Mangiamaccheroni - Neapolitan Macaroni EatersHome >> Experiences
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.