Ciao, foodies! It’s time for a little quiz question. What’s the one dish that you simply have to try in Rome?
If just thinking about the gastronomic delights of Italy makes you drool like Pavlov’s dogs, I’m sure this question was too easy for you: of course, the answer is Spaghetti Carbonara, an all-time favourite among locals and tourists alike.
Although you’d probably recognise this distinctive dish’s heavenly smell and taste in your sleep, where does it come from? (No, the answer may not actually be Rome.) And what does carbonara mean? Let me tell you about the potential origins of this world-famous speciality.
A Mysterious History
Although it’s hard to imagine life without Spaghetti Carbonara, it’s not as traditional and historic as you may think. There’s actually no recorded trace of its existence before the mid-twentieth century! If this is surprising to you, just wait: this spaghetti sensation gets even more intriguing when you’ve heard its puzzling back-story. No one knows for sure where it came from, but there are several fascinating theories. Let’s take a look at my favourites.
While Spaghetti Carbonara is closely associated with Rome today, it’s possible that it originated in the Apennine Mountains, where coal miners – who were known as Carbonari – nourished themselves with this easy-to-make and very filling dish after a long day of work. Consequently, the word carbonara may refer to the dish’s beginnings among this group of workers.
The second theory claims that American troops are partially responsible for creating this culinary delight during World War II. After Rome was liberated in 1944, it’s said that Americans gave bacon, powdered eggs and pasta to starving citizens. The supporters of this premise claim that the dish’s name derives from its black pepper shavings, which Italians added to flavour the pasta and which bore a resemblance with little pieces of coal. While that theory’s definitely fun, it goes without saying that it sounds a bit far-fetched. But who’s to say what’s true?
Preparation and Variations
If you’re a pasta fanatic like me, you’ll know that making Spaghetti Carbonara is surprisingly straightforward. The traditional version only makes use of a few simple ingredients: pasta, pancetta, black pepper, eggs and Pecorino Romano cheese. In recent years, however, eager gastronomists have come up with a variety of exciting variations, adding artichokes (another specialty of Rome), cream, peas and even lemon zest to the recipe.
Although it’s easy enough to whip up a hearty portion of pasta for yourself, every Italophile knows that trying Spaghetti Carbonara in its country (and potential city) of origin is an absolute must. So why not savour the flavours of this iconic dish – and get inspired to make it more at home – on your next holiday in Rome? Trust me: you won’t regret it. Buon appetito!