Guess I’ll go eat worms

A follow-up to my posting on the 23rd, “Two Thanksgiving meals”, in which one of the meals had as its main dish vermicelli Singapore-style, with rice vermicelli as the base. So now I’m all about vermicelli.

Warming up to the pasta topic, let’s consider Zesty Anderson Davis consuming some string pasta made from wheat:

(#1) #2 in a 6/23/13 posting, showing Zesty AD sucking up worms (well, spaghetti) in a panoply of sexual imagery
(#2) Abasement, comfort food, or oral sex?


A bit more of the children’s song in #2:

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me,
Guess I’ll go eat worms,
Long, thin, slimy ones; Short, fat, juicy ones,
Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy wuzzy worms.

There are both American and British versions of this childish gross-out song, going back at least to the 1930s. (You can watch a performance by Charles Van Deursen here.)

The pasta watch. I’ll use the term pasta as a general term for edible starch pastes, extruded, pressed, or cut into various shapes and then cooked, usually by boiling in water. Two major dimensions of classification: by source of the starch (here, I’ll talk about wheat, rice, and mung beans, but there are other possibilities); and by shape (here, I’ll talk only about string pastas — long, thin, solid, round in cross-section — which are differently named according to cross-sectional diameter).

(There are lots of other dimensions, for instance: whether the pastas are dried before cooking, or are cooked fresh; whether other ingredients are added to the paste, for flavor or color; and for string pastas, whether the strings are cooked whole or broken into short pieces.)

The canonical string pasta of wheat is spaghetti (spaghetti is the plural of the diminutive of It. spago ‘string’). Wikipedia on vermicelli:

Vermicelli (lit. “little worms”) is a traditional type of [wheat string] pasta round in section similar to spaghetti. In Italy vermicelli is slightly thicker than spaghetti, but in the United States it is instead slightly thinner [one way of looking at this difference is that the US usage privileges the diminutive in the name vermicelli, while the Italian usage privileges the worm in the name: the worms we’re aware of dealing with in everyday life, like the earthworm in #2, are relatively thick when viewed as pasta analogues].

… In East Asia, the term rice vermicelli [with metaphorical vermicelli] is often used to describe the thin rice noodles popular in China, also known as bee hoon in Hokkien Chinese, mai fun in Cantonese Chinese, [and other names in Thai, Burmese, and Vietnamese]. The term vermicelli may also refer to [metaphorical] vermicelli made from mung bean [often referred to as bean thread or cellophane noodles], which is translucent when cooked, whereas rice vermicelli turns whitish when cooked. Mung bean vermicelli is commonly used in Chinese cuisine. In contrast, misua is vermicelli that is made of wheat instead of rice. While superficially similar to bee hoon it has a very different texture and different culinary uses as well.

The Italian usage: vermicelli 2.08-2.14 mm; spaghetti 1.92-2.00 mm; then in descending order, vermicellini (the name is a double diminutive); fidelini (It. diminutive of Sp. fideo ‘noodle’); capellini / capelli d’angelo / angel hair

The US usage: spaghetti 1.5-2.8 mm (thin spaghetti is spaghettini; the name is a double diminutive); vermicelli < 1.5 mm.

In all of this, capellini is the thinnest. From Wikipedia:

(#3)

(#4)

Capellini (literally “little hairs”) is a very thin variety of Italian pasta, with a diameter between 0.85 and 0.92 millimetres… Like spaghetti, it is rod-shaped, in the form of long strands.

Capelli d’angelo (literally angel hair — hence, “angel hair pasta” in English) is a thinner variant with a diameter between 0.78 and 0.88 millimetres (0.031 and 0.035 in). It is often sold in a nest-like shape. Capelli d’angelo has been popular in Italy since at least the 14th century. As a very light pasta, it goes well in soups or with seafood or light sauces.

Capellini and other very thin pastas (fidelini, vermicelli) are often packaged as nests (#3) rather than rods (#4), so that they don’t break apart so easily:

(#5)

The Barilla company number-codes most of its string pastas, from capellini no.1 through spaghettini no.3, spaghetti no.5, vermicellini / spaghettoni (an augmentative of a diminutive) no. 7, and vermicelli no.8.

Rice vermicelli and bean thread are so thin that they are almost always sold in bundles or nests:

(#6) Rice vermicelli in bundles

(#7) Bean thread in bundles

On cellophane noodles, from Wikipedia:

Cellophane noodles (also known as Chinese vermicelli, bean threads, bean thread noodles, crystal noodles, potato noodles, or glass noodles) are a type of transparent noodle made from starch (such as mung bean starch, yam, potato starch, cassava, canna or batata starch) and water.

They are generally sold in dried form, soaked to reconstitute, then used in soups, stir fried dishes, or spring rolls. They are called “cellophane noodles” or “glass noodles” because of their appearance when cooked, resembling cellophane, a clear material of a translucent light gray or brownish-gray color.

Cellophane noodles are generally round, and are available in various thicknesses.

… Cellophane noodles should not be confused with rice vermicelli, which are made from rice and are white in color rather than clear (after cooking in water).

Rice vermicelli and bean thread are quite similar, though their tastes and textures aren’t identical, and could in principle be used interchangeably (though the custom is for certain dishes to have particular pastas). Very thin wheat pastas could also substitute, but they’re thicker and softer than the rice and mung bean pastas and have a more pronounced taste, so some adjustments would have to be made.

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