Ancient Arabs, Painting Arabic Noodles & Couscous

The Arabs appear to have used dried noodles as early as the 5th century CE as a transportable food for trade and warfare. They haven't developed it much since, but may have introduced the drying technique to Sicily. The only Arabic product that qualifies as true pasta, made from durum wheat and dried, is couscous, grain-like and bead-like forms used across North Africa and through the Levant.   Illustration, 13th century copyright expired.



Pasta mix
Pasta, Noodles

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General & History

The Arabic name, itriyah, indicates dried noodles obtained from a merchant. This implies fresh noodles were already well established in home kitchens by the 5th century. Their origin is not known, but the Greeks were apparently rolling out a lasagne-like form a thousand years before, so it can be considered fairly ancient.

Arabic noodles sold today are from bread wheat, rolled and cut into soft fragile strips, so they don't quite qualify as "pasta". They are often sold toasted, a treatment not found elsewhere.

Some think couscous, a form of true pasta, may have been invented in Sardenia and taken from there to North Africa, and eventually to other Arab dominated lands - or it could have been developed in North Africa. The only thing we can have much confidence in is that Sardenia had durum wheat and traded with North Africa. The Arabs introduced dried pasta to Sicily, and it traveled from there to Italy after the Arabs were thrown out by the Norman king Roger I in 1091.

Wheat Noodles

I shop at several large markets serving Near and Middle Eastern communities in Los Angeles. These bread wheat noodles are the only form I've seen that is identified with that region. If any other form was of significant importance, I'm sure it would be sold in these markets.

Arabic Noodles   -   [166]
Arabic Noodles 166 These noodles, made from bread flour, are very similar in flavor and texture to similarly made Chinese noodles. They are sweeter in flavor and much more elastic than durum wheat pasta. Cooking time about 12 minutes. The photo specimens, probably made in California, were 10.5 x 0.12 x 0.040 inches. Ingred: wheat flour, salt.

Arabic Noodles - Toasted   -   [167]
Arabic Toasted Noodles 167 These noodles, made from bread flour like the regular Arabic noodles, are then toasted. The flavor is a cross between the regular noodles and toast. Cooking time is about 12 minutes. The photo specimens, probably made in California, were 11 x 0.90 x 0.040 inches. Ingred: wheat flour, salt.


Couscous
Whether originating from Sardinia or North Africa, couscous, in all its variations, is true pasta, made from durum wheat and dried.


Couscous Moyen   -   [183]
Couscous Moyen 183

This is the traditional couscous of North Africa. It is cooked by wrapping it in a cloth and steaming, often over a pot in which an accompanying stew is cooking. Boxed "couscous" sold in North America is generally a precooked "quick cooking" version which is quite inferior to the real thing. The photo specimens are product of Morocco, random sizes from .02 to .08 inch. Ingred: durum wheat, water.

Couscous Maftoul   -   [202]
Couscous Maftoul 202

This couscous is popular in the Levant. It is cooked not by steaming as North African couscous is, but by boiling as Italian pasta would be. The photo specimens were product of Jordan, beads about 0.150 inch diameter. Ingred: durum semolina, wheat flour, water, salt.

Couscous Moghrabieh   -   [203]
Couscous Moghrabieh 203

This couscous is popular in Lebanon, and properly called Lebanese couscous. This form is often mistakenly called "Israeli couscous". Israeli couscous was actually a failed project to make a rice shaped couscous acceptable to Jewish immigrants from rice eating regions. Like Maftoul, it is cooked by boiling as Italian pasta would be. The photo specimens were product of Lebanon, beads about 0.24 inch diameter. Ingred: durum semolina, salt.


pa_arab* 12-22-12   -   www.clovegarden.com
©Andrew Grygus - agryg@clovegarden.com - Photos on this page not otherwise credited are © cg1 - Linking to and non-commercial use of this page permitted