Stuff You Missed in History Class
Holly and Tracy splash around in the depths of history.

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The Marco Polo Pasta Myth | June 01, 2009


Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class from

Candace Keener

Hello, and welcome to the podcast. I’m editor, Candace Keener, joined by fellow editor, Katie Lambert.

Katie Lambert

How are you today, Candace?

Candace Keener

I am doing well. And I have a surprising statistic for you. Did you know that today’s Italians consume between 66 and 77 pounds of pasta every year?

Katie Lambert

I think I know where I need to move, then.

Candace Keener

I know. It sounds like a great idea. And this is easing us into today’s podcast topic, which is a little bit different from what we usually do. We usually base the podcasts very firmly in history. And today’s no real exception, except we’re going to be dwelling a little bit more on food history. And the podcast title, as you all have seen is the Marco Polo Pasta Myth. So before we bust the myth, I just wanted to bring everyone back up to speed on Marco Polo if it’s been awhile since you heard the Marco Polo podcast.

So Marco Polo was born in Italy around 1254. And in 1271, when he was 17 years old, he went with his father and uncle on a very extensive trip to the Middle East, parts of central Asia, and China. And he became a huge favorite of Kublai Khan because he proved that he was a likeable guy. He was good with languages, he was good with people. And Khan gave him a position of court courier. And along with that came a golden passport, which meant he could go anywhere in China he wanted. And he did. He explored every inch.

And there was eventually some tension that arose between the Mongols and the Chinese, and so Marco Polo thought it was a good time to get out of there. And he agreed to deliver a princess to Khan’s great nephew in Persia as his ticket out. When he got back to Italy, he was embroiled in some military conflicts when Venice was fighting Genoa. And he wound up in prison for a year. And he had this really bawdy well-known writer of a fellow inmate named Rustichello. And I guess to pass time, Marco Polo must’ve told Rustichello about his adventures in China. And Rustichello agreed to write a book based on Marco Polo’s life. And it was posited as a biography, I guess, but it was very exaggerated.

And it’s known as The Travels of Marco Polo, and alternately called The Description of the World. And in one of the parts of the book, he describes macaroni. And people immediately assumed that, like paper money and the compass and porcelain – things that Marco Polo brought back from China – he must’ve also brought macaroni to Italy. And then macaroni and pasta became Italy’s hallmark. But that’s actually not true.

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