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Mangiamaccheroni - Neapolitan Macaroni Eaters

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Mangiamaccheroni - Neapolitan macaroni-eating lads were once the symbol of Napoli's joie de vivre. Here are 20 examples of these icons from my personal collection.

Neapolitans had been eating pasta for centuries when the first macaroni machines appeared in the early 1800s, but this new-found tubular pasta captured Napoli's eyes, hearts and palates so intensely they barely eat anything else up to this day.

People were so enthralled with eating macaronis that people bought them from street vendors and ate the macaronis with their fingers. This became such an important component in the city's identity that a new popular figure appeared - the mangiamaccheroni [manjeeahmahkayrawney] 'Macaroni Eater'. Street kid eating macaronis with their fingers on the streets wre featured in countless postcards and prints of the late 19th century and early 20th. The postcards usually focus on the eaters' bliss to eat this delicious treat.

A companion to the mangiamaccheroni were pictures of actual macaronis manufactures. Very low key as you can see, with rows of macaronis drying on wooden poles. Maccheroni in those days were tubular pasta like a penne but narrower and as long as a spaghetto. Today's maccheroni are much shorter, half a finger's length at most. Neither bear much resemblance to the American macaroni, those tiny pasta hornlets made with industrial flour. But don't think that these small batch, artisan maccheroni were especially appealing. In The Food of Italy, Waverly Roots recalls his first contact with Neapolitan macaroni:

"On my first visit there, in 1929, I acquired a distaste for macaroni, a least in Naples, for its insalubrious courtyards were jungles of it. Limp strands hung over clotheslines to dry, dirt swirled through the air, flies settled to rest on the exposed pasta, pigeons bombed it from overhead, children invented games to play with it, and the large dog population, finding itself short of lampposts, put up with what it could find. But have no fear today: macaroni and spaghetti are now made indoors in spick-and-span automated factories."

Macaroni production depended on serious machinery that extruded the semolina flour mixed with a little water through a bronze die. American diplomat, president and inventor Thomas Jefferson was also a gastronome extraordinaire and he was so impressed with the Italian macheronis, which by that time had taken on in the whole country, that he designed a macaroni machine.

Bottom right: This red-headed American mangiamaccheroni promoted the Milano Café in Los Angeles, who used to stand right where City Hall is today. An intriguing mix of Irish and Italian influences!

Bottom left: A 19th century mangiamaccheroni part of a large collection of creches statues in Napolis San Martino Museum (author's picture).



What did the travellers who bought these cards think? One the back of one postcard, a 19th century French lady admonishes her nephews not to do like "the little kids on this card - they are dirty to eat with their fingers". I found this intriguing (full text). On another dates August 1902, a Belgian man tells his wife of 'feasting animals'.

5 pictures above: Another classic Neapolitan macaroni scene is the now defunct street stalls that cooked and sold macaronis for Napoli's populace right on the pavement.

The maccheroni were so important in 19th century Naples that Italian immigrants soon were called les macaronis in France, through a gastronomic metonymy much like the Americans would call them meatballs.

I hope you like these pictures of a bygone era where macaroni-eating lads where the symbol of a whole city's joie de vivre.

Published 09/07/2007
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13 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by parshu narayanan
  • on: 21/07/2007
Thank you for sharing such a vivid and fascinating slice of history. I felt I was walking along a street in 19th Century Naples. Alas, the dust, the poor children, the pi-dogs and the street food all mixed up is all too easy for a 21st century Indian to imagine.
  • #2
  • Comment by Macha
  • on: 22/07/2007
The pictures are wonderful! Great article!
  • #3
  • Comment by Steamy Kitchen
  • on: 24/07/2007
Once again, you've captured my heart with your words!  Love this post.
  • #4
  • Comment by Lyra
  • on: 24/07/2007
There must be some special technique to getting the pasta down your throat without burning yourself or dropping it in the dirt....I take it the food stands had plates but no forks in those days. I wonder why that is.
  • #5
  • Comment by biz
  • on: 30/07/2007
I believe the practice of eating pasta with the hands may reflect an era when Neapolitan culture unconsciously showed more of its "eastern" influences, prior to the  unification of Italy. To this day, old school Neapolitans  and traditionalists will eat their pizza with their hands. That is to say that it is unsliced, left whole. They do it by tearing the whole pizza apart and breaking off small pieces that are then sometimes dipped in the oil and sauce on top. No forks, no knives, and no pizza wheels.
  • #6
  • Comment by BINIAM
  • on: 22/09/2007
DEAR SIRI WANT TO BUY PASTA AND MACARONI MACHINERIES PLEASE SEND YOUR COMPANY PRODACTES PHOTO AND SIZE.BEST REGARDSBINIAM
  • #7
  • Comment by alex
  • on: 18/11/2007
Loved your article and the pics. I was wondering where you got the photo's from.Thanks and well done on such a great site.
  • #8
  • Comment by Farace
  • on: 01/02/2008
Acquaintances of mine would have me believe that I'm the only person in the world that collects postcards of people selling and eating macaroni. Now I see that I certainly am not. You have several I've never even seen. I find them fascinating for several reasons, not the least of which are that my great-grandfather was foreman of a pasta factory in Minori, Italy (near Amalfi) before WWI, and that I get to see some of the poverty of southern Italy from around that time; I get a small glimpse into how my family might have lived and what they left behind when my widowed great-grandmother brought my grandfather to the US in 1916.And now that I've seen this, I'm going to have to look at the rest of your site. Thanks!
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 02/02/2008
Farace, I am glad to find a fellow mangiamaccheroni-postcards collector! Do you have any such postcard you could not see on my webpage? They must evoke vivid images for you if your grand father oversaw macaroni production lagių on the Amalfi Coast! Thanks for the visit anyway!
  • #10
  • Comment by Hazem
  • on: 24/01/2009
Hi, i love the mangiamaccheroni posters, i am in naples and want to buy some of those posters but can't find any.  Have walked around the old city but no luck.  Is there any specific place you might know i can buy some of these posters?
Great Article
Thank you
Hazem
  • FX's answer→ Hazem, sorry but I wouldn't know.

  • #12
  • Comment by Adel Younis
  • on: 23/04/2009
Hi,
Nice article about how macaroni had started and development that ensued , but kindly will you help me with your valuable opinion about how to make good macaroni free of defects since I tried my best to do good macaroni in my own pasta factory with no good result , many defects ,I mention some now :
1)Deformed figures for instnace the tube figure which it looks like open-ended cylinders not with circular ends.
2) the macaroni produced is not with good smooth texture ,rather it looks plain rough on the surface.
3)it doesnt withstand overcooking , it breaks soon when get boiled ,
I would highly appreciate your help
with best regards
sincerly yours
Adel Younais
  • FX's answer→ Adel I am not sure about making a large amount of macaroni in a factory, most I make is kilogram at a time. Dessication is very important, you need to dry them very slowly or they will break. Have you tried adding a little olive oil in the mixture? Roughness of the surface is a desirable quality when it comes out of a bronze die, as the sauce sticks better to the pasta. How long do you knead the dough before extruding? Have you tried using more or less water? Do you use any eggs?


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