Spaghetti Bolognese . . . isn’t spaghetti, and isn’t Bolognese

Looks like the foodie wars are still raging.

“It is strange to be famous all over the world for a dish that isn’t ours,” [the Mayor of Bologna, Virginio Merola] told the Telegraph. “Of course we are happy that it draws attention to our city, but we would prefer to be known for the quality food that is part of our culinary tradition.”

The succulent, meat-filled triangular tortellini for example, or even mortadella, a deli pork meat that has inspired knock off products known as “baloney” – and often spelled “Bologna” – in the US.

Under the leaning towers and pastel porticoes of the city known for good food, leftist politics and its ancient university, it is a colossal foodie faux pas to ask for Spaghetti Bolognese.

Waiters grimace, look perplexed and repeatedly explain to tourists that the dish they are referring to is locally called Tagliatelle al Ragù, or Tagliatelle Bolognese, a flat, handmade egg dough pasta covered in a slow-cooked meat sauce that also has bits of celery, carrots, onions, tomato sauce, slowly simmered with wine.

Spaghetti Bolognese has sparked heated online controversies as exasperated Italians try to defend the proper Ragù alla Bolognese – with tomatoes and red wine as key ingredients.

Viewers complained vociferously on social media in 2017 when Mary Berry, former Great British Bake Off star, made the Italian classic on her BBC Two show using garlic and adding thyme and cream.

Had she attended the Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2016, Ms Berry would have been forewarned that herbs were a no-no by Italian gastronomy expert Antonio Carluccio.

“When you think Italy, you start to put oregano, basil, parsley, garlic, which is not at all [right],” Mr Carluccio told festival participants.

Not only are there no herbs nor garlic, it simply cannot just be slathered on just any kind of pasta. Bolognese Ragù is one of the chunkier sauces, hence served with sturdier pastas like tagliatelle or tortellini, but, ironically, never spaghetti.

There’s more at the link.

I don’t know how many truly authentic regional cuisines have survived.  For example, I’ve eaten Indian food (under the catch-all name of “curry”) in over a dozen countries, and it’s been subtly (or less subtly) different in every one of them.  What’s more, a lot of it has been cooked by Indian people, so there’s no cultural appropriation involved!  As for Italian food, South Africa has a very rich heritage in that regard, stemming from the tens of thousands of Italian prisoners-of-war who were detained in that country during World War II;  but again, variations have crept in until “real” Italians might be astonished to find some of the dishes under their traditional names.  I don’t mind – I just enjoy it all!

As for spaghetti, I’m not going to get involved in the war of words.  I want my pasta with no strings attached.

(Aaaand . . . if one is taken prisoner in the food war over spaghetti, is one in durum vile?)



  1. Oddly enough, in the midst of Louisiana's "gumbo wars', skirmishes in the Cajun versus Creole warfare, we also have a very sizable Italian heritage, New Orleans being a major immigration entry point a hundred years ago.

    Mom's best friend married an second-generation American of Italian origin and his 'spaghetti sauce', amazingly close to the ragu listed in this post, was memorable.

    1. New Orleans was the site of the largest lynching in US history — with Italians the target. There was especially a lot of dislike for Sicilians, some of whom had already made a name for themselves as proto-mobsters and killers.

  2. I had a neighbor who was from China, and he was adamant that American "Chinese food" had no resemblance to the sort of food you get in China.

  3. @Borepatch: Having worked in a Chinese restaurant, that's exactly right. The food we ate for dinner bore no resemblance at all to the food we served the guests.

    Last year I was in China. Eating was a trick; as a Jew who makes a "spirited attempt" to keep kosher while on the road, it wasn't easy. Everything – EVERYTHING – had pork in it, whether the meat, or the grease. At some point I had to close my eyes, pray, and say "Hashem, at least I'm TRYING here…"

  4. Oh. If I sneak into an Italian restaurant and start cooking, does that make me an im-pasta? Noodle on that question.

  5. Some of my favorite books were by an Aussie posing as Italian immigrant Nino Culotta and describing his adventures in Australia and other places. There was some discussion of Eytie food in a few of the books and from same wellspring you cite for South Africa.

    I still have "They're a Weird Mob" but I'd like to find "Gone Fishin" again since that was enjoyable. It's been 40 years but it feels like yesterday.

  6. This insistence on 'pure' food culture garbage is very interesting. Funny how 'allowable' foods and ingredients are very much linked to 75-100 years ago at the most.

    It's like they don't understand that people like evolving and changing…

  7. Sounds a lot like Cajun country, where Bordeaux and Thibideaux will come to blows over how much pepper is supposed to be in green onion sausage.

    My mom's family came from Italy – It's a bunch of different regions that all cook differently. Think of America. Is steamed Maine Lobster "American"? Yep. Just like smoked brisket in Texas is "American". And deep fried cheese curds from Wisconsin are "American". But they're all just about as different as can be. Same with Italian food. Food from Milan bears almost no resemblance to food from Palermo. But it's all Italian.

  8. Most of what we think of as "ethnic foods" were in fact the foods that could be afforded by the peasants and lower class workers. When those people immigrated to the USA they brought their style of cooking with them but modified the ingredients based on what was available. As the immigrants prospered, more meat got added to the mix. In addition, at least in the smaller cities and rural areas The "Great American Melting Pot" had Italian, Slavic, French, Anglo, Asian and Hispanic (and others) women sharing recipes, techniques, and ingredients. The result was cuisine that kept a certain ethnic style but with a distinctly American twist.

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