Italian Food Before Columbus History of Italian Food

The Vandals, then the Ostrogoths and finally the Byzantines each took their terms ruling parts of Italy but leaving little discernible mark on the overall cuisine. The Byzantines, like the Romans before them were almost entirely interested in the production of grain.

The Arabs were the next group to show up and bring their foods when they invaded Sicily in the 7th century. Sicily was invaded by the Arab forces of Caliph Uthman in the year 652, only 20 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The Arabs were soon driven out but after repeated invasions the Arabs ruled Sicily for a bit over 200 years between 827 and 1061. During the medieval period their influence was enormous. Sicily’s population doubled as towns and cities were founded and increased. The Arabs were called “Saracens” or “Moors,” and it was during these medieval times that the Arabs were first unified as a people under Muslim law. The use of apricots, sugar, citrus, sweet melons, rice, saffron, raisins, nutmeg, cloves, pepper, pine nuts and cinnamon are all due to Arab influence over Sicily. Of course they also brought coffee, “coffee” comes from the Arabic qahwah, originally meaning “wine.” Muslims being forbidden to drink wine, coffee became known as Muslim wine. By mid-7th century the rise of Islam closed off the European’s overland caravan routes and the Arabs had a monopoly over the spice trade. Durum wheat was brought to Sicily in the 7th century by Arabs and that probably dates the beginning of what we call pasta today. Couscous is still a staple in Sicily and every year marks a Couscous festival in Trapani. Before the Arabs brought durum wheat the Greeks and Romans had their own types of noodles made from various grains so the true beginnings of pasta remain a bit of contention and depends on how you define pasta. By the time Marco Polo came back from China, pasta was already recorded: “The first concrete information concerning pasta products in Italy dates from the 13th or 14th century”… “The legend of Marco Polo importing pasta from China originated with the Macaroni Journal, published by an association of food industries with the goal of promoting the use of pasta in the United States.” (wiki)