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Jun 30, 2011 05:06 PM

When did noodles become pasta?

I've always called all "pasta" noodles. I grew up refering to lasagna, spaghetti, spaetzle or other noodles as noodles--not only when they're in Chinese dishes. I first started hearing the term "pasta" around the mid 1980s when in my 20s. Now it seems to be pushing the older term "noodles" out. When did this start happening? Does anyone think it has to do with media manipulation of language--i.e. by using the term "pasta" it will sound more upmarket. Comments please.

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  1. I blame foodies and the associated pretentiousness that they spout.

    2 Replies
    1. re: dave_c

      I have to respectfully disagree. I didn't grow up in a "foodie" household at all and macaroni was always macaroni, spaghetti always meant spaghetti, bowties were always bowties, etc. Collectively they were all pasta. We never called macaroni or shells "noodles" only egg noodles, Kluski noodles, ramen noodles, lasagna noodles or other stretched pasta were noodles. This was also in the '70's and 80"s. I guess it's the same thing in some families with "gravy" as we never called spaghetti sauce gravy. I think it's just a matter of where you're from and what your family traditionally calls things. No need to hate on it.

      On the same note, are soft drinks called "pop", "soda" or "Coke"? There is no right or wrong answer- it all depends on the same things.

      1. re: LorenM

        Noodle comes from German, pasta, of course, Italian.

        The distinctions I would have made growing up were:
        noodle - flat, varying width, often with egg (or Chinese)
        spaghetti - the long string shape
        macaroni - almost any other Italian shape

        pasta is a more recent addition to my vocabulary, covering both spaghetti and macaroni.

    2. I think when people started learning more about Italian food--that there was more to it then spaghetti--then they began exploring all sorts of pasta including egg pastas, filled pastas and the like. I would never call ravioli a "noodle" but I would call it pasta.

      1. In my house growing up (Hungarian background) noodles meant egg noodles. As others have offered further up the thread, spaghetti was always called that, and all other non egg pasta forms were called macaroni.
        I don't have a problem with the current terminology.
        In fact, I don't think I ever even thought about it until clicking on and reading this thread.

        Pasta, noodels, macaroni...doesn't matter to me. If there's a bit of melted butter and a dash of salt on's _ all_ good!

        3 Replies
        1. re: The Professor

          Professor, I too grew up in a Hungarian household , and called them noodles or tészta ..... but got used to calling spaghetti "spaghetti noodles", lasagna "lasagna noodles ", etc., Recently a cooking group I'm in on facebook I was admonished by a Sicilian for calling it noodle, rather then pasta. She was pretty rude about it, lol!!

          1. re: Ficko

            I also grew up saying things lie "spaghetti noodles", "lasagna noodles", etc... I don't ever remember anyone reacting strangely to it until 1991 when I was a waiter and I was ordered to say "pasta" not "noodles". Honestly, when people are rude that way, you (I at least) start to question things--internally at least. Yes, that lady was pretty rude. Suggest she keep her opinions to herself.

            1. re: Ficko

              We never called it pasta until we moved to Ocean County NJ, and were surrounded, literally, by Sicilians. and I learned great recipes from them. Pasta is ingrained in us now!!!

          2. Roughly the same time that squid became calamari, which is also about when corn meal became polenta, but much later than when rocket became arugula.

            I'll even bet that most people don't know that arugula is an Italian word, and the green we call arugula has an English name. If you go back and look at old American cookery books you will find rocket; arugula came along more recently.

            Pate de foie is liver paste; cervelles au beurre noir are fried calf brains. Most restaurants use the French not the English.

            Redfish is really drum. Drum was and is considered a rather common fish, at best fair quality, and was cheap until Paul Prudhomme came along with blackening. Then "redfish" suddenly became a high quality and expensive fish.

            It all just marketing.

            12 Replies
            1. re: johnb

              Americans (and English) have been using French on menus for a long time. There examples of that from California gold rush days (see Foodtimeline).

              As with noodles there are German derived names for liver pastes, like Braunschweiger and Liverwurst. Frankfurter, weiner, and hamburger are other common food names of German origin. I read someplace that something like 40% of Americans can claim some German background. German influences on our food and food terminology are probably second only to English.

              The English rocket comes from the same Latin root as arugula, eruca (via Italian and/or old French). The other 'rocket' comes from a Germanic root.

              1. re: paulj

                Yes. Since 'rucola' made its way across German restaurant menus in the last decade or so -- and I mean it's being thrown on every single freaking dish here --, everyone's forgotten that what they're eating is good ol' German "Rauke".

                Having said that, I couldn't care less what people call their food. You can call it Dorothy for all I care. Feh.


                1. re: johnb

                  "most people don't know that arugula is an Italian word" — including Italians.

                  1. re: DeppityDawg

                    Bravo! "Arugula," unknown in standard Italian, must be dialect for "la rucola". Proper Italian uses rucola or ruchetta. In Rome it's rughetta, but the terminology is in flux, and there are two botanical families in play here. Thirty years ago, when I began to frequent Roman markets, it was all rughetta, divided into wild for the more bitter pointy leaf (Dipolotaxis tenuifolia or murali), cultivated for the rounder-leafed Eruca vesicaria, recognizable as what is called arugula in the US. It is my unscientific impression that in the decades since then new varieties (hybrids) have appeared and the differences between the two plants are disappearing. If anyone can shed light on this topic, I would be very pleased.

                    1. re: mbfant

                      I just recently had the pleasure of having a salad with wild arugula -- the leaves are much rounder and wider, not at all like the scraggly things I'm used to seeing in supermarkets (both in Germany & the US), it confused me at first. My taste buds were saying 'arugula' all the way, whereas my eyes were saying 'huh?'

                      It was delicious.

                      1. re: linguafood

                        Sounds like the "roka" leaves that are served with fresh grilled fish in Turkey. Mmm…

                        1. re: DeppityDawg

                          You know, that may well be the case! The salad was a bed for grilled octopus @an Italian place in Cleveland.

                          Since octopus is pretty popular in Turkey, too.... damn, now I'm gonna be on a quest to find the wild stuff. It is soooo tasty!

                          1. re: linguafood

                            Everything that I've had labeled "wild arugula" in the US (though actually cultivated), including what I buy in bulk at my local market looks like most of the photos in this google image search:

                            If I plug in Dipolotaxis tenuifolia, the botaniical name mbfant cited, it turns up similarly shaped leaves, long and serrate, not rounder and wider. So sounds like what you had is different than what she cited and what I know. I'm curious now about what you had.

                            Regarding mbfant's question, I can say that to my palate the cultivated "wild arugula" I've had here in California tastes very similar to standard cultivated arugula, and not more bitter, though its appearance is distinct.

                            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                              Sorry -- I wrote "Dipolo" but meant Diplo. Those pictures of "wild arugula" (thank you, Caitlin) are what I would call rughetta and would be inclined to translate, trepidatiously, as rocket. The terminology (my main professional concern) is really tricky, since not even the Italian is that clear. But it appears that what used to be called rughetta selvatica in Rome is now called wild arugula in the US. If I could be the terminology czar, I would try to make a distinction between the two families and certainly between truly wild and cultivated. Seems to me it used to be possible to use rocket for the D. tenuifolia and arugula for the E. vesicaria.

                              1. re: mbfant

                                Interesting. As a translator who specializes in food, I was of the impression that rocket is the British term and arugula the American ("Rauke" in German, "Rucola" in "neo-gastro-German").

                                What Caitlin posted is what I see in supermarkets, too. What I had at the resto looked very different. As I said. Roundish leaves. Tasty stuff.

                                1. re: linguafood

                                  I agree, I've universally seen the word rocket used in the UK and arugula in America, both referring to the commercial variety. The wild stuff may have a different name, I don't know as I've never seen it on a menu.

                2. I never used "noodle" as a blanket term for pasta...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: LeoLioness

                    nor did we...bowties, ravioli, penne at al aren't noodles. we always called them "pasta" or used the specific shape name. "noodles" was reserved for egg noodles in soup or kugel.

                    but for my friends who grew up in traditional Italian homes, any sort of pasta with red sauce was *always* "macaroni with gravy" regardless of the shape :)