Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Made in Arabia

BEFORE you dig into that plate of succulent pasta thinking of it as ‘real’ Italian food, you might want to have another look at what history says about the origins of this quintessential Italian staple.

Though the credit is often given to the Venetian merchant Marco Polo for bringing home pasta from his journeys to China in the 13th century, it is in fact, the Arab Muslims - who ruled Sicily 300 years before Marco Polo was even born - that introduced foods that would later on go on to become integral parts of the Italian cuisine.

This astonishing revelation was made by Sergio Grasso, a visiting food anthropologist and food writer from Venice, who brought the facts ‘home’- quite literally. Speaking on a range of topics like ‘The Arabic roots of pasta’, ‘Mediterranean diet, health and sustainability’, and ‘Arabic influence on the Italian cuisine’, Grasso was a guest speaker at “The Mediterranean – A journey through the history of Italian food”, a 5-day festival that ran from June 1-5 at the Il Villagio Restaurants and Lounges in Jeddah.

“About 30 percent of Italian food has Arabic origins. Moreover, it is believed that frying is a Chinese technique, but in reality, the technique was transferred to China by the Arabs when they conquered it,” remarked Grasso.

Elaborating on the Arabian-Italian link, he added: “During their reign, the Arabs brought in many foods, such as, pasta, rice, lemon, spices, sugarcane, artichokes, the Italian names of most of which have Arabic derivatives. For example, the Italian word for artichoke derives from the Arabic Al-Kharshuf. The eggplant, believed to be originally from India, was introduced to Italy via Spain by the Muslims.”