Spaghetti alla carbonata

Carbonata, carbonara, what's the difference?

Ask anyone with a passing interest in the history of Italian food about the origins of spaghetti alla carbonara and you'll likely get one of two answers. Coal miners (more properly, charcoal burners) or American GIs adding bacon and eggs to pasta in 1944. The very erudite might cite a mention for pasta with egg and cheese in an 1839 book by Ippolito Cavalcanti.1 Heck, if you had asked me before breakfast this morning, I would probably have cited the charcoal burners. I now know better, thanks to a couple of fascinating pieces by Jeremy Parzen.

I won't steal his thunder; read for yourself his new theory for the origins and name of the dish, which I happened across because he recently published a kind of update, talking about the influence of returning emigrants on Italian cuisine. While you're there marvel, as I did, at the offensive tenacity with which people hold on to the things they "know" to be true, despite being presented with actual evidence of a more plausible account. More plausible to me, at any rate.

Carbonara did not really surface in my recent podcast with Maureen Fant, co-author of Sauces and Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way, except as a once-fashionable dish. And there's no real need to know exactly where the dish came from in order to enjoy it. But it will give me something to discuss as I daintily twirl a delicious strand or two.

  1. Alas, the via Cavalcanti around the corner commemorates a 13th century poet, troubadour and influence on his best friend Dante Alighieri. 

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