Jane Setter recently asked me about noodles. Her take on them was that Americans can call spaghetti noodles and the British can't. My take, as ever, is: it's complicated.

Let's start with the British. In my experience (and, I think, Jane's) noodle in the UK is associated with Asian food. This is indeed what my English (and American, she would tell you) 7-year-old means when she says that her favo(u)rite food is noodles (various types and dishes but especially pad see ew and yaki soba. I've come to reali{z/s}e that on some days I eat nothing that I ate as a child).

Noodle is used for Asian types of noodles and noodle dishes in the US too. But I would suspect that the default understood ethnicity of noodle will vary by the speaker's age, location and ethnicity in the US.

Let's start with me, because that's easy (for me). If someone in my family asked me to go to Wegman's and buy some noodles, I would pick up a bag of these:
And once I got them home they would be used in a dish like this (but less fancy):
...most probably made with a can of Campbell's condensed cream-of-mushroom soup, like our household's other main noodle dish, that perennial Lenten horror, tuna noodle casserole (UK's drier version: tuna pasta bake).

(You don't get condensed soups in the UK, so you don't get condensed soup recipes.) [see comments for more on this]

Now, in my childhood, I would not have called those noodles pasta. I'm grown up now and I've come to tolerate much, so maybe I could bear to now. But to me, as a child, pasta was what you had in Italian food, noodles were what you had in the "less ethnic" dishes. But, of course, the other foods were ethnic too, and I suspect that my default understanding of the word noodle may be more common in the parts of the US that had more northern-European settlement. (I come from a rather Dutch part of New York state, and my parents from the more westerly more German part. The word noodle comes from German Nudel. My hometown also has a lot of Italian-Americans, so maybe that helped the pasta/noodle distinction become meaningful in my mind.)

Now, the OED defines noodle as:
A long stringlike piece of pasta or similar flour paste cooked in liquid and served either in a soup or as an accompaniment to another dish; (more generally in U.S.) any style of pasta. [...]
For me, that's not quite right. In my mind, a noodle is prototypically ribbon-like, rather than string-like. Once I started to get my head (a)round Italian pasta being noodles, I could admit that fettuccine and linguini were noodles, but spaghetti was a more borderline case. I'd not use noodle for macaroni or shells (which in the UK are harder to come by and are often called by the Italian name, conchiglioni).  (By the way, there's discussion of the BrE/AmE difference in the pronunciation of pasta back here.)

My childhood understanding of a pasta/noodle divide seems to be in tune with the National Pasta Association:
According to the standards published by the National Pasta Association, noodles must contain at least 5.5% egg solids by weight. Noodles can be added to soups and casseroles while pasta can be made a complete meal with addition of a few vegetables. Pasta is much lighter and, under Italian law, can only be made with durum wheat. []
Still, I am betting that (a) younger Americans (maybe especially in certain areas) are more likely to have 'Asian'  as the default ethnicity of 'noodle', and (b) ethnicity/region might make a difference for older people. Unfortunately, I can't find any dialect maps for noodle meanings—so what do you say/mean? Would any of you mean 'spaghetti' if you said "We're having noodles for dinner"? Please give an approximation of age and where you're from with your answer.

And then there is spaghetti noodle (the lead character in a series of Hyperbole-and-a-Half cartoons—which has macaroni noodle too). For me, this is a way of getting around the problem of spaghetti having become a mass noun when it was borrowed into English. Actually, I wrote about this in my textbook, so I might as well quote myself at length (with a little extra explanation in red). This is part of an explanation of Anna Wierzbicka's argument that the 'countable' or 'uncountable' grammatical status of a word is not arbitrary:

[...] cultures may differ in how they interact with, and thus conceptualize, the denotata [i.e. things that words refer to].  For example, although people rarely bother to count it, in Italian spaghetti is a plural count noun (1 spaghetto, 2 spaghetti).  In English spaghetti is treated as a mass noun. This is not just because English speakers do not know that spaghetti is a plural; we could very easily add our own plural marking to it to make it a count noun (two spaghettis), but we don’t. It also is not because spaghetti is too small to be counted in English, since noodle, which denotes practically the same thing as spaghetti, is a count noun. Wierzbicka (in a lecture given in the early 1990s) has pointed out that English speakers have a very different relationship to spaghetti than Italians do. First, Italians are more connected to how spaghetti is made — historically it was made at home, where the individual strands would have to be handled. On the other hand, spaghetti generally entered English speakers’ consciousness as something that gets poured out of a box into boiling water — with no need to handle individual pieces.  Second, pasta is eaten differently in Italy and English-speaking countries. Spaghetti in English often refers to a whole dish, which is presented as a mass of pasta beneath an opaque tomato sauce.  In Italy, pasta is traditionally a first course or side dish, where it may be eaten with just a bit of oil and garlic.  In this case, the strands are more perceptible as individuals. Furthermore, some English speakers cut their spaghetti, destroying the integrity of the individual strings, whereas Italians instead wrap the strings around a fork or slurp them up without cutting them.
The way I understand spaghetti noodle is that it's an AmE way of making spaghetti countable. I'd say a piece of spaghetti or three strands of spaghetti. BrE seems to prefer counting spaghetti in strings.  In those cases, we're counting with a noun that indicates a 'unit of', but spaghetti noodle (and macaroni noodle, if you're so inclined) does the job too, with noodle being a unit of spaghetti. Looking it up in Google Books, there are only spaghetti noodle(s) after the 1960s, and most of the hits are false—having a punctuation mark between spaghetti and noodle(s). This is the earliest instance I found, from 1964, where the emphasis is on the forming of the pasta:
After 1980, there are more examples in recipes. In the Corpus of Contemporary American English (from the 2000s), there are only 8 instances, 5 of them singular as in "Sure enough, a long spaghetti noodle had entangled itself in my reddish-brown hair." 

I'm adding this bit (between the lines) the day after the original post, because I forgot to say these things:

"German"-style noodle dishes are much less common in the UK than they are in the US (which is to say: I've never seen one in Britain), but I also get the feeling that pasta felt 'foreign' more recently in the UK than in the US. Here are some thoughts related to that. 

  1. My English sister-in-law (in about 2003?) made a pasta dinner of some sort for her future (English) mother-in-law, who was in her early 70s. The woman had never had pasta before in her life (and was rather unimpressed). I cannot imagine meeting her American counterpart (i.e. 70s, non-immigrant, suburban) who had never eaten pasta. I tell this story to other English people and they say 'unusual, but certainly not unimaginable'. On a slightly related note, the perceived 'foreignness' of garlic bread seems to sustain Peter Kay's career.
  2. As discussed in the comments, many British people of middle age think of their childhood spaghetti as coming out of a (BrE) tin (and then often served on toast—I try not to judge. I try very hard.). But the other way that people ate spaghetti in the UK in the 70s (and continue to) was spag bol—i.e. spaghetti bolognese—i.e. spaghetti with meat sauce. (In my experience, you can barely see the spaghetti.) Americans in the 70s were probably not a lot less rigid in their spaghetti habits, but our thing was spaghetti with meatballs. But at least we didn't make an ugly name for it. (Oops. Judgy again.) 
  3. Americans, of course, had mass Italian immigration in the 19th century, and there are Italian restaurants there that were started in the 1800s that are still running now. The oldest Italian restaurant in the UK (the internet tells me) was founded in 1922 in Aberdeen—and it might have been the first one in the UK—this market-research history of Italian restaurants has nothing earlier. It might be interesting to know if the Scottish experience of pasta is different from the (southern-)English one, since there's been a good deal of Italian immigration to Scotland.
  4. Even before mass Italian immigration, pasta was not unknown in the US. Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of macaroni (which was treated then as a cover-term for pasta) and had macaroni-making equipment imported from Naples. The dandies of England may have too—the word macaroni was used to make fun of them (thus the macaroni line in Yankee Doodle).
Just in case you want to get even by judging me for failing to not-judge spaghetti on toast, know this: my family eats Kraft macaroni (AmE: and) cheese with (Dad's homemade) strawberry jam on top.  And I'm not going to apologi{z/s}e for that. It's great. (I've no idea how this started. Could there be any link to having a German grandma—sweet noodle dishes? Dan Jurafsky's The Language of Food says that macaroni was originally a sweet almond pasta—but I can't imagine that a 14th century Italian dish affected my family's eating habits.)

Now I'm going to try to leave this post alone and not add any more! 


I suppose I should say something about the other noodle. This is older than the food word and unrelated to it, coming from an old word noddle for 'the back of the head'. This has two meanings that have taken root in different ways in the UK and US.

The first meaning is 'a stupid or silly person'. I don't think I hear that in the US, but I do hear in the UK. (I know a couple of parents who affix noodle to the ends of their children's N-starting names, e.g. Nellie Noodle, which seems kind of like calling a William Silly Billy.) 

The second meaning is 'head', as in use your noodle or get hit in the noodle. Cambridge Dictionary lists this meaning as 'US old-fashioned informal', but it has a history in the UK. The first use in the OED is from Tristram Shandy: "
What can have got into that precious noodle of thine?"


  1. My BrE take on noodles is that I would probably only use the word in the context of Asian food (although it's possible I might also use it for German spaetzle). Here in the US (CA) my kids use the word noodles to refer to spaghetti, and probably other types of pasta as well.

  2. I had never heard "noodle" used to describe any type of pasta until I moved to the US (25 years ago). In the UK, I always associated it with Asian food (or "Oriental" food as we would have called it). Now, I tend to avoid it unless I'm specifically buying egg noodles, as it causes confusion. More and more people here (USA) are into Asian food, so the meaning is shifting.

  3. We do get condensed soups in the UK. Tomato, cream of mushroom and cream of chicken are the most common, but I think I recall others too.

    I agree with the other commenters: IME, "noodle" in BrE refers specifically to non-pasta, usually Asian but Pot Noodles (Ramen to you) qualify.

  4. Your comment about the "head" meaning of noodle coming from an older word "noddle" kind of -- well, kind of fried my noodle.

    I have always assumed that "noodle" specifically meant the brain, and came from the fact that the brain looks a bit like a tangle of noodles. Apparently this was just my own invention.

  5. Grew up in Cleveland, OH (large Italian, Polish, Jewish populations; that last one is my native community) in the 80's, and pretty much every single thing you mentioned in this article is a "noodle" to me. Certainly egg noodles, but along with that: macaroni is noodles, shells are noodles, spaghetti is noodles. Pierogies and kreplach and wontons all have a noodle shell. "Pasta" could refer to anything Italian-influenced, but in my house "noodle" crossed all cuisines and was used for anything even vaguely resembling that texture and function.

  6. Canadian English (Southern Ontario), age 32: to me, "noodle" on its own refers to an Asian noodle. The noodles you associate with the word would be "egg noodles," with the "egg" being very important. Referring to pasta as noodles just sounds silly, even childish, to my ears!

  7. Historically, noodles were essentially a German foodstuff. That's why the prototype for many of us is ribbon-shaped. But long since chicken noodle soup (from German via Yiddish?) has been the term for chicken soup with vermicelli.

    When English speakers in sufficient number to establish a culinary term encountered Chines and other oriental food, they were more familiar with German noodles than they were with Italian pasta.

    When I was a little boy, spaghetti came out of a tin, covered in tomato sauce. (Macaroni came from another tin covered with cheese sauce.) Some years later in 1957, few people in Britain had any idea how spaghetti was produced, so they were receptive to (Click) this famous explanation (Do click —you won't regret it!) on a respected news-magazine programme, narrated by the magisterial Richard Dimbleby. If Dimbleby said so, it had to be true.

    The OED's earliest quotes for spaghetti are from the great Victorian popular cook book authors. Eliza Acton (1845) explains spaghetti as 'Naples vermicelli'. Mrs Beeton (1888) as 'a smaller kind of macaroni'.

  8. To my American brain, describing a mass quantity of almost anything with an Italian name as "noodles" has a connotation of being the description that would be used for children or by children, and usually also connotes the kind of fairly bland dish that appeals to children, like plain buttered noodles or macaroni and cheese. The exception in my mind is vermicelli, which was sold in packages with strands that were only 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) long when I was growing up, so it had similar dimensions to egg noodles.

  9. Campbell's condensed soups were pretty popular for a while in Britain, and actually copied by at least one UK firm. But fashion moved on — possibly with the rise of cup-a-soups. I still see Campbell soups occasionally, but only a much reduced range.

    It can't have helped that the Campbell flagship soup, tomato, was a different dish from the vastly popular cream of tomato soup, which we Brits (well, not me, but most other Brits) overwhelmingly prefer.

    Yes, I've also cooked with condensed cream of mushroom soup as an ingredient — but not, I think, since 1970.

  10. Anonymous in New Jersey12 August, 2015 02:38

    I'm in the camp that has experienced kids calling all pastas and pasta-like foods "noodles". I know that I did that (to an extent; I couldn't ever quite accept that macaroni was actually in the same food category as other noodles) until I was about six or so, and my eldest nephew's favourite food was "noodles" until he was about fourteen years old. His noodles were any and everything pasta-like except for elbow macaroni.

    These days, when I think of noodles, I think of various Asian varieties unless I'm talking with my partner; his noodles are almost exclusively what I used to think of as "egg noodles".

    I didn't use pasta until I was on the verge of teenager-hood. I was completely familiar with the word, as the person who fed me most often was Italian (and was the one who finally broke me out of my "noodle" habit), but I didn't use it. For some reason, I thought "pasta" sounded pretentious. (I don't know I thought this. Plenty of adults in my life used the word.) Instead, I tended to refer to each pasta by it's specific name (which my suitemates at university thought sounded way more snobbish).

    – AiNJ

  11. Canadian English (Quebec originally but not French). Noodles to me means primarily Asian, although when I was a child it would have meant egg noodles, as in German or Jewish dishes, though we wouldn't have bothered saying egg. Have never called pasta noodles and would be quite surprised if someone announced noodles for a meal to find the dish was actually pasta.

  12. 49 years old, Ohio, USA. I'm with you, Lynne, in that the package of egg noodles is exactly what first came to my mind when I thought of noodles. And yes, beef stroganoff should be served over noodles, not pasta. Chicken goes with noodles too.

    Pasta for me is spaghetti or related things like linguini or fetuccini or lasagne. I don't really think of macaroni when I think of pasta, but I get that macaroni is technically pasta.

    I do also think of Asian food when I think of noodles, but unlike others who've commented that they would never refer to egg noodles as just "noodles," for me "noodles" unqualified does refer to egg noodles, while noodles in Asian dishes do have to be qualified as rice noodles or glass noodles or some other kind of noodles.

  13. "Fideos" is a Spanish word of Mozarabic origin and includes everything from this list except stuffed and irregularly-shaped pasta. "Noodles", in the way it's used by many Americans, seems to be a sufficiently accurate translation.
    When I was a kid learning BrE as a foreign language it really bothered me that I had to use either the very generic "pasta" or the very specific "spaghetti". It was kinda like wanting to say you like fish but having to choose between the words "seafood" and "tuna".

  14. Jason (Michigan, US)12 August, 2015 06:11

    To me everything is noodles, and pasta is only a type of noodle. At the dinner table I'd say "pass the noodles", unless it was a common one like spaghetti where I'd say "pass the spaghetti". If you asked me to buy noodles at the store I'd ask you to specify, although I'd assume egg noodles if forced to.

    "Pasta" is definitely pretentious to me. It sounds like someone trying too hard to be "correct", cultured, mature, or a foodie. I'd even wager that a lot of people are calling things pasta that are not actually pasta from trying too hard.

    There's a few things that I'm thinking about now that makes me think that "pasta" is pretentious. One is that (here) kids tend to call things noodles and purposefully unlearn the word to sound more grown-up. The other is that all of the Asian and non-Italian noodles are almost always just called noodles, even though they all have their different names and types as well. I don't think the people who make sure to specifically call things pasta also make sure to specifically call things udon.

    "Noodle" itself is a silly sounding word just because it's silly sounding, but I'm going to keep on using it.

  15. "More complicated than you might think," indeed. But that also describes my idiolect: Northwest in early childhood, mid-Atlantic in later childhood, with periodic immersion in Minnesota and Texas (summer visits to grandparents). Most of my adulthood in New York, now Hong Kong.

    I'm pretty much with Lynn that "noodle" refers most immediately to egg noodles, but can also refer to almost anything else. That said, the word does indeed sound a bit childish to me, other than in a few limited circumstances such as in a recipe discussion.

    I'm much more likely to use "pasta" generically in reference to Italian forms. I get the "pretension" criticism for "pasta" but I don't feel it myself, probably because my dad's second wife was Italian-American. And since most of the time there's a specific pasta involved, either because a recipe calls for one or there's a box in my hand, I just use the name of the type I'm using.

    "Noodles" does not have any distinctly Asian connotation to me at all, despite - or perhaps because of - having lived in Japan during and after college, and living in Hong Kong now. Again, I'm a lot more likely to call them by their name: ramen, udon, soba, whatever. There are a couple of exceptions: "glass noodle" and "rice noodle" are set phrases and I don't know of any other way to refer to them in English. And I might refer to "Asian noodles of some time" in a recipe if they're truly interchangeable.

    Above, grapeson mentioned "noodle shell," which makes logical sense to me but I'd never think of them that way. To me, filled pasta such as ravioli or tortellini are in the "pasta" category because they're Italian, but they are *not* in the "noodle" category. And similar stuffed items, such as the German-from-Russia kase knoephla (beloved in my family), or pierogies or potstickers or mandu, are all in the "dumpling" category.

    Except. Sigh. My dad makes a fantastic beef stew, to which he adds my great-grandmother's "dumplings" instead of potatoes (I'm allergic). It wasn't until I was in my twenties, making them myself, that I realized (a) they're really egg noodles, and (b) they're probably just a home-made, lazier version of spaetzle.

  16. Wow, that's a lot of overnight comments! Thank you!

    I must do some teacherly chiding: some of you are not very good at mentioning your age/generation! "When I was a child" is fairly unhelpful without it. Must try harder.

    Thanks re condensed soup. Yes, I have happened upon it here, but only with searching and only, as mentioned, a very small range. No chicken noodle. But that's discussed back at the 'soup' post. Will cross out that line so that the comments don't get repetitive.

    I was thinking as I posted it: "this is much shorter than I expected it to be". This is because I haven't discussed all the personal stories I mean to discuss about the cultural place of pasta in the two countries. I also forgot to link to the post on the pronunciation of 'pasta'. I'll make the two quick changes now, but I'll add the stories later, so watch the space above...

  17. David Crosbie: I remember spaghetti in a tin. My mother used to serve it on toast like beans on toast. But we never had macaroni in a tin. My mother used to make milk puddings out of macaroni, a bit like a rice pudding. So when I encountered macaroni cheese for the first time, I was confused as what I thought of as a sweet was being used as a savoury. (For that matter, serving rice with a main course instead of in rice pudding was a surprise for me in the sixties.)

    As an Englishman, I'd think of noodles as either Asian or German, but that may be because I was in Germany earlier this summer.

  18. I'm 27, grew up in Central Kentucky, but I've lived in the UK for the last six years, and I've been speaking Japanese and immersed in Japanese culture since I was thirteen. "Noodles," for me as a child, would always have been that *exact* package of egg noodles in your post, and always served with my mother's condensed-soup-based "beef stroganoff" or with plain boiled chicken and butter. I suddenly feel pretty homesick!

    But as a teenager "noodles" grew to embrace Asian varieties (although I still feel strange about calling the cooked dish "noodles" - to describe the dry foodstuff, fine, but the cooked dish called "noodles" is either of the two meals described above). It doesn't seem natural to me to call pasta "noodles."

    I first saw this US chain before I moved to the UK and I was taken aback by it: Noodles & Company. They sell "noodle" dishes from all over the world. But checking their menu right now for this comment, I see their menu is titled "Noodles & Pasta".

  19. I'm a 38 year old Canadian, and I don't think I've ever referred to spaghetti or macaroni as noodles. As a kid would call them spaghetti or macaroni (or Kraft Dinner in the latter case). Now I would use pasta. I guess noodles must of meant egg noodles when I was a kid, because I doubt if I would have encountered any other kind. Now I immediately think of Asian noodles when I hear the word.

  20. There is an episode of Friends where Rachel is talking about having made a lasagne and says "look how straight the noodles are". That sounds very strange to my BrE ears. Lasagne sheets are a long way from my noodle prototype.

  21. I was born in the late 50s in Australia. As a child noodles were only in soup. My mother bought "soup mix" packets which had various dried pulses and alphabet noodles in it. Or there was chicken noodle soup. Canned spaghetti arrived some time in my childhood. That wasn't noodles, it was spaghetti. I didn't see dried spaghetti until probably the early 70s. A Canadian friend introduced me to macaroni in 1977 - before that it was just a word in Yankee Doodle which had no meaning at all. But I added macaroni to spaghetti as a type of pasta.

    In the 80s I discovered Asian food, and noodles. Instant noodles, udon noodles, etc.

    For me now, noodles mean something Asian, and pasta is Italian unless it is egg-based, when it becomes egg-noodles. I would never say egg-pasta.

  22. AmE age 70 (CA/IA/NH) noodles are Ramen noodles, Lo Mein Noodles, and wide (1-2"?) egg noodles (think casseroles). All the rest is pasta, with Italian names, depending on your level of food sophistication. Spaghetti is never noodles.

  23. BrE, in my 30s. For me, noodles are definitely Asian, and without qualification are the egg noodles in Chinese food. Japanese udon noodles and similar are noodles if the context is clear and rice noodles if not. And spaghetti and all other pasta shapes are the name of the pasta if necessary, but usually just pasta - there is no pretentiousness at all in this word for me (quite the opposite, in fact). Interestingly, I wouldn't usually refer to spaghetti as 'pasta' - I'd be more likely to use the more specific term, perhaps because spaghetti is 'different' from other pasta (we've known it longer? it's used in different dishes? It comes in a can? Who knows?)

    I can just about get the 'spaghetti noodle' to refer to one unit of spaghetti (though I personally would be more likely to use 'a spaghetto' because... well that's just the kind of language nerd I am). And noodles, no matter what kind, are definitely round or at the very least the square-ish long kind in Chinese takeaways. Even Pot Noodles, though it's in the name, I probably wouldn't refer to the things in them as noodles. I have never encountered German or Jewish versions so have no intuitions about what these are called.

    Lynne - are 'shells' only conchiglione for you? Because yes, those large ones are rare (though Napolina brand ones can be found in supermarkets), but we sometimes use 'shells' for conchiglie, which are extremely common.

  24. Late 40s Brit (Central/North English Midlands) - noodles to our family (including our 2 teenage daughters) only means Asian stringy things we get in a chow mein - we are completely unaware of any kind of noodle outside the Far East (or Pot Noodles) so finding that the word is a German derivative is new to me. The idea that you'd call pasta 'noodles' seems very bizarre, although I grew up with the legend that Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy having seen Chinese dishes (historians shoot that one down quite quickly). Really interested to hear that some AmE speakers thought 'pasta' was a pretentious word!
    Like others in the UK, my first introduction to spaghetti was out of a tin, covered in an orange-coloured tomato sauce and almost always served on toast (sometimes we had spaghetti hoops, or alphabetti spaghetti, or other novelty shaped pasta like Daleks or dinosaurs). At some point in the early 80s my mum started cooking spaghetti bolognese ("Spag Bol") which was made using dried pasta. Then in the 90s supermarkets started stocking fresh pasta, making tagliatelle our preferred variant (less likely to flick sauce over your chin and clothing than spaghetti).
    Going off at a slight tangent, Pot Noodle appeared in the UK in the late 70s and plays on its perception of being looked down on - a kind of culinary class war where they are the dirty salt of the earth. The UK's first automatic Pot Noodle hot vending machine has just been launched in Nottingham. Interestingly, none of the flavours reflect Italian cuisine. And here's one of their rather risque adverts from a few years ago.

  25. Oh, nearly forgot to mention that we've recently come across another AmE meaning for the word 'noodle' - one of those long foam float things that you get in swimming pools like this . I had no idea that they even had a name and apparently in this (Br) ad it also mentions that they are also known as 'woggles' which to me is the round thing that kept my neckerchief in place at Scouts. Language, eh? Tsk...

  26. In case it wasn't clear, I was young but no longer a little boy in 1957.

    [Come to think of it I was a teenager, just, although the word was a bit of a novelty in Britain.]

    The era of spaghetti as a tinned food not yet over, but there were Italian restaurants. The OED quotes show people writing about spaghetti in restaurants in 1921 and 1931, when it was probably a rare experience. But by 1957, it must have been much more familiar. The joke about cultivating consistent lengths wouldn't have made sense if views hadn't come across non-tinned spaghetti.

    In my family, my father was perfectly familiar with spaghetti and other pasta from being stationed in Italy during the War, but this was't communicated to my mother or to me. But not long after, we discovered spaghetti in a holiday in Italy — something that must have been happening to more and more families. Still, both in British restaurants and on holiday, most of us encountered only cooked spaghetti.

    Within a decade, vastly more Brits had travelled to Italy and learned the concept of pasta. As a result, people started buying the dry article and cooking it at home. Brits have 23 days from today (12 August) to view on the iPlayer the 1960's episode of Back In Time for Dinner, in which a family experiences the changes in eating and food being over five decades (fifties to nineties) and (speculatively) into the future. Fifty-nine minutes in, the programme imagines the date to be 1963, and the family are planning their very first foreign dish, spaghetti bolognese. This was a time when you went to Boots the Chemist to buy olive oil, and to specialist Italian deli's to buy pasta or parmesan cheese. The Robson family live in London, so they reckon that they'd have to go to Soho to buy the ingredients for spag bol, as it's now widely known in BrE.

    The programme acknowledges that Elizabeth David had written about all manner of Mediterranean food back in the fifties, but only in the sixties were her books republished as mass-market paperbacks.

    Nowadays, pasta is such a familiar concept that many for outlets don't call themselves Italian restaurants but Pizza and Pasta.

    I think it's safe to conclude that there was no mass tourism from the USA to Italy in the sixties. So you din't absorb the word pasta the way we did.

    The sixties in Britain also saw a huge increase in Chinese restaurants, so we quickly became familiar with dried-and-boiled-cereal-paste dishes which were nothing like spaghetti, so we agreed to call them noodles. Again, it was a cooked dish. The family in Back in Time for Dinner don't cook a Chinese meal until 1984 (1980's episode 28 minutes in). They are guided by a mature Ken Hom, who as a young in the 80's man was teaching Brits though TV how to cook Chinese at home.

    Ramen and pot noodle came much later. I first discovered packet noodles (i.e. ramen) in Egypt of all places in 1976.

    About egg noodles. I believe this wording comes from suppliers of vermicelli for soup. Italian pasta can be made with or without eggs, and it says which version it is on the packet.

    1. I don't know if you are correct about American tourism to Italy in the 60s, but there was a large Italian immigrant population established by then, so pasta was surely known in at least the Northeastern cities.

  27. Of course, 1957 was the year of the famous BBC spaghetti harvest April Fools broadcast, so the word must have been familiar enough by then, even if the origin of the food less so. I'm trying to remember when I first saw spaghetti not coming out of a can, and I think it must have been mid to late sixties.

    About the same time as Vest beef curry, of fond memory. And Vesta also did a chow mien that involved frying noodles. A keen walker I know told me that Vesta beef curry is still a staple of walking expeditions because you can make it with just boiling water. (The chow mien therefore being less useful.)

  28. Of course, 1957 was the year of the famous BBC spaghetti harvest April Fools broadcast

    Yes Paul. There's a link in my first post.

    The complication with Vesta meals is that you didn't cook them from scratch, but from a freeze-dried version, so the uncooked state of noodles would be apparent from the strange thingies supplied for frying crispy noodles. The meals feature in Back in Time for Dinner in the same 1960's episode (again a link) as an easy accompaniment to watching the 1966 World Cup final (41 minutes in).


    so the uncooked state of noodles would be apparent

    What I thought I'd written is

    the uncooked state would not be apparent...

  30. British - specifically, English - even more specifically Southern English - early 60s.

    Like most other Britons of my generation, I first encountered spaghetti with tomato sauce from a tin, served on buttered toast. Actually, I seem to remember it was spaghetti with tomato and cheese sauce, but as you couldn't taste the cheese, I never quite believed that. In my memory, it was a food aimed specifically at children, perhaps those middle-class children who didn't eat with their parents in the evening until they had reached the age of discretion. However, my mother and aunt - and, I assume, my maternal grandmother - also knew about dried spaghetti, and spaghetti bolognese, not yet shortened to "spag bol", was a regular on the menu (but my aunt, spoilsport, used to chop up the spaghetti, I imagine to stop us slurping them and spilling sauce everywhere).

    I don't remember when I first had macaroni cheese - quite young. But it was always made from scratch, not from a packet. My elder nephew is the only person in the family who actually likes the Kraft stuff. I am not sure if he still does, but he certainly did in his childhood.

    I somehow assumed that everybody ate as we did, and was quite surprised to find a Scotswoman of my own age in the early 1970s who only knew about spaghetti from a tin, which she disliked. I was living in Paris at the time, and introduced her to dried pasta, which she liked! We were all young and broke at the time, and pasta featured largely on our menus, usually in the form of spag bol, which is what we called it, or if it was another sort of pasta (the French have wonderful tiny macaroni called coquillettes, which I stock up on when I'm there), we called it "pastagunge".

    It was not until the late 1970s or early 1980s that I discovered macaroni made like a rice pudding - my sister-in-law served it once when we were visiting her, and I was surprised by it, but, like rice pudding, I liked it more than I thought I would. But in the same era, one of my brothers-in-law expressed his surprise that I served rice just by itself with chicken and vegetables, rather than in a sweet or savoury dish - he would have expected potatoes with roast chicken. Food is really a social minefield!

  31. Hmm, I've been thinking a bit about my dumplings-with-noodle-shells claim and I think I want to clarify (not least in my own head!). I would certainly not call an individual pierogi a "noodle." And I'm not going to use the word "shell" any more, either; it sounded odd to me at the time but I used it anyway. But it does (for me!) cause a little mental hesitation since there are actually noodles(/pasta) in the shape of shells and those are not at all what I meant. I think I'll call the dumpling things "casings" from now on. So with that established:

    Even though a dumpling is not a "noodle," I would say that its casing is made of noodle. So "noodle" is an actual substance (not countable!) out of which (countable) noodles can be fashioned. If I were putting a pierogi together, I might call an individual piece of casing a "noodle" if I had to refer to it separately. I'm not quite sure though; I've never had to do it! It's much the same as Phoebe talking about lasagna noodles, though, which does seem perfectly natural to me. Once the dumpling is together, I'd go back to talking about the substance rather than the countable: the inside is cheese and potato, the outside is noodle.

    I think that's what I think, anyway. :)

  32. Mid-20s AME, grew up in the Mid-Atlantic to parents from NYC - we always used "pasta," but that could be because we only ate "noodles" in typically Italian/Italian-American style dishes, usually covered in marinara/meatballs. Plus, while we weren't Italian, both my parents & I grew up in communities with a lot of Italian-Americans, so it didn't sound at all pretentious to us to use the word, and would have been stranger to call them noodles.

    Noodle was reserved for chicken noodle soup, egg noodles... I'd only use it for specific dishes, not for the basic food item. Which we bought in the store in blue Barilla boxes :)

    I honestly associate the word noodle more with pool noodles and Mr Noodle from that Elmo show (you can attribute that to having a younger sibling). Plus craft supplies etc. that are noodle shaped - that falls into your point that it's considered a silly word.

  33. Mid-thirties US speaker from Massachusetts here - I didn't even know what Asian noodles were till I went to college - we never got Chinese takeout, even, when I was growing up, nevermind Thai or anything more exotic, so noodles to us were the German kind - flat, eggy, delicious with Swedish meatballs. I think we considered people who called pasta "noodles" to be pretty backwards, although obviously we weren't exactly cosmopolitan ourselves. I can't conceive of pasta as noodles, and Asian noodles (possibly because I literally did not know what they were) are something altogether different to me and I think of them as specific types of noodles: ramen noodles, soba noodles, rice noodles, blah blah, whereas egg noodles are, in my head, the default noodle and don't need a qualifier or a modifier except to indicate width. (Unless they are Kluski noodles, one of a handful of things I miss about living in Pennsylvania - they are unknown here, but they are a wonderful thick egg noodle with a square-ish cross section.)

  34. I would agree mostly with your take. I grew up in Southern Indiana; we only had noodles (by which we meant the ribbon-shaped egg noodles) and spaghetti (long thin pasta). When I got to college, the university dining hall introduced me to the word "pasta" through it's menus, and my Italian-descent roommate made it absolutely clear that egg noodles are not pasta. I've used that distinction to this day.

    For me, Asian noodles of any sort always require a modifier to be called "noodles." So, I have buckwheat noodles or rice noodles or something like that. But privately, that's because my mind sorts those noodles into a category of "things that are shaped like but not really noodles;" zucchini noodles (flat thin cuts of zucchini used in place of pasta, usually to reduce calories or carbs) also go into this category.

  35. 49, from Yorkshire.
    I'd echo the comments about my earliest experience of spaghetti being tinned short strands or hoops. The crispy Vesta noodles may well have been the first things I saw as noodles.
    Calling anything Italian noodles does feel very strange to me. Never encountered German / Central European noodles, so not sure what I would have called those.

    I have a vague memory of scenes in the first episode of Band of Brothers where spaghetti is served to the trainees and later someone says something like it wasn't really spaghetti, it was army noodles.

  36. As a forty-something American with one parent of Italian descent and one of Chinese descent, "noodles" has always been an all-encompassing category, with specific varieties as a subset. However, each type of noodle is usually called by it's specific name. So, I would say spaghetti, lo mein, or udon as appropriate and the word noodle only gets included when it's egg noodles.

    Also, there is no childish connotation to the word noodles. For instance, I can ask my family if they want rice or noodles (meaning Asian noodles or some other type) with their meal. However, this is likely the Chinese influence where that is a common option presented to diners.

    By way of comparison, for me, it's like the word animal - e.g. you can call a dog, cat, or a horse an animal, but in most contexts you would call each animal by its specific name.

    Unlike my English other half, I never use "pasta" for non-Italian noodles. It just sounds wrong to my ear.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the UK tendency to use noodle for Asian style noodles and pasta for nearly everything else, seems rooted in the absence of native noodle dishes? Thus, their first widely eaten noodles were Asian noodles. Whereas, in the US, other noodle-eating cultures made their impact first?

  37. Anonymous

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the UK tendency to use noodle for Asian style noodles and pasta for nearly everything else

    No, Anonymous, we had German-style noodles long before we came across chow mein. The OED has a quote from 1779 mentioning noodle soup. This may not have had what we call noodles in it, but subsequent dishes by that name certainly did and do.

    Most of the nineteenth-century quotes are from American texts or refer to American meals. And a few years into the twentieth the New York Herald reported (1904) Fresh noodles are made daily for consumption in the German quarter.

    Back here in Britain few people would use pasta to describe any speciality of Northern Europe. I suspect that any newly foodstuff of this type from a cuisine we'd never before heard of would be called noodle rather than pasta.

    Pasta is Italian. Anything else is noodles unless it very closely resembles an Italian product.

    1. Ah, I guess it depends on what is considered similar to Italian. But, i swear he calls egg noodles in stroganoff "pasta." Perhaps, I'm falling into the trap of ascribing all of my OH's idiosyncrasies to the British!

  38. Cathy B, Portsmouth, England12 August, 2015 16:26

    BrE, born 1959, London. Unpretentious pasta (Italian) and noodles (Asian) are not the same. They use different flour, and noodles must include eggs. Some pasta adds egg, like fresh fettucine, but pasta can also be egg-free (like packets of dried penne – a language faux-pas right there).

    But since ‘pasta’ is strictly the flour and water paste both are made of, you could argue that noodles are pasta but NEVER the other way round (sorry Jason in Michigan).

    A ‘spaghetti noodle’ is an impossibility; like a feline dog. A singular spaghetti is a strand (but you’d never eat just one so why bother naming it).

    A noodle, like spaghetti, resembles a piece of string. If it doesn’t look like you could tie it round a parcel (in utility not in decoration), then it isn’t a noodle.

    The flat ‘noodle’ in the US packet you referenced would be better labelled ‘instant tagliatelle’ IMHO.

    In England in the 60s, the only pasta anyone knew – though you didn’t call it pasta –was macaroni. You boiled it, mixed it with cheese sauce, tipped it into the same enamel dish you used for your Shepherd’s Pie (sans shepherd), sprinkled it with grated cheese and baked it. It was something we ate (somewhat shamefully) when we couldn’t afford meat (a war thing?).

    I read a lot of US fanfiction and every time I see the term ‘Mac and cheese’ I have to take a minute to recall that this actually means ‘macaroni and cheese’ and not a ‘Big Mac with extra cheese substitute’. It seems to be a much-loved meal in the US. Weird.

    Oh, we had tinned spaghetti too, but it wasn’t ‘pasta’ – it had more in common with tinned baked beans (in tomato sauce, easy to heat, cheap, too much sugar, slap it on toast, and it kept the kids happy).

    My grandmother was half French, half Spanish and was into cuisine, so my mum knew what pasta was (possibly a little pretentious then if you didn’t have a continental background). She bought real spaghetti when it first appeared in a delicatessen in Fulham (c.1966), but since it didn’t really sit well with meat and two veg, my dad didn’t like it. We didn’t eat pasta for a decade after that.

    (My father-in-law got his noddle round ‘spaghetti’ by understanding it as the middle taken out of the macaroni before it’s chopped up. IKYN)

    In the late 60s/early 70s, Chinese takeaways began to appear on London streets. My mum would bring in chicken chow mein for dinner. That’s ‘noodles’.

    Up to then rice was a sweet dish, rice pudding, a popular dessert once sugar was available again after the war. We knew about rice with curry (from the Commonwealth) but Indian restaurants were expensive so savoury rice was rare until Chinese food appeared.

    The first pizzeria chains emerged in the mid-70s, serving pasta too, and later risotto. It was about then that I heard the word 'pasta' used by people who weren't my mum.

    In the mid-80s I devised a meal using a tin of Campbell's condensed cream-of-mushroom soup, chopped bacon & sausage, a tin of cannellini beans and some pasta. Yeah, I didn’t inherit my grandmother’s pension for Cordon Bleu (or her pension!), but c’mon, it was cheap and quick to prepare.

    On that note, all you need for a hot meal (term used loosely) is a kettle and a few pence for a ‘Pot Noodle’. The shapes of ‘instant noodles’ and their ingredients may vary, but as they include other things (preservatives, colour, flavour ‘enhancers’, and so forth), I’m not sure either the Asian or the Italian camps would want to lay claim to them.

    And until reading this I had no idea the Germans had pasta. Really? Wow. But it’s pasta, right? Because noodles are thin bootlaces from Asia. ;-)

    Aw, now I’m hungry!

  39. I'm 40 and grew up in the American Midwest (Indiana). For me, pasta was the Italian form and noodles always meant egg noodles. I don't remember eating much oriental food growing up -- I was a finicky eater -- and what I do remember was always served with rice, not noodles.

    There was one exception, though. We always thought of the finished, layered dish as lasagna (which we ended with an a). Referring to a single sheet of the pasta by the same name as the finished dish seemed odd -- lasagna wasn't just the pasta, it was pasta and sauce and meat and cheese. So we would refer to a single sheet of lasagna pasta (a lasagnum?) as a "lasagna noodle."

  40. grapeson

    I was for a time bewildered by your reference to pierogi. In Russia, pirogi are filled pastry affairs large enough to be cut and shared. If they're small enough to hold in your hand to eat, they're pirozhki. These may be baked or deep-fried — making them more like a doughnut than a pastry. In Russia, small amounts of meat wrapped in pastry then boiled (traditionally after spending winter buried in snow) are called pelmeni.

    Wiktionary considers that Polish pierogi and Russian pelmeni are the same thing.

    Now pelmeni are sometimes described as 'Siberian ravioli'. And real ravioli are officially described as 'filled pasta'.

    The Italian word pasta can mean 'paste' and 'dough' as well as 'cake' and 'pastry' (small ones only, I believe). The Russian word теста testa can mean 'pastry', 'cake mixture', 'pasta' and 'dough'. I suspect the Polish word pasta means much the same.

  41. I'm from California originally, and when I grew up in the 60's & 70's there was no pasta. Like Jason, everything was noodles, except canned ravioli, which was "ravioli". Different things had different names (spaghetti, lasagna, fettuccini, etc) but they were almost all noodles. I always think of "pasta" as foodie and pretentious. Stuffed items such as ravioli or tortellini would be a possible exception, I guess. We never made a distinction between noodle ethnic origin, only between specific types.

    Italian food in the US came over with the big wave of Italian immigration in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. But I don't think it escaped the Italian enclaves until at least the 30's or maybe after WWII. Certainly spaghetti was very common by the 60's, though I don't remember jars of spaghetti sauce in the grocery stores until the late 1970's (my mom made her own from a Betty Crocker cookbook).

  42. I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned noodle kugel, a staple in Jewish (and probably non-Jewish Polish and German) households for centuries. It's one of the first things I think of when I hear "noodle," possibly because "noodle kugel" is so much fun to say.

    Noodle kugel, in contrast to potato kugel, is generally a sweet rather than savory dish, made (at least in my household of origin, presided over by a mother who grew up Jewish in mid-20th-century Milwaukee) with cottage cheese, raisins, and cinnamon. Wide egg noodles are the best choice here, and a sprinkling of Grape Nuts cereal--do you have it in the UK? it contains neither grapes nor nuts--on top provides the perfect crunchy texture.

  43. grapeson

    Of course! I see now why you used the word dumpling. That's how English menus in Chinese restaurants describe little ravioli-like morsels.

    Another case — like noodles — of a term from North European cuisine applied to an oriental concoction. A more awkward fit, though since North European dumplings are solid.

  44. You can put my name to all Nick Rowe's comments above, although I am a little older (BrE, southern, mid-fifties). Although I have one small difference which is that after I was married (early '80s) the word "noodle" became applied to tagliatelle (but only that -- no other pasta). That might have been just a quirk from my mother-in-law, who often made an "Italian meatballs" dish as a Saturday lunch and she called the tagliatelle she made it with "noodles". Nowadays my wife and I usually just call it "tag".

    One of the most notable things to me from this discussion are that AmE use "noodle" to include all types of pasta (although some consider that childish, and some even consider "pasta" pretentious!). Contrarily to us Brits who consider "pasta" to be the ordinary word to use for all the massive variety of dried pasta shapes we see in our supermarkets (including the various long thin ones such as spaghetti). It is only pretentious to try to use the correct Italian names for each shape!

    The biggest surprise to me (despite working for US companies for 30 years and travelling to the US every few months for work during that time) is that I had never come across the difference in meaning of "egg noodles". It seems, from the comments above, that "egg noodles" in AmE refers to something that all Americans are familiar with but which I do not recognise. The photo doesn't mean much to me -- it looks a bit like a packet of what we might call "crispy noodles", but doesn't seem to be fried. Is it a style of tagliatelle made with eggs? Or maybe it is something from Jewish-American or German-American cooking?

    To me, "egg noodles" are nests of thin, dried Chinese egg noodles. Until very recently, they were the only kind of asian noodle you would ever find in supermarkets (outside London). Other types of noodles, including pre-packaged noodle dishes, Japanese noodles, Thai noodles, noodles with names (Udon, etc) just didn't exist in UK supermarkets. In fact, my wife and I were quite disappointed on our last trip to Soho -- we used to enjoy going to the Chinese supermarkets and getting all sorts of unusual stuff. But it is all available back home now!

  45. Nancy Friedman

    My mother made something like what you describe and called it lokshen pudding. I think she only made it when her sister or one of her brothers was staying, as it wasn't a favourite with my father and me. She used vermicelli, which may have been a family variant, but more likely it was the only pasta readily available.

    We certainly used to have Grape Nuts. I think we still do, but you don't see them advertised.

  46. This comment has been removed by the author.


  47. (trying again...)

    David Crosbie--

    Ack, so many pitfalls! First: the Wiki page for "pierogi" has pictures of exactly what I grew up with (like I said in my original post, Cleveland has a large Polish population) and they are nothing at all like the Russian pirog which I'd never heard of before now. Pelmeni does seem to be the closer analogue (also never heard of that before now).

    Second: Dumplings, in my experience, can be either filled OR solid; peirogi, wontons, and ravioli would be examples of the former, and (my favorite!) matzoh balls or gnocchi would be the latter.

    I've just spent a little bit on a Wiki Walk to see what other people think and was quite gratified that Wikipedia not only agrees with that assessment of what a "dumpling" is but also defines "pasta" as "a type of noodle"! (Clearly not a final authority on the matter, of course!)

    Also this thread has made me crave noodles so I just made myself some Ramen, you know, to keep it uncontroversial. :)

  48. Darn it! In trying to re-post I accidentally removed my italics. Please read pirog and pelmeni as such, thanks.

  49. Growing up in North Essex (UK) in the 70's pasta was Italian only, mostly macaroni as a sweet milk pudding (definitely never with cheese). Noodles didn't really become part of the menu until the early 80's and referred to Asian food, and the pot version (much to my mothers horror).
    Growing up as a 'proper' local (i.e. generations going back hundreds of years all living within about a 20 mile radius) everyone still spoke a lot of the old dialect and used the phrase "use your noddle" rather than noodle. Noddle definitely meant head or brain to us. I don't think many people other than my family still talk like that though so I doubt most people have a clue what I'm talking about.

  50. David Crosbie: The parents and grandparents sometimes said "lokshen" instead of "noodles," but of course they never would have called it "pudding," which in America can only refer to a smooth custardlike product made from packages of Jell-O mix (or, for thrifty folks like my relatives, a cheap knockoff like My-T-Fine). See Lynne's post:

    I was a tall, skinny kid, and my father (born in Tel Aviv) used to call me langer loksh (long noodle), a not-uncommon, not-unaffectionate epithet.

  51. Cathy B said:
    In England in the 60s, the only pasta anyone knew – though you didn’t call it pasta –was macaroni.

    I think I must respectfully disagree here - certainly we ate spaghetti (the dried kind, with a meat sauce) in the late 1950s, although I have no idea where we bought it. Possibly/probably Soho - my grandmother lived in London, and often did go to Soho as her wine merchant was there (my brother, aged about 3 and taken there by my father, largely to escape his mother-in-law, I suspect, came back saying excitedly that he'd been to Russia. Alas, nothing so exotic - he had merely been to Soho in the rush hour!).

    I do see how ravioli qualifies as "dumplings" to those of you who refer to that sort of thing as dumplings, but I wouldn't call them that (do you remember tinned ravioli, and how much nicer it was if you could be bothered to shove it in the oven with a thick layer of grated cheese - I went to live in Paris in 1971, and the delicious tinned pasta then available there was a revelation, although that was strictly a private meal; if I was cooking for anybody else, as I often was, it was dried pasta with a sauce!). Anyway, for me, my default mental picture of dumplings is those suet jobs people used to have in stews, or the potato kind you get in Germany or the Czech Republic. Gyoza (pot-stickers, I believe they call them in the USA), pierogi or ravioli don't qualify!

  52. P.S. Spaghetti has got shorter since it became mainstream - we first bought it in blue packets (anybody remember the brand? David?) which were about twice as long as the stuff you buy today. Great fun for small children....

  53. grapeson

    The pictures on the Wikipedia pages for pelmeni and pierogi are not necessarily to the same scale.

    I've had pierogi here and in Poland without registering the name. In my experience Russian pelmeni are smaller, more tightly wrapped and with thinner pastry. That said, many of the pelmeni available in UK Polish and Russian shops are closer to your pierogi — because, I suspect, it's easier for machines to make them that way.

    Wikipedia cites varenki as a Ukrainian equivalent. Wiktionary, by contrast, quotes two related words (пироги́ pirogi and пиріжки́ piryzhki) used in parts of the Ukraine to mean either the Polish thingies or the Russian ones. Confused? Actually, the term varenki is used in Russian for when the pastry is wrapped around anything other than meat.

  54. For me, noodles are long and thin, but they can be either round or flat. Crucially, they are the raw ingredient, not the finished dish.

  55. Mrs Redboots

    I remember that spaghetti. It came in packets not much longer than the ones you buy nowadays, but inside it was folded double.

    We have an excellent Italian delicatessen in Edinburgh but all their imported spaghetti comes in packs the same length as in British supermarkets.

    Look at the 1957 April Fool video. The spaghetti during in the sun aren't folded double.

    On the dumpling question, I've partly modified my stand. i now concede we do and did speak of apple dumplings and cherry dumplings. Even so, I hesitate to classify them as examples of dumplings.

    Czech dumpling isn't even small and ball shaped — well it can be, but more often in my experience it's sliced from a big roll.

  56. Lynne, I deserved that chiding, so gently expressed - umpteen paragraphs long and I forgot to include my age: 46. Or, as my first boyfriend would say, my late mid-40s.

    And I never got to "spaghetti noodle," which sounds very weird to me. To me, it's a piece of spaghetti, especially if dry, and maybe a strand if it's fresh or cooked and got mangled into something. Filled pasta, such as ravioli, can be countable - not sure whether I'd be more likely to say "two ravioli" or "two raviolis," but I know I'd never say "one spaghetti/linguine/fettuccine." Or one manicotti or cannelloni, for that matter, which are filled but aren't all that distinct on the plate.

  57. Mrs Redboots

    And no, I never shared your predilection for finishing pasta dishes in the oven. Not maraconi cheese, as I've told you before, and not tinned ravioli. Both of them straight from the tin, just like spaghetti. Though I'm not sure I ever had ravioli on toast.

  58. From what I've seen on my visits, macaroni & cheese, sometimes shortened to mac & cheese, seems to be called "Kraft dinner" in Canada. I guess they didn't have the made from scratch version before Kraft started selling the cardboard box version.


    The spaghetti during in the sun aren't folded double.

    Curse that spellchecker!

    The spaghetti drying in the sun aren't folded double.

  60. Jane Elizabeth12 August, 2015 19:15

    David Crosbie said:
    "I think it's safe to conclude that there was no mass tourism from the USA to Italy in the sixties. So you din't absorb the word pasta the way we did."

    An estimated 4 million immigrants came from Italy to the US in the late-1800s and early-1900s so there was no need for Americans to go to Italy as tourists to be exposed to the word pasta. The pasta came to us!

  61. American, about to turn 60, born in St. Louis, raised on Long Island, resident of NYC since 1978.

    As is typical with Lynne's posts, I never thought much about these linguistic distinctions until Lynne brought them up.

    I don't have much to add that hasn't been said by other AmE speakers in my age zone. When I consider the word noodle in isolation I don't think automatically of Asian noodles, though I've intuited (in part from a friend of my daughter's who's currently in college) that ramen and other noodles have become a dietary staple of American university students who are living off campus and thus not taking part in the school meal plan. (I believe they were also available when I was in college in the mid '70s, but there's no question the varieties have blossomed here over the last 25 years.)

    But, in part because my parents are from Pennsylvania and Pennyslvania Dutch cooking often uses noodles (there's even a brand of noodles known as Pennsylvania Dutch, though its website's recipes don't much reflect the name), when I think of the word without a prefix like ramen or udon I'm more inclined to think of a dish like beef stroganoff, beef bourguignon or, less pretentiously, that tuna noodle casserole you mentioned, Lynne.

    Then there's the Jewish dish noodle kugel, which I've never eaten and which is used mostly as a gag line in TV sitcoms just because it sounds funny.

    And because noodle sounds funny -- and a bit childlike -- the American public television children's series Sesame Street had for a while a pantomime character known as Mr. Noodle, played by the elastic comedian and actor Bill Irwin.

    Of course, when it comes to pasta it's hard to remember exactly what was in common parlance in the U.S. 40 or 50 years ago. Then I remembered an exchange from the screen adaptation of Neil Simon's play The Odd Couple, which I saw in the theater when it was released in 1968. The play's two title antagonists, Felix and Oscar, are sparring over what appears to be a plate of spaghetti. Oscar says, "Now kindly remove that spaghetti from my poker table." Felix laughs. Oscar wants to know what's so funny. Felix replies, "It's not spaghetti, it's linguini." Oscar picks up the plate and hurls it against the wall. "Now it's garbage," he says.

    I recall being a little shocked watching this scene -- not because Oscar blows up but because I was suddenly aware there was something nearly indistinguishable from spaghetti that for some reason had a very different name. At the age of 12 I couldn't quite fathom it.

  62. Yes, I could mean 'spaghetti' if I said, 'We're having noodles for dinner.' I'm from Montreal and I'm 62.

  63. As far as the FDA is concerned, "noodles" are egg noodles regardless of shape (except tubular, for some reason), everything else is "macaroni" (so spaghetti is a "macaroni product"), and "oriental-style noodles" are an entirely different category.

  64. David Crosbie said (in reply to Anonymous)...

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the UK tendency to use noodle for Asian style noodles and pasta for nearly everything else

    No, Anonymous, we had German-style noodles long before we came across chow mein.

    Well David, I think you're much better educated on north European noodles than most of the rest of us - it looks like the vast majority of Brits (with no continental in-laws) had and still have absolutely no idea that there is such a thing as German-style noodles (I still can't quite comprehend what they might be like). But then again, about the only thing most of us know about German cuisine is sauerkraut (something to do with cabbage?) and the precursor of hotdogs and burgers. The Brits haven't taken to food from anywhere else in Europe apart from the main tourist destinations of France, Spain, Portugal (Nandos!) and Greece.

  65. Lynne said:

    (By the way, there's discussion of the BrE/AmE difference in the pronunciation of pasta back here.)

    Actually, Lynne, it isn't there. The link you provide goes to a discussion of the differences in the /r/ sound in BrE and AmE. There's nothing there about the difference in the way pasta is pronounced.

  66. Dick:

    Lynne's pasta comment was buried down in the replies:

    "Like Dunce, I've been thrown for a loop by the BrE pronunciation of Tanya--and also of a lot of other 'foreign' words that have acquired the bat vowel in BrE--like pasta. Probably worth another post at some point! "

    I almost missed in when wondering about the "inserting an 'r' after an 'a'" phenomena being discussed in the thread...

  67. Nick Rowe wrote: It looks like the vast majority of Brits (with no continental in-laws) had and still have absolutely no idea that there is such a thing as German-style noodles (I still can't quite comprehend what they might be like).

    Much like home-made ones, and very delicious they are, too. You obviously don't have a Lidl near where you live - they very often (not always) have them under the label "Spaetzle" or "Spätzle". They are a lot more substantial than the Italian variety....

    Hang on, aren't we forgetting something? The whole genre of noodles/pasta/Spaetzle originated in China, and was brought back to Italy by Marco Polo. Maybe we should all call them noodles....

    1. Actually, the noodles that we Americans are talking about when we say egg noodles are much thinner and less chewy than homemade sapetzle(I can't speak to the Lidl ones), which in my mind is almost a dumpling (of the non-filled variety).

    2. Apparently, my autocorrect doesn't care for "spaetzle," chewy or otherwise.

  68. 40 originally from California now in UK- noodles was definitely only for egg noodles of the variety you pictured above, and we'd occassionally have those crunchy chinese noodles when mom would make a stir fry ( - we were more of a rice family than asian noodles even when we ate out. We'd eat ramen and cup-o-noodles as snacks, but that was the extent really of our asian noodles in our family despite a large asian population. I think my sister used to like to get chow mein sometimes, but it was always referred to as chow mein, never noodles. I do remember that I knew people who referred to any type of pasta as spaghetti rather than the more generic pasta (or even noodles). I hear more people talk about noodles today to children "do you want some noodles?" where it could mean asian or Italian. An English acquaintence recently relocated to NY and said she feels that people in NY say noodles for everything despite origin of the dish.

  69. Thanks, Kirk.

    I scrolled down and read the gory details in the comments about the BrE and AmE pronunciations of pasta -- especially, much to my amusement, which was considered closer to the Italian pronunciation.

    It got me thinking about something a former colleague from Argentina once told me -- that Argentinians (and possibly Spanish speakers in general; I can't recall how specific she was being) can't hear the difference between English sacks and sucks.

    One day not long ago I was relating this story to our Polish housecleaner -- a woman who has lived in NYC for the last 25 years and who speaks satisfactory (if not exquisitely grammatical) AmE. It turned out she can't hear the difference, either.

    So I suppose it's not surprising that Americans and Britons both think their pronunciation of pasta is closer to the true Italian pronunciation -- or that Lynne's Italian colleague, when subjected to Lynne's attempt at pronouncing the word both ways, said "I can't hear much difference between them!"

  70. I'm an American 16-year-old (in Colorado) and for me, the "string-like" definition has always been the one for noodle. In fact, I have a really hard time calling other shapes noodles (except for the ribbon ones) which is why set terms like 'lasagna noodles' or 'egg noodles' have always perplexed me. I never knew about the cultural distinction you describe, but when I think of noodles, I first think of spaghetti, and then maybe udon or ramen.

  71. With 70 comments, I'm not going to be organized enough to name-tag everyone to whom I'm responding. So in no particular order:

    Chicken noodle soup: Vermicelli is not what's typical in American soups. In the classic Campbell's they're thicker than the thickest spaghetti with a squarer profile. In homemade soup, it'd usually be wide noodles. Vermicelli-type noodles are in cup-a-soup, but that's very far from prototypical American chicken soup.

    Shells in UK: They're just not as common as I'm used to. I went to three shops once to find some. In general, the range of pasta types is MUCH smaller in a UK supermarket than an American one--but then the ranges of most things (one exception: instant coffee) are smaller in UK supermarkets because shelfspace is typically not as great.

    China as source of noodles: It's actually a myth that all noodles originated in China. Italians were making pasta long before Marco Polo. It's one of the great things you can read about in Dan Jurafsky's book The Language of Food.

    I've got lost in the comments now. I *think* I've responded to things I wanted to respond to!

  72. I've now added the bits in the blog post that I forgot to say in the first place--so have a look there if you're interested. (Between the two lines of hyphens.)

  73. Anonymous in New Jersey13 August, 2015 02:11

    Newly 40, Black and American, New Jersey.

    As I meant to say before (I notice that I missed an important word), I don't know why I thought "pasta" sounded pretentious, since my most frequent provider of sustenance was Italian (okay, so she was actually a Sicilian who'd emigrated to the States as a baby), and she always referred to the various pastas collectively as "pasta" and individually by their specific names. No matter, I felt uncomfortable using "pasta" with anyone outside her family. I was surprised to find that other AmE users understood what I meant since I still don't understand it!

    What I didn't mention before that was that the other major influence in my life was an Asian family that, throughout my childhood, visited my family in the U.S. every other year. I'm sure they had an influence as well.

    My partner (60s, primarily German American), as I wrote earlier, defaults to what I call "egg noodles" when he's talking about noodles. Despite having grown up in a predominantly Italian American area, he didn't grow up familiar with the word "pasta" at all. Other than spaghetti, he was pretty much unaware of its existence. He told me that almost all Italian pastas were "spaghetti" to him in his childhood; macaroni, however, didn't exist for his family. (Neither did rice, for that matter.)

    These days, he uses the Italian dialect one might have heard in The Sopranos to name various Italian foods. Until very recently, he wasn't even aware that these weren't the pronunciations that would be used in Rome – despite having visited Rome more than once. It took a visit from the Roman cousin of one of my friends (my friend's parents were from a more, erm, rural region) to drive home the distinction.

    He calls most Asian noodles by their specific names, but usually first asks me which is which.

    Side note: Years and years ago, I was repeatedly driven batty by a Canadian (originally from Montreal – Quebecois father; English-speaking mother of Eastern European descent) colleague's pronunciation of "pasta" (and "drama")!

    – AiNJ

  74. West Virginia, 39. I would consider any ribbon-like or string-like pasta to be noodles, including spaghetti. I don't use the word noodles much except to refer to Asian forms though. Of possible interest: there is a restaurant in my area called Fusion Noodle Company that serves both Asian and Italian pasta, including penne, farfalle, and shells (none of which I would normally call noodles).

  75. @ David Crosbie

    I keep meaning to watch this series. The family is the Robshaws by the way. Having not watched it I don't know if it is one of these programmes that say that in 1967 we all started eating Vesta meals (for example) , or whether it actually explores the experiences of the family. Brandon is a year older than me, so he would have a birth date of 60 or 61. I would assume he is also London/Essex border like me.

    Other than Vesta meals and homemade curry from my sister's recipe boom, we had no Asian food.

    Only takeaways were from the chip shop, my father would have had to walk past several Chinese and at least one Indian restaurant to get from it to our house. It was my last year at university befire I sampled exotic cuisine such as Indian takeaway and KFC.

    (1970s) We had macaroni cheese made from scratch as described above, and spaghetti bolognese. I too am convinced that the spaghetti was longer than you now see.

    Other than Pot Noodles, and Chicken Noodle soup (dry packet from Knorr), I cannot remember using the term noodle. I think I was aware of the term pasta, but eould probably have used the actual type as above.

  76. Noodles -the food- for my mental definition is more German or Italian, my brain finds the idea of Asian noodles to require context. Sure I eat Asian food that has noodles, but I'd call it chow mein, udon, soba, pad thai or just describe it. When I was an exchange student in NW China I described the noodles people made to my family back home as flat, wide but thinner than egg noodles and all one noodle- 4 feet of it, but not cut!
    I'm 40 and raised in the mid-west USA. Our go-to dishes were spaghetti- long string/strand from a box or plastic bag boiled and topped with Campbell's condensed tomato soup, or you could use those or egg noodles mixed with cream of mushroom soup for assorted noodle casserole. To make it stroganoff add sour cream and mushrooms from a jar. The elbow ones are for macaroni and cheese. They are called Macaroni, everything else (lasagna, fettuccine, linguini etc.)fall under noodles. Now living in California I call my lazy meal "noodles and sauce" where noodles can be spaghetti, egg noodles, or whatever dried flour product over an inch long is in the cabinet, and the sauce comes from a jar (spaghetti/tomato based or Alfredo).

    For the non-food definitions I am familiar with the swimming pool implement and the brain/noggin meanings.

    A musician friend of mine once instructed the group to quit noodling (to play a musical instrument in an informal way without playing a particular piece of music per Merriam-Webster) and I was completely thrown because the only time I ever heard noodle used as a verb was the crazy people who catch catfish with bare hands.

  77. I can go one worse than tinned spaghetti on toast (which sort of makes sense to Brits of a certain age, by analogy with beans on toast, where the beans are considered as the 'protein' component of the meal rather than as starch). My northern England primary school in the early 1970s sometimes served a lunch consisting of a spam fritter, a dollop of tinned spaghetti, and chips (AmE fries) -- thereby signifying that the spaghetti counted as a vegetable!

    I sometimes talk about 'noodling' to describe the sort of solitary brainstorming activity that precedes getting stuck into a project -- possibly from the idea of throwing things against the wall to see if they stick, but in my mind it's more like poking gently at a slimy, tangled mass of thoughts or data to figure out how to pick it up.

  78. I'm English, in my sixties. I go along with what other BrEng speakers have said. Spaghetti first came in tins, in tomato sauce and in short lengths. It is still available like that. It then came plain in longer packets as in SpagBol. Macaroni seems to have been around ever since I can remember, and is one of the two main ingredients of Macaroni Cheese (see if you can guess what the other is; the name is a clue). More recently various other versions with different shapes and different names have become widespread. Collectively all are known as pasta with a short a, as in the northern English pronunciation of 'bath'. I've never heard it pronounced with a long a as in the southern English pronunciation of 'bath' i.e. as in drama. That would be incredibly pretentious.

    To me noodles are a Far Eastern dish, Chinese etc. They are also part of Pot Noodles. I'd never heard before this thread that the word comes from German or is related to any sort of North East European dish.

    I would not describe pasta as noodles or vice versa.

    As for dumplings, these to me are balls of flour mixed with suet, baking powder and sometimes herbs added to stews etc. If you are lucky, they come out slightly fluffy. They are associated with Norfolk but eaten anywhere, like Yorkshire Pudding or Cornish Pasty.

  79. JAEL said:

    ... I was completely thrown because the only time I ever heard noodle used as a verb was the crazy people who catch catfish with bare hands.

    JAEL, you have got to explain this remark! Do those who catch catfish with their bare hands call what they do noodling? Please enlighten us!

    Thank you.

    BTW: in Googling noodle I just discovered there's a website,, that's intended to help you "make better decisions about your education." The infamous Urban Dictionary also displays a staggering array of definitions for noodle, not all of them literate or family friendly.

  80. Catfish noodling is fishing by diving along river banks, finding catfish holes in those banks (often 10 feet or more below the surface of the water), sticking your hand in the hole, and grabbing the catfish. Often the catfish will swallow your hand while trying to defend himself or escape, making it easier to grab. (Note that catfish don't have teeth.) These catfish can be very large. (I have friends who have tried this once, but not regularly.) Unfortunately, sometimes these holes are occupied by snapping turtles, which to me makes this an even, ah, _livelier_ way of fishing. Way too exciting for me.

    This is usually done on tributaries of the lower Mississippi River.

  81. Why would anyone want to catch a catfish? I ate one once many years ago, abroad. It tasted of mud.

  82. I finally had time to open one of my favorite books, and the proper reference for this discussion if ever there were one: The Oxford Companion to Food, Davidson, first edition.

    "Noodles. A difficult term. [Agreed!] it has two main current meetings in English. First, it denotes certain types of occidental PASTA [separate entry], especially those with are in the form of narrow strips and are served in soups (cf OED). This meeting has a tendency to be expanded in respect of Eastern European pasta. Secondly, it refers to most of the numerous kinds of Asian pasta."

    After a cursory discussion of cognate words in other European languages, what then follows are more than four double-column, single-spaced pages discussing "Noodles of Asia," "Noodles of China," and "Noodles of Japan." The entry on pasta provides more history in the West, including citations to the Talmud and a dismissal of the Marco Polo story ("see CULINARY MYTHOLOGY," he sniffs), and focuses naturally on Italy. A box on "Pasta in Britain and America" mentions that in the former, it "was an imported food of only minor importance until the second half of the 20th century," before becoming a staple by century's end. In America, Thomas Jefferson helped introduce pasta — going so far as to import a macaroni extruder from Naples — but what really made it take off was of course immigration.

    So, even one of the leading reference works on food largely follows this discussion, reflecting the cultural context of its British author.

    Oh, and Dru, catfish is definitely a bottom-dweller but it's wonderful when breaded in cornmeal and fried, with hush puppies on the side. From the above: "Hush puppy, a small sausage-shaped fritter made from white corn meal, milk, water, and chopped onion, fried in fat which has been used for frying fish. Its origins are obscure, but it seems to have originated in Florida before 1920. According to legend it was devised by hunters, who would through an occasional fritter to their hunting dogs to keep them quiet."

  83. Jeremy Fry

    I don't know if it is one of these programmes that say that in 1967 we all started eating Vesta meals (for example) , or whether it actually explores the experiences of the family.

    Well, both.

    Everything the family experiences has been thoroughly researched. Most of the meals they cook are taken from recipes supplied to a long-running survey — each as supplied by a housewife catering to a similar-sized family in the decade in question.

    The experience of the Robshaws is manipulated to give them vivid sense of what to was like to live and eat in each decade. As well as meals, they experience new clothing, new decor, new lifestyle, new treats, new modes of shopping, new places to eat, new employment (for mother and elder daughter), and complete refurbishing (and resizing) of the kitchen. So when they compare new eating experiences with old, it actually feels like a new decade.

    They were genuinely excited to receive their 'first' fridge, their 'first' take-away pizza, while perfectly aware that they had been commonplace before they took part in the series. They were genuinely excited by their 'first' foreign meal, spaghetti bolognese.

    OK, the format ensured that new experiences came in sets of nine or ten — one day for each year of the decade. So yes it was slightly artificial to assign Vesta meals to 1966 to be eaten as TV dinners while watching the World Cup final. But the decision to include them in the 1960's was the result of considered research. There's a commentary by Giles Coren, and the family's experience of cooking and eating the things can't have been significantly different from a 1960's family doing the same.

    Yes they did go to chip shop, an Indian restaurant, a Chinese restaurant at the relative time in the relative decade. When they cook Chinese with Ken Hom they say it's the first time they've cooked Chinese, not the first time they'd eaten Chinese.

    Why don't you click on one of the links and view it for yourself?

  84. There's a stubborn fact to be explained: Brits are entirely comfortable with the word pasta, Americans less so.

    The emigration of Italians carrying their cuisine with them can't be the significant variable. Not can the number of Italian restaurants catering to non-Italian eaters. If either were the deciding factor, you'd all be saying pasta and not noodles.

    I think there's no escaping the importance of menus. That's where spaghetti, tagliatelle, penne etc are grouped together and presented as a choice.

    I don't know how US Italian restaurant menus are written. And I don't know what proportion of your enormous population outside favoured immigration centres were eating in Italian restaurants at the time that Chines food was becoming popular.

    I do know that there was a great surge in the 60's of Brits holidaying in Italy and choosing food from Italian menus.

  85. On the familiarity or ignorance of German noodles.

    It may well be the case that twenty-first century BrE immediately associates noodles with oriental food. This can't contradict the evidence pointing to a very different state of affairs back in history.

    If English-speakers had discovered the oriental foodstuff before the German, we'd certainly be calling the oriental by a Chinese-derived name. And more than likely we'd be using the same term for German (and similar) noodles.

    But it clearly didn't happen that way. We use a word that sounds like German Nudel.

  86. David:

    I think the German/Chinese/Italian noodle vs pasta question in the United States would require a lot of study, but I would suggest it is strongly tied in with 19th century immigration and 20th century cookbooks. Here's my hypothesis:

    First, there were a lot of German immigrants in some areas of the United States in the 18th century (the Pennsylvania Dutch), and as this chart shows there were more German immigrants to the US in the 19th century than from any other country, outnumbering even the Irish and British:
    I would think that this immigration established the word "noodle" as the baseline generic word for this class of food.

    Second, Chinese immigration started before the Italian, with the California Gold Rush followed by the importation of Chinese workers to build western railroads. The railroad work left the Chinese widely distributed across the western US, but discrimination confined them to small areas (Chinatowns) in every western city. Chinese restaurants were well known early, but Chinese food wasn't cooked at home by non-Chinese, so the Chinese names for noodles didn't make it into general use until much later.

    Third, when the Italians started arriving they were mostly grouped in immigrant areas of large cities like New York and St Louis. Italian food probably didn't start making it into the mainstream until the Italian-Americans started assimilating after WWI. Even when it did, I would guess that American women were mostly influenced by cookbooks and magazines and I doubt those started with anything much more complicated than spaghetti and lasagna. And in a cookbook, you distinguish between the finished dish (say, lasagna) and the ingredients (the lasagna noodle). For example, IIRC the cookbook I use to make lasagna says something about needing 10 lasagna noodles. How would you say that without using the word noodle? "10 lasagna pastas"? "10 lasagna strands"? Hardly.

    I find "pasta" pretentious because it's used by foodies as a snob word for those who know, for example, penne from mostacholi. Frankly, the word noodle is perfectly good as class word for both. Yes, it doesn't work as well in my mind for pre-filled items such as ravioli or tortellini. So the overlap isn't perfect, but as far as I'm concerned it's good enough.

    Anyway, that's my theory. Perhaps a word frequency search of American cookbooks from 1850-present could flesh it out or shoot it down outright.:)

  87. Yes, I wasn't meaning to imply that German-style noodles were never known in England, just that for British folk alive today, they don't seem to be very familiar.

    BUT: it's also possible that they were not ever common in the UK. The earliest OED entries for it are, in 1779 an Englishwoman who travel(l)ed in Europe "A noodle soup—this I begged to be explained and was told it was made only of veal with lumps of bread boiled in it."

    The next bunch are all American, including an 1824 American recipe for vermicelli. There's an 1853 one by an Irishwoman who was married to a German, a 1938 London-published one about chow mein and another one for a travelogue about Switzerland, and then in 1964 The Guardian refers to fettuccine as 'noodles'. So, nothing from British cook(ery) books or about eating Germanic noodle dishes in Britain. This is not to say that there weren't any, but it does seem like the kind of thing the OED would look out for.

    Of course, there have been a lot of German-derived monarchs, but noodles probably aren't the food of the aristocracy...

  88. @DavidCrosbie (...There's a stubborn fact to be explained: Brits are entirely comfortable with the word pasta, Americans less so.
    ...) . Actually there is a very simple explanation for that 'stubborn fact'. Germans immigration came to North America in much greater numbers and much earlier than Italian immigration. This gave plenty of time for noodles to become the default term for pasta. Since you are unfamiliar with a typical American Italian restaurant menu see this link

  89. Lynne

    BUT: it's also possible that they were not ever common in the UK.

    Something non-oriental was common enough for noodles to be part of my vocabulary in the early 1950's when pasta wasn't, and when Chinese food was as yet unknown — not only to me but to the adults around me.

    a 1938 London-published one about chow mein

    Well, the OED may have been working from a UK edition but Young Man with a Horn was a very American story based on the life of Bix Beiderbecke, written by the American novelist Dorothy Baker and published by Houghton Mifflin.

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  91. Gary

    This gave plenty of time for noodles to become the default term for pasta.

    Yes but it was (I still maintain) the default term in Britain too. And then we very quickly discovered the term pasta and embraced it from the 1960's on.

    It's not that we discovered pasta; we discovered that there was a whole range of stuff similar to spaghetti and macaroni, and that there was a word for that type of stuff.

    Mass tourism may not be the whole explanation, but I've yet to be persuaded that it wasn't important.

  92. This comment has been removed by the author.

  93. Kirk Poore said "How would you say that without using the word noodle? "10 lasagna pastas"? "10 lasagna strands"? Hardly."

    We'd call them lasagna sheets

  94. David Crosbie said:

    Yes but it was (I still maintain) the default term in Britain too. And then we very quickly discovered the term and embraced it from the 1960's on.

    It's not that we discovered pasta; we discovered that there was a whole range of stuff similar to spaghetti and macaroni, and that there was a word for that type of stuff.

    I would argue the same thing happened in the U.S. And with respect to Britons visiting Italy in the '60s, for Americans in the '60s Europe at large was the place to visit. (It was an inevitable legacy of World War II, which brought an abrupt end to American isolationism.) Then, too, European film -- led by the nouvelle vague -- made the continent even more alluring. And as long as we're talking food, there was Julia Child's landmark Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which first appeared in 1961.

    Back then, all things European were in.

    So I strongly suspect the word pasta also didn't become common in Americans' vocabulary until the '60s or '70s. And pretentious or not, even now its use is probably more common among urban Americans than their rural brethren.

  95. Dick Hartzell

    So I strongly suspect the word pasta also didn't become common in Americans' vocabulary until the '60s or '70s.

    Yes, that — together with Gary's point about German immigration — would reduce the differences between AmE and BrE to something relatively easy to isolate and address.

    Before the 1960's
    On both sides of the Atlantic, noodles took hold as the default term. The difference was that the foodstuff, and hence the word, took a much stronger hold in America.

    One crucial difference, in BrE there were so few widely-known varieties of Italian pasta that they always went under their own names: spaghetti, macaroni and (for some) vermicelli. They weren't perceived as a examples of a category, so we didn't employ the word noodles as a category-term for them.

    From the 1960's (aprox)
    On both sides of the Atlantic a wider range of Italian foodstuffs rapidly became familiar — along with knowledge of the category-name pasta.

    The difference was that AmE had already begun to describe some pasta dishes as noodles, slowing down the adoption of the word pasta, while in BrE the word noodles was far less firmly embedded.

  96. I should have added that since noodles was the default term on both sides of the Atlantic, both BrE and AmE would naturally apply it to Chinese and other oriental foodstuffs as and when they became familiar.

  97. I need to say more about this whole noodle post, but it's late at the moment, and I'm going to have to wait to get it all together. But I wanted to say to both @Dick and @David that growing up in 1960s, it was all noodles -- we didn't start to hear it called pasta till at least the 1970s, and I really think it was the late '70s at that and I'm more inclined to think it was the early 1980s, but it's hard to remember at this late date. I also think at the time we rather thought of it as a bit of a pretentious thing to be saying, sort of highfalutin, so to speak.... It took a while to work itself into the general vocabulary.

    Western end of South Dakota, here, which is the Northern High Plains, a bit east of where the Rocky Mountain west begins. I think we thought of "pasta" as a rather east-coast word at first (meaning New York foodie, basically...). Now, 30 years later, it's common, and refers pretty much to all Italian noodles.

    The part I'm not getting to tonight is that noodles always meant some kind of Italian or German style noodle, never anything Asian. I think we would have to add an adjective both then and now -- Chinese noodles or Chow Mein noodles or possibly rice noodles. If you just say noodles to me, I'm going to think of something like Lynne's picture of egg noodles up there in the original post. After that I'd go to the various specific types of pastas (as in something along the line of "What kind of noodles should we put in this?" "I dunno .... how about penne pasta or rotini?"), but any kind of Asian noodles are not even going to cross my mind, unless we're specifically cooking or eating Chinese, and then I really wouldn't think of them as noodles, exactly, except perhaps for low mein, and that's because I could order it for my kid when he was a toddler because it was enough like spaghetti that I knew he'd eat it.

    If you asked for noodles, it would never occur to me that you were asking for any kind of Asian noodle, including low mein.

  98. Kirk Poore wrote:
    >> the cookbook I use to make lasagna says something about needing 10 lasagna noodles. How would you say that without using the word noodle? "10 lasagna pastas"? "10 lasagna strands"? Hardly.

    I find "pasta" pretentious because it's used by foodies as a snob word

    1) In my case it's the expression "lasagna noodles" that's very odd, because to me (UK, b. 1948) a noodle is, by definition, a long, narrow strip of pasta, or pasta-like, food. To make lasagne (< British spelling) you use pasta sheets. So that's how you talk about the ingredients of lasagne without using the word "noodle"!

    2) As a "Brit" I can't argue about the pretentiousness or otherwise of the word "pasta" in the US, but what I would like to say -- for the record -- is that here in the UK pasta (pron. /'pæs.tə/) is the perfectly ordinary, everyday word for the class of Italian foods made from durum wheat (spaghetti, tagliatelle, linguine, penne, fusilli, etc. etc.), and that extends too to filled varieties, such as cannelloni, tortellini, etc.). This is reinforced by the fact that "pasta" generally figures on large signs above the appropriate aisle in supermarkets and, as has been mentioned, as a section heading on the menus of restaurants (and not just pretentious ones!)

    Gary, thanks for the link to a typical American Italian restaurant menu. I don't think that there was anything on there that would confuse or startle anyone who had eaten in an Italian restaurant over here: we know about the American zucchini -- I was a little surprised, however, by the calamari "fritté" (neither Italian nor ?French). Was that just the menu designer's whimsy, or are calamari fritti generally known thus in America?

    Kevin (English Midlands / Yorkshire / East of England / South-West England / Wales)

  99. "Noodles" is familiar to me as an ingredient in certain Asian dishes. But until I read this article, I had never come across "noodles" used to mean any type of pasta -- of whatever shape. Strand or piece of spaghetti, but not spaghetti noodle.

    I've been buying spaghetti for donkey's years, and have always bought it dry, in a packet, not in a tin already covered in sauce.

    50s, English.

  100. is an image of a packet of noodles very much like the noodles in my cupboard (only mine are open, and half eaten), it is my default idea of what "noodles" are. You will see that these noodles are much skinnier/nestier than spaghetti, I would call the stuff in your photo "pasta" possibly "tagliatelle" (although I can't really tell if that is what it is from the photo).

    We totally have condensed soup. Campbells make it, if you are in the UK and want some.

    Reading stuff by US authors introduced me to the concept of a "pool noodle" which ... doesn't look much like a noodle to me, and maybe now I understand why.

  101. I think I see why BrE finds the wording a spaghetti noodle, a lasagne noodle so bizarre.

    Yes, BrE and — to not quite the same extent — AmE have adopted the word pasta. But we've used it with wider reference than the Italian word. Working in Italy in 1967, I learned to describe the you bought in a shop as pastasciutta 'dried pasta' — unless, of course, it was non-dried stuff just recently made on the premises. Supermarkets here now make the same distinction using the terms pasta and fresh pasta.

    Elizabeth David's Italian Food, published for a niche market in 1954 then re-published by Penguin for a mass market in 1963, has a chapter entitled Pasta Asciutta. In the text, she uses the spelling pastasciutta for ingredients and pasta for dishes —both terms in italics as a sign of 'foreign'. The index-compiler compromised with a single entry pasta asciutta referring to both.

    [It occurs to me that Italian may have changed since, but it's a real distinction which was lexicalised back then.]

    Now although BrE hasn't preserved the lexical distinction, it has recognised a conceptual difference. This shows up in the BrE for spaghetti:

    • In pastsciutta state it's a stick of spaghetti
    • In fresh or cooked pasta state it's a thread of spaghetti

    By contrast, in the period when North-European noodles became — however marginally — part of the British diet, those who knew what a noodle was knew that it didn't come dry and brittle from a factory. The enduring legacy of that historical mindset is that a spaghetti can't be a noodle.

    De-uncountablising is not at all difficult in BrE. We could talk about one spaghetto or one linguina or one cannellone but that would feel as pretentious as some of you Americans find the word pasta. No, what we can do is to use
    stick/thread of spaghetti, linguine etc
    ribbon of tagliatelle, pappardelle etc
    sheet of lasagne — or, for greater precision, reverse the phrase to lasagne sheet as Shaun Clarkson said
    • a shape-decrptive name such tube, star, shell, grain, bow etc
    • failing all that, a piece


    a spaghetti can't be a noodle

    I actually typed

    a spaghetto can't be a noodle

    but my spellchecker thought otherwise.


    This shows up in the BrE for spaghetti:

    Again, my spellchecker overruled the intended

    This shows up in the BrE for spaghetto:

  104. A selection of lasagne recipes online use the terms

    Delia Smith: 300 - 350g fresh lasagne sheets
    Felicity Cloake: About 9 sheets dried egg lasagne
    BBC Food Recipes: 14 sheets fresh lasagne pasta
    Jamie Oliver: 300 g dried egg lasagne sheets
    Gennaro Contaldo: 8–10 sheets of dried egg lasagne
    Food Network: 500g lasagna sheets, cooked al dente
    Mary Berry: 10-12 sheets lasagne

  105. I kind of like "sheets" of lasagna. I'm not going to use it, but I kind of like it.:)
    In my pantry there is some kind of pasta-like material in the form of large squares (~6"), and I think sheets could be used as a description. I have no idea what these squares are called or are for (they were bought by my ex-wife), but sheets would certainly be a good name.

  106. Gary, your Italian restaurant menu is very like ours. The one we don't have - or if we do, it has a different name here - is "ziti". And a restaurant charging that sort of price wouldn't have a take-away section; take-away here is reserved for cheap pizzerias.

    Incidentally, I sometimes say "spaghettis", which is French!

  107. I came across a lengthy article about pasta archived from the July 1986 issue of The Atlantic magazine. In the early going there's this interesting tidbit:

    "Even if pasta is not quite as old as the Italians would like, it has been securely documented in Italy before 1295, when Marco Polo returned from China. In 1279 a basket of dried pasta was recorded in the estate inventory of a Genoese soldier, indicating that it was considered valuable. The word used was macaronis, a word whose derivation historians fight over. The one usually given is makar, the Greek for 'blessed,' as in sacramental food. In Italy today maccheroni refers to tubular dried pasta; in America macaroni is synonymous with 'elbows' to the public but not to many manufacturers, who use it to refer to any dried pasta made of just flour and water. Manufacturers use noodle to refer to a dough with egg, which can be sold fresh or dried. Spaghetti, which means 'little strings,' is often used generically, for dried pasta without egg. Marco Polo spoke of lasagne, which then meant 'noodles,' to describe what he saw, which indicates that he was already familiar with the food anyway."

    But probably the most important thing about this article is that pub date: July 1986. I'm guessing the mere existence of the article illustrates that by the mid-'80s pasta as a term and as a food had arrived.

    Interestingly, the article mentions that in 1983 the U.S. industry trade group the National Macaroni Manufacturers Association changed its name to the National Pasta Association.

  108. English, born and bred just outside London, now late 50's. Growing up, spaghetti came in tins in tomato sauce and was usually served on toast. Probably in the 60's my mother bought that long blue packet of dry spaghetti (much longer than today's) which sat in the larder for years gathering dust because nobody knew what to do with it.

    Until I read these comments I had no idea there are north European noodles and still don't know whether they are more like Italian pasta or oriental noodles or something else altogether.

    As for the noodles that you swim with, I first came across these 5 years ago in the Caribbean and bought a couple on the advice of a friend. Subsequently met people who do water aerobics with them (great fun and a really good workout). One of them wrote a book called ”Noodling at Sea” available from Amazon. At last I know why they are called noodles.

  109. Last night I cooked spaghetti carbonara. As I was cutting the bacon strips, my wife offered to weigh the spaghetti as usual. At first she didn't see the container, but then said 'Yes I've got them".

    Them? Ah yes, interference from Russian спагетти, right? Russians share the Italian mindset that spaghetti starts in the kitchen, unlike UK where it's poured out of a factory packet, right?

    Well, wrong. When my wife lived in Russia, everything came from a factory. And there was no spaghetti. The two varieties of 'pasta' thaт Russians knew were macaroni and vermicelli. One was plural макарони makaroni and the other was singular вермищель vermishell.

    (There was no need to import the word pasta as Russian теста testa was versatile enough to cover it.)

    So why does my wife instinctively treat spaghetti, a word she's learned and used in an English speaking environment, as plural? The answer is simple. It ends in an EE sound, which is typical of a huge number of Russian plural noun forms.

    Conversely, when English encounters a noun ending in an EE-sound, it concludes that it isn't a plural form. (The exceptions are Latin and cod-Latin nouns.) Spaghetti, ravioli and the like look like dishes that we can categorise as uncountable, so tat's what we do. But those long thin squashed-and-toasted rolls are obviously things to eat one by one, so we say 'one panini, two paninis .

    By the way
    According to rules and practices that have gone out of fashion, it could usefully be spelled

    two panini's

    which is exactly the spelling you see written in some small fast-food outlets.

  110. Anonymous

    But, i swear he calls egg noodles in stroganoff "pasta."

    Quite rightly. So would I.

    Stroganoff tastes good with un-Russian fillers such as chips (french fries) and what you call 'egg noodles'. This isn't a BrE term at all. I suspect he's taking about tagilatelle. The once we buy here are egg tagliatelle, but the egg-less article does exist, if only in Italy.

    In Russia in my wife's time, stroganoff was eaten with rice or, I think, with Russian fried potatoes which are inferior to (BrE) chips.

    1. That explains it! I personally prefer rice for stroganoff as well. But maybe we'll try it with potatoes sometime...

  111. Ah, no, I was wrong about fried potatoes.

    My wife has just come home, and she tells me that Stroganoff was eaten only with rice.

  112. This is a quote from New Hampshire writer Ruth Doan Macdougall's book "Henrietta Snow", published at the turn of the century but this scene is set in the mid-to-late 1980s, and I've been meaning to look it out all week. The character's wife has just told him there is some pasta salad in the fridge. 'When, he wondered irrelevantly, did people, even in Newburgh, start calling it "pasta" instead of "macaroni" and "spaghetti"?'

  113. British, early 50's.
    In my view, it's one of the ways I think I understand what type of food is being discussed:
    - Spaghetti, Pasta, (and all the various Italian names for pasta) are all used in the context of Italian food only.
    - Noodles are exclusively used in Asian food, certainly not Italian food, and they're long (either flat or round, but always long).
    I suppose I learn that only from the menus in restaurants in Britain.
    I may be wrong, but it's how I learned to use the words.

  114. On the Italian restaurant in California which was linked to upthread, I was very surprised not to see any pizza. Italian restaurant menus here normally include pizza. Then I guessed, I hope correctly, that the references to 'flat bread' must have meant pizza. Now, my question. Is 'flat bread' the, or even a normal word for pizza in either the US or specifically California? Or is that a peculiar quirk of the restauranteur?

    It's not a particularly normal expression round here, and it hasn't got a precise meaning. But its meaning would not overlap with pizza. It would mean something more like a chapatti or pitta-bread.

  115. Perhaps too much is being made of a single chain-restaurant menu. It didn't look particularly 'typical' to my east-coast self. Here's one for a mid-range restaurant near where I grew up: It has things I'd expect to see, including the classic Italian-American dish: Greens and beans. (Though on this menu, it's got ziti with it to make it less of a side dish and more of a meal.)

    What else is typical of this menu is the name. I went online looking for 'Nonna's' in my hometown (Newark, NY--it may have closed down or doesn't have a website) and got Nonna's in Newark, NJ and Newark, DE as well. This is not because it's a chain--just because lots of people want 'grandma' to make their Italian food. (Again, probably an east-coast, lots-of-Italian-settlement thing).

    The 'pasta pollo' and other 'pastas' on the menu is phrasing I think probably wouldn't have been there before the 1980s or 90s. If it were there, I'd bet it would have been 'fettuccine alfredo with chicken'. I remember 'pasta primavera' suddenly appearing on all menus, but am not quite sure when. It became my mom's favo(u)rite pasta dish.

    Nonna's menu also has no pizza (except on the children's menu--and we can bet that one isn't made in a pizza oven). For pizza, you go to a pizza place, which may also have pasta, etc. In my area, pizza places also usually have Buffalo wings (named after the city, not the animal). It's not perceived as an Italian dish, but if you're going to order pizza in Western New York, someone will say "Should we get wings with it? How many?"

    As someone mentioned above 'ziti' is not generally found in the UK. 'Penne' does its job here. Both are tubes, but penne is cut diagonally and ziti is cut straight (and may be a bit bigger). Bigger than either of those is 'rigatoni', which was my family's traditional Christmas eve dish for a while (you needed something that would be quick to make between Mass and kids' bedtime--the sauce would simmer while we were at church--don't worry, we had a 'phone sitter' there to keep an eye on it. 'Phone sitter' is probably a Murphy family term; before call-forwarding was generally available, my dad would pay people--usually our (orig. & mainly AmE) babysitters--to come to our house and answer the funeral home phone). Here's a bit on penne & ziti:

  116. Again, probably an east-coast, lots-of-Italian-settlement thing

    Well, here in Edinburgh we's got a Nonna's Kitchen.

  117. That would go along with the lots-of-Italian-settlement idea.

  118. (Though it looks a lot trendier than the things I'd expect to be called 'Nonna's' where I'm from.)

  119. I should have added a link to the Nonna's Kitchen menu. You can easily reach it from their home page if you want to compare it with US equivalents. Some details:

    Rigatoni all'Arrabbiata
    Pasta tubes, plum tomatoes, basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, chilli

    Penne al Pesto
    Thin pasta tubes, basil, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano

    Orecchiette Mimmo
    Orecchiette pasta, cherry tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, mussels, broccoli, extra virgin olive oil, garlic

  120. This comment has been removed by the author.

  121. Lynne

    I don't think this particular restaurant is part of the old immigrant wave — though other Edinburgh establishments can be so identified. The hugely successful Valvona & Crolla delicatessen for many years catered specifially for the Italian community, but those days are long gone. If you hang around in a Polish shop, you're likely to hear Polish but you'd probably wait a lot longer to hear Italian in Valvona's.

    (Actually this is Edinburgh's second wave of Polish delicatessens. There used to be held a dozen or more. I presume they started up catering for the post-war influx of Poles, then kept going on the basis of the availability of relatively cheap imports from Communist Poland's food monopoly. The new-wave Polish shops are very different.)

    Nonna's Kitchen isn't particularly trendy. The owners say they named it in honour of their own grandmothers. (Despite the spelling implying one grandmother.) I don't think many of the diners would understand the name it it wasn't explained.

  122. PS

    If you click to the à la carte menu, you'll see photos of Nonna Vincenza and Nonna Giovanna.

    You'l also see the very un-British explanation that the dish Spaghetti Olio e Peperoncino is made with, among other ingredients, spaghetti noodles.

  123. Dru said:

    On the Italian restaurant in California which was linked to upthread, I was very surprised not to see any pizza. Italian restaurant menus here normally include pizza. Then I guessed, I hope correctly, that the references to 'flat bread' must have meant pizza. Now, my question. Is 'flat bread' the, or even a normal word for pizza in either the US or specifically California? Or is that a peculiar quirk of the restauranteur?

    Actually, flatbread and pizza are not one and the same, though they may look a bit alike. The other day my wife, daughter and I ate with friends at a restaurant in Kinderhook, NY, The Flammerie, much of whose food has a German accent (I got a couple of wursts with German potato salad and sauerkraut) but which also serves flatbread. Someone at our table got one; it wasn't circular but rather oblong and rectangular, with a thin crust, no tomato sauce at all, and the fairly un-Italian toppings -- I'm taking them off the menu, which you can see here -- were "fromage blanc, Berkshire bacon lardons, thin-sliced onions, [and] scallions."

    Flatbread is something of an emerging trend here in the States. No idea why. Near our home in NYC there was a restaurant, now closed, called American Flatbread. It turns out, not surprisingly, it was part of a chain. (Though if you click through you'll find the flatbread illustrations do show a striking resemblance to conventional pizza.)

  124. Dru: That "pizza" sounds like the Alsatian speciality flammeküche or tarte flambée, which is a very good twist on pizza. It probably developed independently, mind. There used to be a restaurant specialising in it here in South London, but, alas, it demised. So it's rare here, but can usually be found is Alsatian chain restaurants in France, and occasionally, as "pizza Blanche" in ordinary pizzeria there.

    Thinking of German noodles, it occurs to me that there version of macaroni cheese, known as Käsespätzle, which is delicious and very rich, is made from ordinary Italian-style macaroni, not the flat noodles I associate with that part of the world.

  125. Oh why does one never see autocorrects until too late. It should, of course, have read "their version", not "there". Even I am not that ignorant!

  126. Mrs Redboots

    So it's rare here,

    Under its French name tarte flambée you can buy it at Waitrose.

    (For American readers, Waitrose is arguably the most up-market UK supermarket chain.)

  127. This comment has been removed by the author.

  128. Dru

    I suspect that the 'flatbread' might be focaccia, which would probably be explained but not translated in a UK restaurant menu.

  129. Mrs Redboots said:

    That "pizza" sounds like the Alsatian speciality flammeküche or tarte flambée ...

    Mrs Redboots, you've hit the nail on the head! On the Flammerie's restaurant menu (which I included a link to in my last comment and which you may not have clicked through to), the flatbread dishes appear under the header FLAMMKUCHEN.

    Thanks so much for pointing that out. Well done!

  130. Found it! I remember those packets of very long dried spaghetti that were sold in the UK in the (?)late '60s/early '70s, as mentioned above, and I thought one of the firm's recipes might have been preserved in my mother's recipe scrapbook from the era. Sure enough, it was and the brand was A LA CARTE.
    I was in my late teens/early 20s and was encouraging Mum to be a more adventurous cook. A few years later when I had left home, I cooked a meal for my parents which included rice, and they said "Oh, we haven't had rice since you moved out."
    I also still have a Chinoiserie plate which used to hang on the wall, showing a man in a coolie hat carrying a container. When I was very small, Mum told me that he was fetching his rice and explained that, in China, people ate rice with the main meal and not as pudding. She couldn't have foreseen that as an adult I would be cooking my own Chinese food!

    1. Not to be funny, but the word coolie carries certain negative connotations derived from its historical use in indentured servitude and can cause offense. It is not even the proper name or a translation of the name for that hat, which is traditional in many Asian countries. Perhaps, you might want to consider using a different name, like bamboo hat, because I'm sure you would not have intentionally used a word that is still used as a racial slur in parts of the world.

  131. A couple of things. First, I came from Russia to the US (New Jersey in particular) in the early 90's when I was 11 years old (and am therefore in my 30's now). As David Crosbie has already mentioned, the only Italian-derived pasta words in Russian were vermicelli and macaroni. My parents argued (and still do) about the meaning of the latter. My dad, born in Russia proper, defines it very narrowly as wider tube-shaped pasta (which is approximately what the English definition of the word would be). Everything else is "lapsha" (which Wikipedia equates to noodles). My mom, born in Ukraine, tends to use macaroni for just about any pasta (though not Lasagna which we didn't have in Russia anyway).

    All this created great confusion for me here in the US even 20+ years later. I will use my dad's definition for macaroni. I've had canned spaghetti and meatballs out of a can (I don't understand why everyone is saying that was a UK only thing) and macaroni and cheese out of a box growing up here. I've had ramen noodles too. But if you ask me to differentiate spaghetti or ramen noodles from other types of pasta (except macaroni), I wouldn't be able to, but if I ask someone to pass a type of pasta other than macaroni, I'd probably say "noodles". Pasta just seems to be a category of things and cannot be applied to a specific dish. Lasagna, though, is completely different. I wouldn't call it or any part of it "noodles", nor is it even a type of pasta in my idiolect.

    As for noodle to mean head, one of the few places I've heard that usage was in the Kraft macaroni and cheese commercials growing up, "when the cheese starts flowing, it gets your noodle going". At least I think that they intended noodle to mean "head". It wasn't long before that tagline evoked a completely different meaning of "noodle" in my head, and I have to wonder if the advertisers were going for a double (or triple?) entendre there.

  132. Another Englishman of a certain age (67) for whom "noodles" means Asian egg noodles and the like, and anything from Italy in that line is "pasta". To some extent, this must have been influenced simply by supermarket labelling as new lines were introduced, but it may be the distinction has strengthened as people have come to know a bit more about the different ways they are made, and want to see themselves as foodie enough to want to show they know there's a difference.

    As for the German connection, I noticed in discussion with some German home exchange partners that they used "Nudeln" to mean pasta. I'm not sure they were particularly aware of Asian noodles.

    FWIW, confusion as between the singular and plural forms of the Italian nouns (occasionally the cause for snotty remarks by those who want to show their foodie credentials, most recently as "panini" or "paninis" has/have entered the takeaway food market in the UK) is not unique to English. I've seen French menus refer to "les spaghettis" and "les lasagnes".

  133. Boris Zakharin

    I put lapsha to my wife, and she immediately recognised it/them as something she'd forgotten.

    In her day both lapsha and vermishell were shorter than anything that would be familiar in the UK. She thinks of lapsha as a fort of flattened vermishell.

  134. Regarding count vs mass nouns having something to do with whether you buy the item at the store or make it by hand, I am skeptical. Why are noodles countable and macaroni not? It's not the size. Is it that noodles have been in the English language long enough to have been originally made by hand?

    In Russian, the two Italian-derived words are treated differently than in English, and David Crosbie only has part of it. "Macaroni" was imported more or less without change and became plural of "macaron". "Vermicelli" had the "i" at the end chopped off and became a mass noun. Why the difference? "Lapsha", which as I said above, is roughly equivalent to "noodles", became a mass noun, despite being in the language long enough to be hand-made (my grandmother made it very well), and having an ending that could be analyzed as neuter plural or feminine singular. Again, why the difference vs. English?

  135. Don't have too much to add that's different from what other midwesterners here have said, noodles for me is the broad catagory of long skinny starchy things and pasta covers the italian ones only. Pool noodles are pool noodles and egg noodles are egg noodles (they're a little homely, which I guess is why guests to the country never see them). Spaetzle is only borderline noodley, depending on what shape it turns out. The asian varieties of noodles might not occur to me unless someone brought them up, although i'm certainly familiar with them.
    The word pasta isn't pretentious for me, i'm probably younger and more urban than the people who find it so (speaking of which, David Crosbie, please keep time lags and regional and socioeconomic variations in mind when you draw your sweeping conclusions).
    I'm also familiar with both the musical and catfish kinds of noodling, though I've only ever done the former. Dru, as for why one would do the latter, it's free protein in traditionally pretty poor parts of the country.
    Flatbread in restaurants could be a wide variety of things: pizza, pita and mezzes, focaccia, or (most often) a pizza-like crust with no sauce. It's a gamble: it's rarely clear from the menu what form it will take, only what the toppings are.
    I've come away from all this with one burning question, though: why do the british commenters keep insisting the egg noodles in the picture are tagliatelle? (They're not.)
    Also, people keep specifying "dried pasta"--is dried and boxed not the default way you buy pasta?

  136. Wow, Mrs Redboots.
    "There used to be a restaurant specialising in it here in South London, but, alas, it demised."
    That's a word I've never seen used as a verb before. Is that a subject for a new thread?

  137. Boris

    Yes, I was posting about the count/mass question when my computer froze.

    Lapsha, Lena tells me, is feminine and uncountable, and therefore singular. The same is trues of vermishell; I wonder whether there's a causal connection.

    She also tells me of the expression to hang lapsha on someone's ear = 'to tell a tall story'.

  138. Anonymous

    I don't know what I've said that annoyed you. What I tried to do was to summarise the changes in BrE — which largely happened in my lifetime — and to speculate as to what might have caused different changes in AmE.

    If it's the question of the word pasta feeling pretentious, several AmE-speakers stated that to be the case. Any causal factor I then suggested was mere speculation.

    Yes, it's still more common to buy pasta dried and packaged, but fresh pasta is increasingly more available in UK supermarkets.

    And why do we describe those 'egg noodles' in the pictures as tagliatelle? Because that's what they look like. And the term egg noodles has no meaning here.

  139. Autolycus

    I've seen French menus refer to "les spaghettis" and "les lasagnes".

    Yes, French doesn't have our problem with singular nouns ending in an EE-sound. French spelling patterns incline them towards the spelling spaghettis. But then they must have made a semantic choice to make it plural les spaghettis.

    [LATER I now see that my dictionary has the spelling spaghetti for the singular.]

    The other dish would easily fit into French sound and spelling as lasagne, so it's totally a semantic choice to make it plural lasagnes.

    [LATER Again, I see the dictionary has the spelling lasagne for a sheet of the stuff.]

    Singular lasagne could be explained as a straight conversion of Italian lasagna, but that won't do for spaghetti as a translation of Italian spaghetto.

  140. David Crosbie,
    While the word lapsha undoubtedly came first (it is attested in Old Russian in its current form), Vermicelli and Macaroni were both introduced in the 18th century. Macaroni is countable, plural, and masculine, so a connection is unlikely.

    In Italian both are masculine, so that's not it either.

  141. 25 year old Canadian (Ontario, raised in Alberta):

    I use these more or less interchangeably. I would call spaghetti pasta, but I've also called it noodles. Like many other posters, I view "noodles" as a more childish term for the same food (though I would also use noodle as the singular count noun for an individual piece of pasta). Exceptions:

    Asian noodles: I would never call these pasta. If someone said they found a great noodle restaurant, I would assume it was ramen/pho/etc -- but when I saw the title of this blog post, I didn't assume "noodle" meant Asian; my mind jumped to Italian noodles.

    Egg noodes: Requires "egg" in the name. Noodle and pasta are both okay for this.

    Penne and other tubular pastas: I probably wouldn't call these noodles. Pasta only (though again, an individual piece could be a noodle).

    Lasagna: Definitely not a noodle. Pasta only.

    Macaroni: I would lean toward noodle for this, but pasta is also okay. To me, pasta has connotations of rich, meaty (or creamy) foods -- bolognese, fettucine alfredo, etc. If it were macaroni with meat sauce, I could call it pasta. If it's Kraft Dinner, I would never say I was eating "pasta". I'm rather partial to macaroni salad (the creamy, vinegary kind served cold at summer barbecues) -- my husband can't stand it, and refers to it as "noodles and goo". So he's another vote on the "noodle" side!

  142. Re dried pasta versus any other kind. In UK supermarkets there is a dried pasta aisle and a fresh pasta aisle. Dried pasta tends to be hard and rigid - you can snap a strand of dried spaghetti, for instance. Fresh pasta tends to be pliable. I've had fresh pasta go mouldy after just a few days whereas dried pasta seems to last for centuries.

    Well, maybe not centuries, but a friend was given a box of dried pasta sheets as a joke birthday present about thirty years ago. (He shares a birthday with Garfield, I recall.) The person who gave them to him died recently and we were reminiscing about this. Turns out there are still some of the sheets left. Require more cooking to soften them, but they seem to be still edible.

  143. Boris Zakharin

    Macaroni is countable, plural, and masculine, so a connection is unlikely.

    The connection I was thinking of — highly speculatively — was that Russian may have made vermishell feminine and singular because lapsha was feminine and singular.

  144. On fresh v dried pasta — my experience is that the better supermarkets, such as Lynne's beloved Wegmans (once known only to Western New Yorkers but expanding slowly, and now reaching at least as far as where my parents live in Maryland) , will have a bit of fresh unfilled pasta (fettuccine and linguine, typically) if you look for it. But fresh ravioli and tortellini are much more common. Thinking of the Western Market near where I live in Manhattan, my mind's eye shows a huge stack of boxes of fresh ravioli from Raffetto's — and maybe three packages of fresh fettuccine.

    I do miss Raffetto's pumpkin ravioli. And visiting the factory store — was it on Houston street? — where you could buy everything for a dollar or two cheaper. Well worth the trip in my grad-student days. Hope it's still there and they haven't been forced to the suburbs.

    Sigh. The Italian markets here in Hong Kong are all faux-European pretense, with prices to match.

  145. The reason for the British to keep calling those things in the picture tagliatelle is because over here that is the only other foodstuff we would serve beef stroganoff with other than rice (rice being the normal accompaniment).

  146. Anne, I thoroughly recommend Stroganoff with chips — the thing crisp sort, not soggy or chunky.

  147. I'll add my two-cents' worth. I'm 45, midwestern U.S. I grew up in a Catholic farming family with German-Scots heritage. "Noodles" to me are egg noodles -- always homemade, sometimes served in chicken broth or but more often fried in butter served over mashed potatoes with pinto beans during Lent. (I don't know if that's German or just surviving on a family farm income.) I would probably also say Asian dishes have noodles and I could accept someone referring to spaghetti as noodles, but as other Midwesterners have said, Italian dishes have pasta, usually named specifically, and dumplings are neither of these.

  148. AmE "noodle" for pasta reminds me of AmE "pie" for pizza (which BrE speakers tend to find hilarious). Any connection?

  149. Returning from our first holiday in Italy about 30 years ago, we were delighted to find fresh tortellini (tortelloni?) and ravioli in Tesco for the first time. Waitrose may have been earlier in the UK. I even bought a pasta machine in the 1990s ... Very middle class.
    I wonder if the square pasta sheets mentioned above are for use in making cannelloni? Obviously lasagne sheets (singular lasagna) could be used too. I think I have seen dried cannelloni tubes: presumably they cook when filled with a watery ragu and smothered with tomato or cheese sauce.
    Asian noodles - what are those rice noodles called, the ones used in stir-fry meals?

    Britain's staple is the potato - you would hardly know it when reading recipes in the weekend newspapers! Peeling spuds, let alone washing the dirt off beforehand, it such hard work compared with dropping rice or pasta into boiling water.

    1. There are many types of rice noodles used in Chinese cooking. I'm not sure which noodles you mean, because "stir fry" is used for a wide variety of dishes. However, if you mean the thin rice noodles (sometimes called rice vermicelli in translation) those are called mí fěn in Mandarin.

      I always find it interesting that many English speakers make it a study to learn to call Italian pasta by specific authentic names, yet make little to no effort to learn the names of Asian noodles. Some seem daunted in learning the pronounciation but others just seem uninterested or satisfied to call it something easily recognizable. The issue is of course complicated by the question of which dialects name you choose and how to romanize it. In the US, certain Chinese noodle names are commonly listed in romanized form on menus and are widely recognized (at least in my experience on the two coasts) and, due to quirks of immigration and who popularized them in the US, come from different dialects. So, Americams call some noodles by their Mandarin name (such as lo mein) and some by the Cantonese (like chow fun, another type of rice noodle).

  150. Biochemist

    and smothered with tomato or cheese sauce.


    what are those rice noodles called?

    In Chines restaurants, they''re called rice noodles. The name is sometimes used in supermarkets. And several posters (Americans, I think) have used the term on this thread.

  151. vp said: "AmE "noodle" for pasta reminds me of AmE "pie" for pizza (which BrE speakers tend to find hilarious). Any connection?"

    No, except possibly as it relates to Italian immigrants. Calling a pizza a "pie" is an East Coast thing, mostly around New York. "Noodle" is everywhere, but exactly how it's used varies somewhat. (I just wish I could cite a study. But other than in restaurant names, I've never heard of "pie" for pizza said in the Midwest, South, or West Coast.)

  152. Kirk Poore said:

    Calling a pizza a "pie" is an East Coast thing, mostly around New York.

    This is possible, though as someone who has lived in NYC for the last 37 years I have to say that aside from these lyrics to the dreadful song That's Amore ...

    When the moon hits your eye
    Like a big pizza pie
    That's amore

    ... I rarely hear anyone refer to a pizza as anything other than a pizza.

    On the other hand, in the context of a pizza conversation it's possible for someone to use pie as shorthand, e.g....

    Sacco: You're just in time for pizza!
    Vanzetti: I'm not hungry.
    Sacco: We got a whole pie here and you're not hungry? C'mon, mange!

    I doubt that someone would ever be me, but it's easy for me to imagine.

  153. Seconding Kirk on the rarity of "pie" for pizza, and sharing his revulsion of That's Amore. To me, referring to a "pizza pie" sounds very old fashioned, the sort of phrase that's used to help explain an unfamiliar term. Come to think of it, "ramen noodles" would serve a similar role; I feel like I heard the phrase when they were new to the US back in the 70s, but rarely today.

    I'd assume there must be a proper linguistic term for a slightly redundant phrase in which a familiar word helps explain an overlapping, unfamiliar word. Any of the professionals care to weigh in?

    A search for "'pizza pie' cookbook recipe" brings up contemporary foods that are much closer to conventional pies in that they have a top crust: Easy Deep-Dish Pizza Pie from the website of Pillsbury flour, and Tebow Family Pizza Pie Recipe. (It's funny how little recipe exchange has changed: we have an update of the manufacturer pamphlet and the celebrity tie-in, with Tebow referring to the [gridiron] football quarterback.) But I'm betting that recipe books from the 1940s or 50s would be more likely to refer to "pizza pie" or "spaghetti noodles" than ones today.

    PS: I inherited a copy of the the pamphlet linked above from my grandmother. The Grand National evolved into the Pillsbury Bake-Off, and is the reason the Great British Bake-Off can't air under that name in the US. Anyway, it's a great time capsule of midcentury Americana -- especially for the Junior Division second-place winner, a teenager from Chicago who won $2,000 (half the median family income at the time) for....

    Blueberry Boy-Bait.

  154. Anonymous

    I always find it interesting that many English speakers make it a study to learn to call Italian pasta by specific authentic names, yet make little to no effort to learn the names of Asian noodles.

    There are two reasons for learning the Italian names:

    1. to know what you're ordering in an Italian restaurant

    2. to know which variety to choose from shops with a wide range

    For example, we (my wife and I) have discovered that what we like best for spaghetti-like dishes is not spaghetti and not linguine but mezzo linguine. And there's a shop in Edinburgh that offers all these and more.

    There's no corresponding pressure to learn the Chinese names, at least not in the UK. Restaurants don't use Chinese names, well not the ones I go to. And supermarkets — including UK Chinese supermarkets — sell the noodles in transparent packaging.

    1. I find the language of food and the adoption of foreign terminology for it a very interesting subject. A lot of it seems to depend on whether there is a native dish that is similar and what sounds are available for pronunciation.

      While we debate about what is a pasta and what is a noodle, sometimes adamantly maintaining one cannot be called by any other name, I've seen Chinese restaurants in Italy call various Chinese noodles "spaghetti" or "tagliatelle," and dumplings "ravioli." In France, I've seen Chinese noodles called "pâtes" or "nouilles." Similarly, in Argentina, the Chinese restaurant menus call dumplings "empanadas." In the end, as you point out, we are all just trying to get what we like to eat.

      So, it's funny when an American like me insists that pasta is only Italian but is a noodle too and a British person can insist that Americans are wrong to say pasta is a noodle! We're only wrong if we fail in getting what we want at a restaurant or shop. If I am in an English restaurant I shouldn't ask for noodles any more than I should ask for French fries! And my OH should not insist on British terminology if he wants to receive the dish he wants in a restaurant in the US. When in Rome, as it were...

      We try to teach our child that neither of us is right or wrong when it comes to dialectical differences, but sometimes we forget that ourselves. LOL.

  155. Biochemist, returning to cannelloni

    presumably they cook when filled with a watery ragu

    Not so watery. Not if you want it to stay inside the tubes.

    It's a straightforward and economical dish — provided that you've the patience to cook separately the filling, the tomato sauce and the cheese sauce. And then you have to keep making it until the tubes are used up. So it's hardly worth the money you save by not buying it from the chill cabinet.

    The trick is to stuff the tubes and arrange them in an oven dish so as to leave not too much room for tomato sauce. You cover the tubes with the tomato, then pour cheese sauce over and bake so as to heat the filling and sauces, and cook the pasta.

  156. Ooh David, it does sound yummy! That is exactly the principle - and also with lasagne - where the uncooked (dry) pasta sheets are cooked in the moisture from the sauces, so one doesn't have to boil them separately beforehand.
    This is somewhat reminiscent of the epiphany undergone by the chef Rick Stein, who is currently in a TV series of food 'from Venice to Istanbul' - he remarked that he tends to think of the sauce as something to dump on top of the separately-cooked spaghetti, whereas the Italian cooks were draining the noodles and then finishing their cooking within the sauce so all is coated and the flavours were absorbed.

  157. biochemist

    If you want a really easy yummy pasta recipe, try this.

    Heat a handful of crushed pistachio nuts and a clove of garlic in olive oil. Add raw prawns or scallops, and when they're fried add a slurp of fish stock. Stir in the spaghetti (or similar) that you've meanwhile been boiling.

    Your mention of lasagne chimes with my visit earlier today to Waitrose. The refrigerated fresh pasta section has been expanding and now includes fresh lasagne sheets labelled lasagne. Away on a non-refrigerated aisle the dried pasta section is bigger, but not by so much as it used to be, and included three of the 'essential' items for which Waitress is often ridiculed:

    essential Waitrose lasagne sheets
    essential Waitrose egg lasagne sheets
    essential Waitrose lasagne verdi sheets

    For American readers, I explained earlier that Waitrose is a distinctly up-market supermarket chain. In Britain, that means that it's seem as stereotypically middle-class, and thus open to mocking accustaion of pretentiousness. So comedians have a field day with the items they market as lower-cost, no-frills, indispensable Waitrose essentials.

  158. Biochemist said...
    {thirty years - pasta, pasta, pasta}

    Britain's staple is the potato - you would hardly know it when reading recipes in the weekend newspapers! Peeling spuds, let alone washing the dirt off beforehand, it such hard work compared with dropping rice or pasta into boiling water.

    Recall Food&Health left off potatoes from the five-a-day list, I think because they couldn't imagine any Brits who didn't have potatoes every day.

    I haven't peeled spuds in thirty years, yet I cook them more often than pasta (I'm a tagliatelle person and seldom do spaghetti).

    Scrub at most then microwave 'baked' style or microwave then oven or slice/ quarter and then casserole with other root vegetables.

    Little Egret in Walton-on-Thames

  159. I'm American and 32. More specifically from Massachusetts.

    The egg noodles pictured in the post are exactly what would think of as noodles, though I haven't eaten them in years. I'd refer to Asian noodles by individual type. I would not call pasta noodles, though I wouldn't be scandalized if others did.

    I'm not old enough to remember a time before dried pasta was completely normalized, though I do remember a much smaller variety of pastas being available in my childhood. As far as I can recall spaghetti, macaroni, lasagna, shells and ziti were widely available in non specialty grocery stores.

    Mostly though I'm just commenting to post a link to the classic 1969 Prince commercial ANTHONY!!!, which given the date, does seem relevant. Also found this Boston Globe article from 2013 about the 100th anniversary of Prince Spaghetti Co which indicates that my belief that Prince was the most widely available American dried pasta brand in the 80s may just be regional parochialism.

  160. Unknown said:

    Mostly though I'm just commenting to post a link to the classic 1969 Prince commercial ANTHONY!!!, which given the date, does seem relevant.

    Unknown: well I remember watching this commercial! (In 1969 I was a little older than "Anthony".)

    The question is: how do you know this commerical? At 32 not only weren't you around in '69, but your Mom didn't yet have that gleam in her eye about you. In fact, in '69 your Mom may not even have been eligible to vote ...

  161. The anonymous comment about the Chinese hat was presumably aimed at me. No offence meant; that was simply what we British would have called those conical hats at the time I had that conversation with my Mum, c. 1955.
    Re: pizza - I once heard a woman refer to a "Pisa pie" (that was how she pronounced it) when they were first introduced into the UK, c. 1969. Otherwise I only know the expression from the song.

  162. @Dick Hartzell

    It's true enough, my mother turned 17 in 1969. I honestly have no idea how I know about that commercial. Is it possible that Prince just kept airing the same commercial until it stopped being a going concern (and just became a name owned by another company) in the late 80s? Or is that my aforementioned mother spent most of the 70s as a high school teacher in the North End and it was a thing.


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  164. The meanings when I grew up in suburban Philadelphia - Irish & Polish ancestry - in the 1950's:

    Noodles = Flat & broad, often made with eggs, topped with goulash, beef stew, or melted butter, or in soup

    Spaghetti = Topped with tomato sauce and ground 'Parmesan', sometimes with loose hamburger or meatballs

    Macaroni - baked with cheese sauce

    Fried noodles - with chow mein in the Chinese restaurant

    Pierogi - made by my 'babchi' (grandmother), a half-circle about 3"-4" diameter, usually stuffed with mashed potatoes (with or without cheese added) or sauerkraut,

    Pasta - when I went to high school where my best friend was a South Philly Italian...

    'Pasta salad' - I seem to remember it as a 1980's coinage for concoctions that _weren't_ 'macaroni salad' = 'macaroni plus chopped celery and onion, and maybe chopped hard-boiled egg, in a thinned-mayonnaise dressing

    Note to Mr. Hartzell - Maggiano's is a fairly 'upscale' chain serving only 'sit-down, knife & fork' dinners - in US pizza is seen as a more 'informal' dish that can be eaten with the hands - thus not on their menu

    Note to Mr. Crosbie - Found out about Waitrose's website seeing them on the shirts of the Reading football team, on TV a year or two back. Is there a story here ?

    There's an interesting comment thread at:

    in which I asked the yet-unanswered question "Does anyone remember the Ronzoni commercial from (I think) the early ’70’s (filmed in B&W, IIRC) that appeared on some of the Philadelphia UHF stations, with half a dozen Main Line types assembled, in formal dress, to protest the lack of Ronzoni pastas in their neighborhoods.

    Featured one grande dame quibbling “But it’s spelled ‘lah-ZHAGH-nyah’ and a final chorus of
    “We want Ronzoni
    Out here in Devon
    Out here in Berwyn
    Out here in Malvern
    We want Ronzoni
    Just like Italians
    Ronzoni tastes so good.”

    Or is my memory failing in my old age ?"

  165. Wow. First off, glad I found this blog!

    Here's my take, as a 46 year old English man.

    Pasta is, as many have said a completely normal term embracing any shape and size of wheat-based food that we (generally) associate with italian cookery. But there are some distinctions...

    Although the term pasta might *include*, spaghetti, linguini, tagliatelle, lasagne, shells, twists, macaroni, cannelloni and many more, if someone just said 'we're having pasta' I'd suggest most brits would assume that to mean pasta *shapes* of some sort. If you were specifically having spaghetti or lasagna, or that those would be the terms you'd use.

    But the most relevant distinction to make is that I don't know a single person who would refer to *any* of these as 'noodles'. In fact, until I read this post I had never come accord the concept of noodles being used as a term for pasta. At all. In any context.

    Noodles, to me, and I would suggest the majority of brits although of course I can't speak for them, are exclusively string/ribbon shaped, and I'd always assumed the distinction between noodles and pasta to be one of ingredients and texture but no do see it's as much to do with usage. Yes, noodles are, to us, asian/oriental.

    That's my own experience. There is of course much to say about history and adoption of pasta into British diet but much of that has been said already. Safe to say that for older fold here, pasta instead of potatoes as the starchy component of a meal is still very 'modern'. (Same goes for rice. I have some older relatives who still struggle with the concept of rice being used in savoury dishes.)

    If anyone has access to chef Nigel Slater's brilliant memoir "Toast", about how his love of food developed, there's a brilliant chapter about the first (and last) time they ever had spaghetti bolognaise as a family when he was young. It came down to not knowing how much (dried) parmasan to sprinkle on...

  166. No(-)one's mentioned Cincinnati-style chili: a chili recipe on spaghetti (noodles), with cheese and other toppings (called ways). Highly regionali{z/s}ed, there are two restaurant chains in Ohio speciali{z/s}ing in this dish: Skyline and Goldstar. I don't know its origin.

  167. I've lived in southern Florida almost all my life and I'm middle-aged. To me, noodles are the ribbons made with eggs, the base of many German dishes. Asian noodles are described as such: ramen noodles, Chinese noodles, Asian noodles, etc. I have noticed my kids refer to ramen or Asian noodles as just "noodles." I don't think they've ever eaten a casserole made with the traditional ribbon noodles.

  168. US, 40s, and for me 'noodle' is the individual noun that is counterpart to 'mass nouns' like spaghetti and pasta. In other words, the individual starchy components of a spaghetti or linguini, etc. dinner are noodles. "Would you like some more noodles" I would ask in a situation where noodles are served separately and the diner adds their own sauce.

  169. Thinking about what American posters have written, I conclude that what I initially thought was a minor extraneous detail is actually the key to the whole range of BrE~AmE differences.

    That 'detail' is the product illustrate in Lynne's OP —in its factory packet and int its cooked form. This is the product you call egg noodles and, I now believe, all the major linguistic differences stem from that name.

    I think we've established that the generic name pasta (as opposed to specific names like spaghetti) entered BrE and AmE at various points in the 60's and 70's. Whatever the timing, Americans were already consuming something called egg noodles or noodles for short. That product may have been sold a bit in Britain, but then so were Campbell's condensed soups and not many of us even remember them.

    When we discovered pasta as a range of dishes, we also discovered the kitchen ingredients — dried pasta in factory packaging. Over there, you perceived the pasta in both dried and cooked form as belonging to the same class as (egg) noodles . Over here we didn't have that similar product (or at least weren't widely aware of it) so we called each type of pasta by exactly the same name as the dish.

    Because the names of varieties all ended in -i or -e (i.e. not -s), both BrE and AmE treated them as uncountables. On the rare occasions that we wanted to speak of a single piece — dried or cooked — we made different choices; AmE chose spaghetti noodle while BrE chose stock/piece/strand/thread of spaghetti. The AmE choice was caused by the familiarity with what you call egg noodles.

    [Lasagne is exceptional in that we do quite regularly feel the need for a countable. In BrE the term is sheet of lasagne or lasagne sheet.]

    The distinction that Scott P. makes between the pasta and its sauce doesn't affect the countability of the noun we use in BrE. If the spaghetti (or whatever) is being served separately from the sauce, we'll say Would you like some more spaghetti (or whatever)?

    If any AmE speaker in Britain is still looking for egg noodles, I advise them to settle for egg tagliatelle. They might be made with a different type of wheat, but I doubt that you'll find much difference. No doubt imported US egg noodles are available — but at a price.

  170. Jane Elizabeth25 August, 2015 19:06

    David Crosbie: Pasta (both the word and the product) was well known and widely available LONG before the 1960's and 1970's in the US. I don't understand why you insist on saying that. Perhaps that was the case in the UK but definitely not in the US.

  171. It's all about context and clarity:

    I'm going to make macaroni cheese with linguine noodles.
    Let's have some kind of pasta tonight – what kind of noodles would you like?
    To find out if spaghetti/linguine is done, pick a noodle out of the pot and throw it against the wall ...

    (70 yr old Canada/Canider west coast)

  172. Unknown

    No it isn't about context or clarity.

    Before I read what North American posters on this thread had to say I would have been completely baffled by all three sentences.

    Yes, I'd probably have been able to work out after a bit what on earth you meant — if, that is, I had the patience to apply myself to such (to me) nonsensical utterances.

  173. Jane Elizabeth

    I don't understand why you insist on saying that.

    Well several American posters have written of not using the word pasta until some relatively recent change such as moving to university. There has even been talk of finding the word pasta pretentious. These remarks seemed to be confirmed by the quote Mrs Redboots found in a novel set in the 1980's:

    'When, he wondered irrelevantly, did people, even in Newburgh, start calling it "pasta" instead of "macaroni" and "spaghetti"?'

  174. Sorry if this has appeared further up the thread - but am I the only person to be startled by the sudden appearance of something called "mac 'n' cheese" on menus in UK cafés in the past couple of years?

    I'm 50 from the south of England and macaroni cheese was for me a rather dowdy snack you might expect your grandma to make, if she hadn't used the macaroni to make a milk pudding. It certainly wouldn't have been considered as connected in anything other than the losest sense to any other pasta/noodle dish.

    Now it seems to have raised its game and got a rather more racy name. Is it an import?

  175. Jane Elizabeth said:

    Pasta (both the word and the product) was well known and widely available LONG before the 1960's and 1970's in the US.

    Jane Elizabeth: if you have evidence that the word pasta was in common parlance in the U.S. before the 1960s I'm sure all of us loitering here would love to hear it. I'm an American who's nearly 60 (born 1955), and while as a kid I can certainly remember my mother making spaghetti with meat sauce I don't recall pasta being a word we'd bandy about.

    But then, that was a long time ago ... and my memory is anything but a steel trap.

    Pineau: as American dishes ago, mac 'n cheese covers quite a bit of territory. At one end is KRAFT Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, beloved of the under-10 set, and at the other are far more adult versions made with panko, grated Parmesan, heavy cream ... and intended to be baked in a cruet, not mixed from packets stovetop in a sauce pan. I have no idea which version is being featured on menus in UK cafés in the past couple of years, but if I had to guess I'd say it's the adult versions. As a grown-up I can attest they can be quite delightful.

  176. Pineau:

    Although macaroni & cheese has long been available here in restaurants, I recall it always being confined to the kid's menu or as a side dish in barbeque joints. But in the last few years it's gone upscale on regular menus with artisan cheese and toasted bread crumb toppings. I think its just a food fashion thing.

  177. pineau - mac and cheese, either home-made or from a box, is american comfort food, but it's become trendy in the last decade or so (the from-scratch version, not the Kraft kind). I imagine if you're seeing it in unexpected places in the UK, then yes, the trend's been imported from the US.

  178. Macaroni cheese is used very oddly in the USA - not as a main dish, as we use it here, but as an accompaniment, like (and sometimes instead of) peas or cabbage! Perhaps that trend is crossing the Atlantic.

    It was certainly never "a dowdy snack" in my family, but a delicious, and infinitely variable, main meal. I made my grandson the version I used to make for his mother, recently (with a tomato-based sauce, instead of milk based, and with the additions of onion, lardons and sweetcorn), and he said that it was very nice, but "Not my favourite, Gran - that's the one they make at school!" I, incidentally, always preferred my mother's to mine - she was, and still is, more imaginative with the extras! These days, mine is usually broccoli and leek, with a sliced tomato on the top.

  179. Jane Elizabeth said:

    Pasta (both the word and the product) was well known and widely available LONG before the 1960's and 1970's in the US.

    Jane Elizabeth: if you have evidence that the word pasta (and not the product, in the form of, say, dried spaghetti or macaroni) was in common parlance in the U.S. before the 1960s I'm sure all of us loitering here would love to hear it. I'm an American who's nearly 60 (born 1955), and while as a kid I can certainly remember my mother making spaghetti with meat sauce I don't recall pasta being a word we'd bandy about.

    But then, that was a long time ago ... and my memory is anything but a steel trap.

    Update: I just went foraging through our collection of cookbooks and came across my wife's copy of The New York Times Cook Book, copyright 1961. The table of contents features a chapter entitled EGGS, CHEESE, RICE AND PASTA, there's a lengthy entry in the index for Pasta (with, interestingly, a subentry for noodle) and a separate index entry for Noodle(s) whose subentries are cannelloni alla Nerone; dough, egg; Dutch; fettucine Alfredo; German; pudding, Viennese; ring; and Roman. The recipe for EGG NOODLE DOUGH actually mentions that the "noodles may be made in a pasta machine" -- a claim that shocked me because I never dreamed pasta machines were a readily available consumer item in 1961!

    Pineau: as American dishes ago, mac 'n cheese covers quite a bit of territory. At one end is KRAFT Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, beloved of the under-10 set, and at the other are far more adult versions made with panko, grated Parmesan, heavy cream ... and intended to be baked in a cruet, not mixed from packets stovetop in a sauce pan. I have no idea which version is being featured on menus in UK cafés in the past couple of years, but if I had to guess I'd say it's the adult versions.

  180. A development of the British version of macaroni cheese is the very Scottish snack reported in this Scottish TV news repot.

    If you don't choose to follow the link, here are the headlines:

    Lukewarm pasta fans outraged after Greggs axe Macaroni Pies

    A petition has been launched calling on Greggs to reinstate the macaroni pie after it was removed from their Scottish menu.

  181. I'll blame my grandma for the dowdiness of her macaroni cheese, then. Although the one time I have had it recently (in Bill's restaurant in Cardiff) it wasn't much better - watery and mouth-strippingly hot.

    Gregg's macaroni pies, on the other hand... Our local independent bakery in the Scottish Borders still sells them, alongside the bannock and the sly cake. They seem to go down a great with the school kids who fill the pavement outside every lunchtime.

  182. The macaroni pie story just gets better.

    The new leader go the Scottish Labour Party, Kezia Dugale sent (tweeted, I think) this remarkable message to the First Minister and Scottish National Party leader, and to the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party:

    Paging @NicolaSturgeon @RuthDavidsonMSP - Sisters, i think some teamwork on this one is essential … #macaronipie

    [Non-Scots may not appreciate it, but for a left-wing Scottish politician to address a Conservative as sister is a marvel beyond imagining.]

    The petition is now closed, apparently. I don't know how Ruth Davidson has responded, but Nicola Sturgeon hasmade an announcement in the Scottish Parliament. With an almost-straight face she confessed that she was "not a lover of the macaroni pie", but

    "I got a stern talking to on the telephone last night from my father that he expected me to join the campaign to save the macaroni pie.

    "I've always been an obedient and loyal daughter and this occasion is no different."

    The Scotsman, an Edinburgh daily newspaper with claims to national status, apparently feels the need to explain the culture to English readers, and writes

    The macaroni pie is also produced by the Shotts-based bakery group, Bells, and is sold at most supermarkets. It can be found sporadically in butchers, while the occasional fish and chip shop will go that step further and serve it battered with chips.

    I read elsewhere that the term macaroni pie means something different in various Caribbean islands and in part of the US South. In these places it isn't really a pie but a local variant of macaroni cheese. The Scottish item is made with a shallow, one-person-size, hot-water pastry casing.

  183. Mrs Redboots said:

    Macaroni cheese is used very oddly in the USA - not as a main dish, as we use it here, but as an accompaniment, like (and sometimes instead of) peas or cabbage! Perhaps that trend is crossing the Atlantic.

    As with so many generalizations, Mrs Redboots, this one is quite dangerous. I don't discount the possibility that there are places where macaroni and cheese is served as a side dish -- though macaroni salad sounds far more likely. (In salad form it's sometimes served in place of potato salad with summertime meals, such as barebecued spareribs or hamburgers and hot dogs.) But in a household with children macaroni and cheese is likely often to be the main course; it certainly was in mine while my daughter was growing up.

    David Crosbie: the kerfuffle over macaroni pie in Scotland is quite remarkable and amusing. I clicked on your news report link to see images of these pies -- they do look tasty, though I surmise they're not served piping hot. In any case I had no idea that a dish like this -- something I'd never have dreamed was considered quintessentially Scottish -- could possibly be so bound up in the country's notion of national identity.

  184. Mrs. Redboots and Dick Hartzell - Barbecue restaurants serve mac and cheese as a side (some sorts of places have you you pick 2 or so sides out of up to a dozen options of starches and vegetables to go with your barbecued meat). I've also seen it listed on a menu under "vegetables", but that was very deep in Appalachia. But this all is specific to barbecue joints in the southeast, not for nation-wide generalization.

  185. Dick Hartzell & Mrs Redboots:

    You're both right! Maraconi and cheese is typically served as a main dish. In the last few years, it's become very trendy, either in "gourmet" form where it's fancied up with spices, fine cheeses, etc. -- or just plain as a tasty, rich comfort food. Because of its new fad status, it has started appearing as a side dish on menus. However, I've never seen anyone actually ORDER it as a side dish; it's still much more common as the main meal.

  186. Dick Hartzell

    though I surmise they're not served piping hot

    Yes that lukewarm pasta fans headline rather gives it away.

    You need tho understand that food in UK is generally exempt from so-called Value Added Tax — a pan-European framework for taxing goods and services. Rate of tax varies from European state to state (In Britain it's currently 20%), and there are different exemptions in different states.

    Now while pies — macaroni or otherwise — bought from the baker (or butcher) qualify for exemption, cooked food in restaurants, cafes etc is subject to VAT. So shops like Greggs heat their pies initially, but can't reheat them at time of sale as this would turn them into taxable hot food. The taxman's name for this is ambient.

    Alterations to tax regulations are part of the annual Budget announced in a speech in Parliament by the Chancellor of the Exchequer i.e. Finance Minister. In his first ever Budget, George Osborne listened to siren voices within the Treasury i.e. Finance Ministry and announced the extension of VAT to ambient food. This was immediately dubbed the pasty tax — a reference to Gregg's most popular ambient snack, the Cornish pasty. this resulted in a much bigger and angrier protest than the macaroni pie kerfuffle. Osborne was obliged to retreat on this and some other silly proposals, and the Budget was universally ridiculed as an omnishambles.

  187. PS

    I thought I'd posted ambient snacks this before. Sure enough, it's in the thread on take-outs and take-aways.

  188. Anonymous in New Jersey30 August, 2015 00:38

    Laura wrote: Maraconi and cheese is typically served as a main dish. In the last few years, it's become very trendy, either in "gourmet" form where it's fancied up with spices, fine cheeses, etc. -- or just plain as a tasty, rich comfort food.

    I don't know if it's a regional (or cultural or both) thing or if it's this way across the U.S., but macaroni and cheese has always been a side for my family, and, depending on the restaurant, it was offered as either a main or a side when I was a child.

    But one this is similar to your experience: it's become a fad here, too, and "gourmet" macaroni and cheese sometimes appears on menus. I know of at least one restaurant in Brooklyn that serves only macaroni and cheese.

    – AiNJ

  189. Dick Hartzell wrote: "I don't discount the possibility that there are places where macaroni and cheese is served as a side dish -- though macaroni salad sounds far more likely. (In salad form it's sometimes served in place of potato salad with summertime meals, such as barebecued spareribs or hamburgers and hot dogs.) But in a household with children macaroni and cheese is likely often to be the main course; it certainly was in mine while my daughter was growing up."

    Have been away for a few days, apologies for late reply. I can't speak to American households, not having been in one where cooking was a normal way of life, but certainly in American restaurants I've seen macaroni cheese served as a side dish, and others have said that this is normal in their parts of the USA. And I know a friend of mine in Kansas does rather like it occasionally as a side dish....

  190. Mrs Redboots - I can't resist saying (wildly off-topic) that this side-dish/main use of macaroni cheese reminds me of the British use of cauliflower cheese. In our household this is a main dish, augmented with hard-boiled eggs under the cheese sauce, but I know that one can sometimes have a scoop of something similar in the guise of the vegetable portion of a dinner. If I were to make macaroni cheese, I would use a white sauce based on a flour-butter roux and milk, with grated cheddar within and grated parmesan on top, as I do for the aforementioned cauliflower dish!
    And, thinking again on the original topic of this thread, I would only use the word 'noodles' for Asian pasta, whether based on wheat or rice flour.

  191. Just to note a further language difference, from comments on this thread it seems be "macaroni cheese" in BrE and "macaroni and cheese" in AmE. A very small sample size, though.:)

  192. Yes, biochemist - I, too, serve hard-boiled eggs with my cauliflower cheese, and also top it with mashed potato/es (or sometimes breadcrumbs and cheese), but many people do make a cheese sauce whenever they serve cauliflower as a vegetable. Also with leeks....


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)