Don’t Even Make Pasta

A short essay by Haruki Murakami, from the book Murakami Radio.

I got my driver’s license when I was living in Italy. I learned to drive on the notoriously crazy streets of Rome. What that meant – and those of you who have been to Rome might know what I mean – that ordinary roads were a breeze. The streets of Rome are more thrilling, chaotic, exciting, and headache inducing than any other big city in the world. They provide you with winding joy. If you doubt me I highly encourage you to go rent a car in Rome and see for yourself.

Italian drivers are known for sticking their heads out of their car windows when they get mad, yelling and gesticulating with their hands. All while they continue to drive! One time my friend was driving and we got stuck behind this old lady who was just crawling as slow as possible down the road. When he passed her, he rolled down his window (and when I say roll down I mean he had to furious crank the manual window lever) and screamed, “Signora, get off the road, don’t even make pasta!” Intolerance for one’s fellow driver is another hallmark of the Italian driver.

I couldn’t help but sympathize with the old lady. Maybe she had to go somewhere for a basic necessity. Maybe she went home and broke down crying, right there in front of her son, standing in the kitchen as the pasta boiled over. He said, “Some guy must have told you to get off the road and to not even make pasta again, huh?” How sad. It would be like someone telling a Japanese person that they were too stupid to cook daikon.

It’s incredible how delicious Italian pasta is. I know, it’s obvious. You’re asking yourself why anyone would call that “incredible,” but I’ll stand by it. It’s incredible because every country that touches Italy makes bad pasta. Cross the border from Italy to one of its neighbors and the pasta’s terrible. Borders are weird. And every time I return to Italy I’m overcome by the realization that Italian pasta is delicious all over again. These sorts of “total rediscoveries” form the skeletal structure of life.

There’s a high standard for pasta at Italian restaurants in Tokyo. I’m impressed with how well they can execute foreign cuisine. But when I come back to Japan from a trip, it’s not the kind of delicious perfection that I can ever hope will spark one of those “total rediscovery” moments.

They say that the air where food is made is one of the most important ingredients. I couldn’t agree more.