Carbonara wars – France versus Italy

Traditional carborara. Courtesy
The Italians take food – especially carbonara – very seriously.

Imagine a world in which a mistake goes viral.

Imagine the mistake being mocked all over the internet. Imagine newspapers like The Guardian talking about it, and trying to put their spin on it. Imagine this news making more noise than international politics, economic policies and even — this is weird – sports. No, it is not covfefe. It is pasta alla carbonara — the French way. 

What I will call the incriminating YouTube video demonstrates a quick French recipe for carbonara that involves putting sliced onions, diced pancetta and Barilla Farfalle in a pot filled with water and cooking this for 15 minutes. The dish is then garnished with crème fraiche (mon Dieu) cheese, salt and pepper and parsley and served with a raw egg on top. 

If you are wondering why all this matters, let’s just say the Italians and the French have been fighting for culinary supremacy — in cheese and wine particularly — since basically forever. French cheesecake is denser, creamier; Italian cheesecake, made with ricotta, lighter and lemony even. Vive la différence, you might say with the French.

But the difference lies in the culinary boundaries. Italians have never been so presumptuous as to demonstrate how to make Crêpes Suzette. To all of us Italians, it was as if the French had crossed a line. Things got serious, as the trending hashtag #CarbonaraGate testified.

There have been, of course, quite a lot of Italian video responses to the “mistake,” from renowned chefs to popular YouTubers and local newspapers. Indeed, the legacy of the mistake remains: Italians have started an online war against different websites that create popular culinary content, among them Tasty by Buzzfeed, and basically anyone who dares call his recipes “Italian.” There even exists a Facebook page, translated into “Italian-American Decay,” which, according to its description, “Welcomes you to the world of Italian food interpreted by Americans — ready to get scared?” 

All in all, food to us Italians is not a necessity. It is an art. We do not like to feed ourselves. We love to eat. And, perhaps, I dare say, if we are one of the healthiest nations in the world, we are entitled to set an example.

Just to crunch some data, not only are Italians considered the slimmest people in Europe, Italy is the only European country where the average weight has dropped since 1980. And yet, we manage to avoid dieting, we eat carbs every day, and we even enjoy a daily glass of one of our amazing wines. 

If you ask me, a random Italian, or celebrity chefs such as Gino D’Acampo, the tricks are quite simple, ranging from switching to extra virgin olive oil, eating regularly good amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, limiting portions and varying the type of protein intake. Last but not least, the secret that no super diet book is telling you is this: Take your time to prepare and cook your own meal. And here comes my sincere hope and my wish for this column.

Italians become haters on websites such as Tasty because people try to “ruin our dishes,” as in pineapple on pizza, pasta with cream and chicken and so on. But there is a stronger, subtler reason: We cannot stand express-cooking. As I said before, Italians love eating as a journey, even if it’s one taken solo. They love the vorfreude (German for “anticipation”) of mixing and matching ingredients in the most sacred room of the home — the kitchen.

Therefore, as an Italian, here is my piece of advice to these creators of cooking content all over the internet, which, especially in the U.S., is gaining increasing popularity day by day. With great power comes great responsibility. Use this power wisely. In a country in which more than 120,000 avoidable deaths are caused by obesity every year and where obesity-related health care costs exceed ones related to drinking and smoking, even the smallest effort toward prevention is important. A platform like Tasty, which enjoys millions of daily views, has the power many doctors, nutritionists or personal trainers do not possess — the power to influence. I’m not saying viewers should heed the haters and stick to Italian traditional recipes. But they ought to mine the diamonds in the rough amid the enraged comments.

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