by someone who couldn’t get the sticky dough of his or her hands and was amused by the ‘stringy’ look of the things, and finally there were mass manufactured noodles.
And like the retrograde activity of trying to express yourself with short grunts in a text message because the keyboard is slow and doesn’t fit your fingers, there are people out there who still make noodles by hand, and even poke holes in macaroni.
At least they have the excuse of ‘authenticity’, unlike people who send out unintelligible text messages.
Civilisation is a wonderful thing. Pity we misuse it so well. Climate change and financial crises show us the result, the need to worry and talk. Noodles show us the other side: that there can be civilisation in a simple thing, even if it does involve strange behaviour with pins.

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