In a Nutshell
While the historic origins of pasta remain murky, the facts in this case are straightforward: the Italians were eating a nice dish of macaroni well before Marco Polo was even born. Archaeological evidence suggests the Etruscans, an ancient civilization ruling parts of Italy from around 1100 BC to the 1st century AD, made a type of pasta from spelt.
The Whole Bushel
In 1260, Venetian born Marco Polo set out on an incredible journey that would take him all the way to China and the court of the Mongol ruler, Kublai Khan. On returning home after twenty-four years, he wrote a best-selling book about his adventures (actually ghost-written by Rustichello of Pisa) and introduced the Italians to pasta, which he’d learned about after eating Chinese noodles. Many people believe the popular legend, but it’s not true.
What Marco Polo actually said in The Description of the World boils down to a simple comment, almost a throwaway line, that the noodles he’d eaten in China were as good as the pasta dishes he’d had many times in Italy.
The legend of Marco Polo bringing home pasta to his fellow Italians can be traced to the National Macaroni Manufacturers’ Association in the United States. In October 1929, their trade publication The Macaroni Journal published an article, “A Saga of Catai,” a fictional account of a sailor named Spaghetti watching a Chinese girl make noodles, then returning to his ship with the recipe and giving it to Marco Polo.