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Pasta: the Worldwide Staple FoodHistory of pasta in Italy and adaptations of pasta in Korea
Kwak Young-yoon  |
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승인 2015.04.01  18:51:42
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PASTA RESTAURANTS are among the most popular dating venues among people in their twenties or thirties. Many young adults choose Italian restaurants to meet their boyfriend or girlfriend because they can enjoy a luxurious atmosphere at a relatively cheap price compared to other fancy restaurants that sell steak or seafood. It is true that people expect extravagant environments from Italian restaurants, although the price of food is not as high as the atmosphere. Perhaps the reason might be because some people think that pasta deserves an extravagant atmosphere due to its high quality, regardless of its price. Learning the history and features of pasta, you might agree to this assumption.


History of pasta in Italy and Korea

Pasta is generally considered to be Italian food, with the assumption that it was invented in Italy and after all, pasta is served at Italian restaurants. However, contrary evidence abounds, especially among the Chinese, who insist that the Italians imitated Chinese noodles. After all, Marco Polo first brought back noodles to Europe from his long trip to the Orient. Hence, Chinese noodles marked the beginning of pasta in Europe. This claim, however, was also proven to be false due to a discovery of the book; Martino Corno’s The Art of Cooking Sicilian Macaroni and Vermicelli, which describes a recipe for pasta. This book, written in the 1C, proves that pasta already existed on the southern Italian island of Sicily during that time, which is even before Marco Polo, who lived from 13C to 14C. Moreover, tools for producing pasta were found in relics from ancient Rome and Pompeii. Thus, such historical evidence disproves the Chinese view.

Although pasta is widely loved by Koreans these days, the history of pasta in Korea is quite short. Pasta was introduced to Korea through the US army in the mid 20C. Consider how varieties of American pasta often depart from their original Italian counterparts; the original Carbonara in Italy is actually an oil pasta with cheese powder, to which the Americans added a heavy cream sauce. For many years, pasta was not so popular in Korea, but thanks to Shi-wol-ae (2000), a romantic movie in which pasta is an important medium that connects characters, pasta gained its current popularity.


How pasta adapted to Korea

Pasta went through a lot of changes in the United States and even more changes when it came to Korea. Although many foods undergo changes when they move abroad, the alteration is especially remarkable in Korea because key features of the original pasta changed. One major contrast is that pasta is usually over-boiled in Korea compared to original Italian style. This is contrary to traditional Italian pasta because Italians prefer pasta boiled for a shorter period of time, resulting in a firmer, chewier texture in the center, also known as al dente or “slightly uncooked.” Some Koreans might consider a dish of delicious traditional Italian pasta to be undercooked.

Another contrast is that most Italian restaurants in Korea use only spaghetti rather than popular alternatives such as penne, macaroni and so forth. This is completely different from Italy, where spaghetti is not nearly as dominant as it is in Korea. Also, pasta in Korea tastes much less salty than the original Italian pasta. Traditional Italian pasta chefs add considerable amounts to salt to the boiling water in order to strengthen the flavor of the al dente pasta, which in Italy is often served with a minimal amount of sauce. In Korea, by contrast, chefs rely much more heavily on sauce than on salt. 


Box 1: Interesting facts about pasta

1.     Although pasta was invented at least before 1C, it was not until 14C that it became a staple of Italy. Pasta was difficult to make, which made it a valuable food that could only be eaten on special days. In the 14C, manufacturers of pasta founded an association to standardize the method of producing pasta noodles, which was spread all over Italy.

2.     Although the typical pasta was generalized in the 1980s, pasta noodles were already made as a salad before that in Korea. In the 1960s, macaroni was often added as a side-dish along with pork cutlets in a form of a salad – Koreans those days might have not realized that macaroni was also popular overseas as a main course.

3.     Tomato sauce is relatively new to Italy. The tomato was thought to be poisonous until 18C; once the misconception was proven false, tomato was used to make sauces in Italy. The standardized tomato sauce was invented by Campbell Co. of the United States in 20C as the researchers of Campbell Co. looked to establish a popular sauce for mainstream Americans.


Box 2: Good combinations of pasta and sauce

1.     Long, thin pasta + Oil sauce

   Long, thin pasta might lose starch through the air, so the flavor can be best preserved if oil is coated on its surface.

2.     Long, thick pasta + Deep sauce

   Long, thick pasta can hold starch more readily because air cannot reach its center in a short time, so it is well suited for a thick sauce that does not provide any protection for the pasta. The flavor of the pasta and sauce harmonize well while they do not weaken each other’s distinct taste.

3.     Short pasta + Any sauce if it is important than the pasta noodles)

Generally, sauce must not compromise the flavor of pasta noodles, but when the cook wants to emphasize the flavor of the sauce, he or she can use short pasta so that the pasta fully absorbs the taste of the sauce. Sauce for short pasta tastes stronger than that of other kinds of pasta.

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   The history of pasta through its years of evolution underscores its popularity. Having survived for such a long time, pasta has accumulated a lot of strengths as a main course, not just a side dish, and has also been reformed by innovative chefs seeking to appeal to modern, cosmopolitan tastes. Any sort of pasta can be created without restriction, so cooks use any available ingredient in local places outside Italy to make pasta sauces. These characteristics of pasta make the food even more priceless. You may already be in love with pasta, but now that you have taken a closer look, you are probably mesmerized by its incredible charms.

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