It’s Gravy Dammit!

Growing up in an Italian household was never without its challenges… your extended family was larger than your homeroom in school – there’s still relatives I don’t recognize on the street and some I’ve never met. Trying to explain to your Wonderbread eating friends what calamad [calamari] was and why anyone would willingly eat squid was never an easy thing. Having peanut butter and Fluff in school was considered an exotic meal – my grandfather would have tried to Spackle walls with Fluff before thinking to eat it. In fact, there was usually a difficult moment during the daily trips to the school cafeteria: even when they had Italian food, there was a communication barrier.

“What do you mean you want gravy on your pasta?”

My mom ran a pretty progressive Italian kitchen. We never stuck to only Italian food during the week – some Wop families have nothing but pasta seven days a week – and she brought in a varying amount of food styles. Including Chinese food and stir-frying – there’s no way I would have developed my love of Asian food without having been exposed to it early on.

But Sundays were reserved for pasta. Sometimes just linguini, sometimes it was ziti – other times ravioli or even manicotti on occasion. Always with meat – sausage and/or meatballs – and always a tomato sauce. And that sauce was always… always called gravy. Alfredo sauce. Pesto sauce. Gravy on your macaroni.

And so when my elementary school offered a pasta dish to me, they asked me if I wanted more sauce on it. What the hell was sauce? After a few back-and-forths, I finally figured it out, and said “Oh, gravy – yes, please,” which confused the hell outta the woman with the ladle.

After this, whenever I identified another Italian in the world, I would ask them “gravy or sauce?” In Connecticut, the answer came back gravy more often than not… and when it was a “not” it turned out that they were not as Italian as advertised. When I spent some time on Long Island, this question often led into a knockdown, violent fight, particularly with a certain Sicilian lass – she maintained that it was sauce, and not gravy.

Oddly enough, this argument can finally be put to rest. I submit a photo taking at a local Fred Meyer:

It’s not often that I say it – I usually don’t think it’s right to so – but this time, it’s warranted… I was right!


101 thoughts on “It’s Gravy Dammit!”

  1. I will make you some gravy. It is generally brown in color and made with the leftover grease from frying chicken.


    I got confused the first time I heard about gravy when i first moved out here to CT from KS.

      1. Gravy is Italian America slang. Gravy is an English word not Italian. Wow! How amazing that people still think it’s gravy. Lol

        1. Um, so if it’s an English word and we’re Italian Americans, doesn’t that *support* the claim that it should be gravy?

          Thanks for supporting my claim :)

          1. You forgot to mention how you didn’t actually grow up “Italian” but rather “Italian-American” because, trust me, there is a HUGE difference between the two. If you were raised Italian in America, you were raised to be adapted into the American society. If you were raised in Italy, then you have a better understanding of Italian culture/lifestyle and the language. Just because your family is Italian does not mean you understand the Italian culture. The Italians that migrated to America were trying to adapt to the American culture. Being “Italian-American” has become a race of its own, because it has evolved into a life of its own. Please educate yourself more about how different these cultures are before you make bold statements like that.

          2. Growing up Italian-American is different than Italian yet you are assuming that I know nothing of Italian culture or the language. Like how the language and culture differs dramatically from city to city, because the nation wasn’t united until close to 100 years after America was formed. That the Florence dialect is so dramatically different that it’s almost a different language, thanks to the soft c’s. Or that the nation seems to continually re-elect the same Prime Minister over and over again. Or that they believe that you can be retried for the same crime, if acquitted the first time.

            Just because it’s not gravy for you Italian family for where you are from, it doesn’t mean it’s the same from the Alps to Catanzaro.

            Further as an American, people don’t need to make education to make bold statements, as is evidenced in the press on a daily basis.

            But I will check out those videos – that does sound interesting – so thanks for those.

          3. Things got a bit touchy in the comments here! I find that highly amusing – apparently it really IS an emotionally charged issue for Italian-Americans. I am not Italian, so I presumed that it was a regional difference kind of like “soda” “pop” or “coke” for that fizzy drink they give you with your fast food meal. People all have different words they say, those words correspond to the region you grew up in, but we all find it kind of amusing and quirky, and never emotional.

            Anyway, slate looked into this in depth, and nobody is absolutely correct, although some of you have pointed out some of the factors that influence which one a person was taught to say growing up.


  2. Well it’s not *our* fault that people in Kansas are so confused about the issue :)

    On another note, it wasn’t until I moved to WA that I first heard the term eye-talian in real life… I had always assumed it was a movie thing.

  3. Slightly OT but – my adult step-brother and family arrived from mainland China just in time for Thanksgiving dinner one year. They watched carefully (as we all do in a new culture) as the food was passed. I didn’t have the heart to correct them after they copied me putting gravy (the brown kind) on turkey, potatoes, and dressing- and salad and cranberry sauce…etc. I figured everything was going to taste unusual to them anyway and why embarass them.

    They have paid me back since- who serves boiled peanut soup and calls it dessert? It’s not HoHOs and Mudpie icecream cake!

  4. Gravy is a sauce made with dripings from meat. To make a good Italian Sunday GRAVY you must start with

    Meat. Meatballs, sausage, pork & if you are very lucky Beef Brocolla. The meat is browned in a large sauce pan and then the meat is removed and the other ingrediants are added to the same pan using the meat drippings to make the GRAVY.

    If all you are doing is heating up some tomatoes & vegetables you indeed are making tomato sauce but please don’t call it gravy.

  5. If it’s red and it’s over pasta, it’s Gravy.

    Now, oddly enough, if we were making pasta in my family for Sunday lunch/dinner, we did start with pork. Then added sausage and meatballs to it. I dunno what vegetables are: onion and garlic are spices :D

  6. I don’t understand why anyone would call it gravy.

    I was born in italy and came here when I was 5

    and it’s called Salsa/sauce.

    It does not matter if you put 15 pounds of meat in it, if you are using tomatos it is called sauce.

  7. You do know that gravy is an Italian/American term, NOT and Italian term. Even then, it is only really in NJ, RI, and part of NYC and Boston. So Randy, you are wrong.

  8. You’re entitled to your opinion John. But since this picture was taken in western Washington, I’d say yer just plain wrong. :)

  9. its gravy anyone who is a true italian knows its gravy sauce is in a can or bbq sauce as soon as u put the meatballs or sausauge or any meat it becomes gravy so u people who want to call it sauce ur nuts and probaby only eat ragu pasta ang gravy thats what it is

  10. I have to say that I have personally never in my life, heard anyone call sauce, gravy. I’m italian, born in the US. My parents were born and raised in Italy. Never in their lives have they ever called sauce gravy. Noone in my family has every used the term gravy in that manner either. I’m not nuts, have always made my own sauce. Never used Ragu either. Gravy isnt something that goes over pasta.

  11. My wife and I will continue to have a lifelong battle on whether its sauce or gravy. I thank you for this article, it helps back me up a little, but my wife still says it’s sauce.

  12. I am from NY, hubby is from NJ. Both Italian, parents off the boat. His from Sicily mine from Ancona. I have always heard known it as sauce. I always thought “gravy” was what the Americans called it- just like they say eye-talian and eye-rack. I don’t know. If you hear my relatives pronounce things like cappicola and cavatelli and ricotta etc. it sounds a heck of a lot more like it is spelled than the way Americans say it. Listen to the way food is pronounced by Tony and the rest of the Sopranos. Cappicola becomes Gabba-ghoul. WTH? It’s Brooklyn Italian which is 4th+ generation street diction. (no offence) In Italian you stress the second to last syllable and I guess they over-did it over the generations until it morphed into it’s own word. try it with a few words. You’ll see. When you grow up calling something like that and your whole family does as well, you have to ask for Gabba-Ghoul if you want a sandwich.

  13. By the way- just a question….

    Why would GRAVY be an Italian word when there is no English-like “G” in Italian. In the Italian alphabet the only time the G is pronounced hard (as in God) is when it is before the letters a, o, u. Not r. (And e and i need an h after the g to make it hard, as opposed to the soft regular)


  14. Hmmm… Not sure if my comment went through or not…

    Just wanted to tell your “Sicilian lass” that my dad was born on Long Island, and raised in Queens. To our whole family, it was tomato gravy and macaroni. Look, I even posted on it!

    It IS an Italian-American thing, yes. I’d also like to point out to some of the commenters that “real Italians” don’t say “gravy” OR “sauce…” since they are both ENGLISH WORDS.

    Thanks for the post… And the laughs!

  15. Gravy is made from the juices of meat. Unless you have tomatoes that are meat you have tomato sauce. You can call it gravy but technically it is not.

  16. gravy is something that goes on pot roast and is brown. Italian americans , who usually have no connection with their italian culture other than food, call it “gravy”. these same people regardless of the locale of their descent in italy cut off the ends of italian words like “calamad” (calamari) and have no clue that is a neopolitan dialect of eliminating last vowel.

    i think episode of sopranos did it best (which i really dont like show), they go to italy and pauly asks waiter for gravy and he is like “grapes” , and they joke what a piece of crap disgrace this guy is.

    All you gravy followers, meat added or not, go to italy and ask for gravy they will laugh at you!

  17. Sweeping assumptions make you look like an ass :)

    I’m very aware of the fallen vowel, but since my father’s side is from Naples and it’s common among New York transplants. In fact, there were many a times when I’ve teased my grandparents about not being able to buy a vowel.

    Aside from that, I find it ballsy that you can say “go to Italy” when all of the different regions of Italy have *such* differences between their local cultures.

    Beyond that, Mr. All Gravy Is Brown, what goes on biscuits eh? Biscuits and White Sauce, is it?

    And WTF, not liking the Sopranos? What a disgrace.

  18. Ok, Im 3rd gen Italian. Gpa was right off the boat. Baggio Pettinato. That Sicilian enuff for ya? lol.

    Nobody im my family ever, ever called it gravy. That was somehting that was brown and you put on turkey and over potatos on thanksgiving.

    Also, proscuitto is horribly mispronounced, ala gabbaghoul, lol.. Can I get a a pound of bra-zoot. What the hell is a bra-zoot? Sopressada is another victim.

    I have lived in Southern NJ and Philly and you have peeps there that swear its gravy. It aint.

    Oh, my family was from the Ocean Ave/Ave U section of Brooklyn. So I know what Im talking about.

    Ill also go three sewers on your butt at stickball, lol.


  19. all ur posts on this site make u look like a stronzo… my point is despite all differences within italy, NO one calls it gravy. What are you talkin about biscuits for? who cares what goes on biscuits ! if you take everything and nit pick , sure not all gravy is brown, u got me. i think you got the jist of what i meant. As for disgraces, maybe if you enjoy hollywood making your culture look like a bunch of retard, womanizing druggies who cant speak, with no class or intelligence, then of course you like the sopranos. the show really helped with stereotyping italians even further.

    go cook some more biscuits…

  20. And another dancing pagliacci enters the room. Dude, you’re so wrapped up in your “if it’s on TV, it MUST be true” mentality with this Italian stereotype bit, I don’t even know how to reply to you. One thing on the “nit pick” – arguments are won and lost in detail. When you say “all” and it’s obviously not all, your point is wrong – nothing more and nothing less.

    On the rest of yer ranting, what I will say is that I’ve always taken pride in the fact that Italians have thick skins, a great sense of humor, and the ability to not act like other nationalities and whine about how other people see the culture as a whole. You’re single handedly destroying that… very much like Elliot in the show you don’t like. Take a deep breath and try not to take yourself so serious because frankly, you sound like a bitchy old woman, complaining about things you shouldn’t be giving a second thought to.

    After all, by this mindset, should we think that people have super powers, like they do in Heroes? Women are really bionic if they have limbs replaced? That everyone in California acts like they do in Californication or Entorage? Or that all undertakers have a chaotic, gay, drug filled life, as they did in 6′ Under?

    Jeez, man, get some perspective.

  21. i want to the giada show and the audience was fliping about the gravy or the sauce saying anyway my family says gravy and many other italian i have know say gravy,giada says sauce and everyone start screaming yeah i was like i gravy and thats it always will

  22. Hey Randino! Is this argument still going on? Hey, lemme back in there.

    First of all, I’m sick of people calling themselves “real” Italians harping on Italian Americans and dismissing their culture. You’re right, it isn’t the same as yours. If you go to Italy, you get the same thing — infighting. Northern Italians saying Sicilians aren’t real Italians; they just speak broken Italian. Well, it’s a separate place, and a separate way of speaking. Go to New Orleans and tell those people they are speaking “corrupt French,” and tell them how ignorant you think they are. They’ll shove a beignet up your ass, and you’ll deserve it. When people travel to different regions and are put to different circumstances, they are a different culture. No it isn’t your thing: it’s cosa nostra.

    Secondly, how can people say they’ve met so many people who call it gravy, but no one calls it gravy? You’re proving yourselves wrong. Some people do. It’s obvious, or this argument wouldn’t exist, would it?

    And stop saying you have to say “sauce” in Italy. Like I said before, that’s an English word. The phrase is salsa di pomodoro, if anything. And by the way, the general translation of the phrase “tomato gravy” is the SAME THING. And we DO cook meat in our sauce. Gravy.

    My dad said “soda,” and my friends say “pop.” My Southern relatives call everything “Coke,” which leads to sentences like, “Do you have any orange Coke?” Can’t we all just get along? Some folks in some places say “gravy.” Some say “sauce.” Some say “ketchup” and don’t know what the hell the difference is. Who cares! It’s obviously regional, and familial.

    You say tomato… I say, hey Randy, you rule.

  23. My family calls it gravy, that is the tomato sauce put on top of our pasta is called *gravy*. The brown stuff on mashed potatoes is also called gravy. We’re Sicilian Italian, as well as Naples Italian. I live in Illinois and almost every single Italian person I know refers to tomato sauce as gravy.

  24. Have you ever been to Italy?? NO one is Italy calls it GRAVY! It’s freakin sauce!!!! They would look at you like you have five heads if you asked for gravy on your pasta.

  25. what the hell you folks talkin about?



    you either know how to eat or you dont.

    whats gravy in some places in sauce in others.

    if you cant cook, however, its a mute discussion.

    i figure most of you suck ass.

  26. This always seems to come up- and I always have these funny drawn out arguments with people I work with.

    All four of my grandparents are from Italy and my parents were born in Argentina -(and the cultures have many similarities)they were both raised speaking Italian and Spanish. My grandparents do not even speak english. Never in my life have I heard pasta sauce being referred to as “gravy”. We always knew that gravy is brown and what you put on mashed potatoes etc.. If i asked my grandmother or “Nona” should i say ;) for gravy she would have no idea what i am talking about.

    a co-workers husband is Italian-American and she swears that “real” Italians call it gravy. That’s what pisses me off about the whole thing. I am not saying that just because you dont speak italian or eat pasta every friggin day you are not italian- I am just saying- don’t call it “gravy” and say that you are a “real Italian” and that I am not because you don’t understand that the word “gravy” isn’t even an Italian word.

    thanks folks had to get that out of my system.


  27. It’s obvious that some people who came from Italy started to use the English work “gravy” for when they cooked down tomatoes with meat.

    Both sets of my grandparents came here in the early 1900’s. I only know and I guess it’s from them and then my parents to use the word gravy when cooking tomatoes and added meat to it.

    When we don’t use meat in tomatoes we use the word “marinad” (Italian American slang) for marinara.

    As my family called meat with tomatoes gravy, gravy it will always be. So when my kids ask what we are having for dinner—I say gravy.

    I take Italian lessons and this is always a discussion with our Italian teacher originally from Italy. She gets very upset when she hears people say gravy. I told her that since this has become an argument amongst people, it is getting more and more endearing to those of us who say gravy. Thankfully, my “Amedigon” son-in-law now says gravy.

    And don’t get me started on macaroni vs. pasta. It’s macaroni and it takes in every cut of pasta as far as people who say macaroni are concerned.

    Therefore, my kids say what kind of macaroni are you making with the gravy? So, I then say Rigatoni. Although, when I was a kids my best friend growing up would say Rigatons. There they go dropping that vowel again!!!!

  28. i also say gravy and everyone in my family say garvy.I asked my italian neighbor what they say the same as me gravy. i have not met so many italian that say sauce to be honest. when anyone says sauce i assume that they are not italian. I am suprised when they say they are italian.

  29. I grew up in Rochester, NY but also lived in West Virginia. Rochester has a large population of Sicilians and a variety of Italians from various parts of Italy. West Virginia on the other hand had a relatively small population of Italians and those who were there came to work in the coal mines. Among the few Italians who lived in West Virginia, were mostly descendants of early American settlers of English, Welsh, Scotch Irish descent. these people ate “gravy” They had it for breakfast with biscuits; they had it for supper with mashed potatoes or fried chicken. On the other hand, the Italians had their Spaghetti and meatballs with tomato sauce, which in most cases was simply called “suco” or sauce. The same was true in Rochester; the only Italians I ever knew who referred to tomato sauce as gravy were from New York City and Trenton, New Jersey. I don’t think it’s incorrect any way you want to say it; however it does seem to be colloquial. In West Virginia they call a paper bag a “poke”. When I arrived in Rochester, I asked the lady in the grocery store to put my items in a poke please. She looked at me like i just landed from Mars. I realized very quickly that I was speaking a different language and quickly learned to speak the language of Rochester. I have also since learned not to order White Hots (hot dogs) in New York City! Rochester is the place for White Hots and Spaghetti Sauce. Remember Ragu? That originated in Rochester.Hey, the differences around the country is what makes us American!

  30. OK now we have it clear.

    Gravy is brown and thickened meat juices.

    Sauce is, whatever, but just to be certain if you’re Italian a liquid tomato over pasta is gravy.

    So can we talk about cheese now?

    Specifically Alfredo.

    Sauce or Gravy?

  31. Well, this at least confirms what i’ve also thought..Italians are very agreeable;) For the record, my wife and I both grew up in South NJ and her Italian family calls it Gravy, mine Sauce..Go figure. Enjoyed reading both sides of the argument.

  32. it is sauce. people in south philly started calling it gravy and this was made up. it is sauce and always will be sauce. if it wasnt for the philadelphians in south philly this argument would not even exist.

  33. I just called a guy from our Italian office. It’s sauce.

    He also says, all Italian’s should leave the vowels at the end of Mozzarella.

  34. 1st generation canadian

    my parents are from Calabria. i go back to italy every other year . No kids yet , but i will be damned if they do not go back every year let alone every other . i would put them up for adoption if they ever uttered the word ‘gravy’ in place of ‘sugo ‘

    Nobody, i mean nobody ,in Toronto ever , ever called it “gravy”

    its sacreligous, its ridiculous. any restaurant in toronto that called it ‘gravy’ would surely be out of business in two days .

    if i walked into a restaurant and the waiter called it gravy i would walk out

    if i ever referred to it as gravy my grandfather would come back from the dead and stab me

    e importante che manteniamo la cultura!!!!!

    geeeezus, i hope what happened to the italians in the USA never happens here in toronto . i understand that when u get 3 and 4 generations in it is a challenge but its up to the current generation to fight to maintain the tradition and culture. its still authentic here in toronto thank god , its still traditional .

    olive garden is not italian food jesus christ almighty

    it`s not expresso its espresso

    its not st josephs cake: its ZEPPOLE

    its not gavy, its sugo!

    cooma? what the f*** is a cooma? the term used in Sopranos is not used to describe mistresses anywhere in italy

  35. it’s not gravy.. It’s sauce.. tomato sauce.. not tomato gravy.. do you put sauce on roast beef and gravy on pasta? lol!

  36. Tradition and custom aside for a moment, I wanted to look at the pure etymology of the word ‘gravy’. I did a quick Google search for the word ‘gravy’ and found that there is absolutely no consensus on the definition of the word.

    Cookery (1) calls it “”Gravy – the diluted juices from a roast joint of meat, poultry or game. It is clasically served unthickened and known as jus r�ti, but many prefer the thickened varieties.” By this definition, the stuff we put on biscuits OR roast beef (i.e. white of brown) is NOT “really” gravy, though many prefer thickening, myself included.

    Another web site (2) defines it as “Gravy: Sauce made with the juices of meat, poultry or fish in the pan in which they cooked, with other added liquids and seasonings and possibly flour for thickening”. By this definition, tomato sauce can be called gravy, under the “other liquids and seasonings” clause. By the way, Randy, do you thicken your gravy with flour? I made cheese sauce for linguini with cheese, spices, butter and milk, and thickened it with flour. Does that count as gravy even though it was white?

    New Italian (3) has a very interesting definition, “Gravy � A gravy is an American-style jus that has been thickened with a roux. This roux can be made using butter and flour or by cooking flour into some of the fat skimmed off the jus. Cornstarch mixed with a little water can also be whisked into the jus and the jus brought to a simmer to get the cornstarch to thicken. Once the gravy is thickened, other ingredients, such as herbs or chopped giblets, can be added to it to give it extra flavor. Vegetable purees can also be used to thicken a natural jus and turn it into a flourless gravy. Garlic, roasted along with meats and poultry, or separately, is excellent pureed and whisked into the jus to thicken it.” as well as a definition for salsa, “Salsa � Tomato sauce or other type of sauce flavored with a fairly wide variety of ingredients.” This seems to place the blame for “gravy” squarely on the shoulders of those “Americans”, but then hedges a little by adding that “vegetable purees” can be used to make a “flourless” gravy. Wouldn’t tomato sauce count as a vegetable puree? Their additional definition for salsa also seems to be a sweepingly inclusionary catch-all for tomato-specific sauces.

    Abandoning the definitional avenue for a while, I decided to take a turn down the sidestreet of pure etymology. Where did the word originate?

    A couple of web sites agreed with this one (4), that gravy (the word, not the food) has it’s origins in Scandanavia. “gravy (n) Scan. Formerly greavy, originally an adjective formed from greave (refuse of tallow, melted candlewax), hence gravy is ‘tallowy’ or fatty.”

    Another less sure-of-itself site (5) equivocates somewhat with, “gravy – dressing for white meats, etc. consisting of broth spiced fat and juices exuding from flesh during and after cooking. ME. graue(y), perh. originating in a misreading of grane � OF. gran� (in printed texts often grav�), prob. f. grain spice.” I don’t understand the limitation of “white meats”.

    The Online Etymology Dictionary (6) further perpetuates this ambiguity by proclaiming that, the word gravy originated in “1381, from O.Fr. gran� (with -n- misread for -u- — the character used for -v- in medial positions in words in medieval manuscripts) “sauce, stew,” probably originally “properly grained, seasoned,” from L. granum “grain, seed.” Certainly almost ANYTHING could be called gravy under this umbrella of obfuscation.

    Finally, Moby Thesaurus II (7) lists some synonyms for gravy, which include; “Colbert, Smitane, Soubise, Trinkgeld, allemande, bonus, bonus system, bounty, bourguignonne, bribe, brown sauce, buried treasure, consideration, cream sauce, discovery, donative, double time, egg sauce, espagnole, fee, find, finding, foundling, fringe benefit, gratuity, grease, honorarium, incentive pay, inducement, lagniappe, largess, liberality, marinara, mole, overtime pay, palm oil, paprika sauce, pepper sauce, perks, perquisite, perquisites, poulette, pourboire, premium, roux, salve, shallot sauce, solatium, something extra, sportula, sweetener, tip, treasure trove, trouvaille, trove, waifs, waifs and strays, windfall, windfall money, windfall profit”. Try to get anything to NOT fit into that group!

    All things considered, if you want to call tomato sauce gravy, by all means call it gravy (I know people who call food from Taco Bell “Mexican food”, for gosh sakes!). If you offend someone by calling it gravy, don’t invite them to dinner again.








  37. It is SAUCE, out of all my Italian relatives and friends in New Jersey maybe 1 in 100 say gravy! get it right! those are usually the “Fredos” in the family! The NY/NJ area where Ellis Island is, the landing place of all of our Italian grandparents is the place to be if you want to learn about Italians in America. Gravy is brown and made with beef, sauce is red made with tomatoes! calling something gravy that isn’t gravy just shows your ignorance. Italians in Italy call it SAUCE, morons call it gravy.

  38. From Wikipedia!! — “Some Italian Americans on the East Coast refer to tomato sauce as “gravy”, “tomato gravy”, or “Sunday gravy”, especially sauces with a large quantity of meat simmered in them, similar to the Italian Neapolitan rag�. “Gravy” is an erroneous English translation from the Italian sugo which means juice, but can also mean sauce (as in sugo per pastasciutta). The expression for “gravy” in Italian is sugo dell’arrosto, which is literally “juice of a roast” and is specifically not tomato sauce.”

    Your term “gravy” is ignorant slang, not what Italians refer to as sauce.

    deal with it.

  39. First off, you do know that there was an election last year, right? Nice name to leave a comment under: why not complain about President Taft with your bumpersticker based humor?

    Next, just because Wikipedia says it, you think it’s right? Excellent way to acuse someone of being ignorant while proving your own. In fact, I just read your mother was a whore on community owned encyclopedia – does that mean it’s true too?

    Piss off.

  40. My mother’s parents came off the boat from Abruzzi and lived in South Philly all their lives. My mother grew up in South Philly and later moved to Delaware County, where there was a mass migration from South Philly post WWII. I NEVER heard anyone in my mother’s family say “gravy”! NEVER! And my mother had a big Italian family. We ate sauce all the time, with meat, sausage, and meatballs. I have lived in Delaware County all my life, and the first time I ever heard “gravy” was in the 1990’s. Believe it or not! However, I know many people who swear it’s gravy. So I conclude that it has to do with a combination of where in Italy they came from and where in South Philly they landed. It could actually be localized to neighborhoods. I read somewhere that there may be some NJ influence. My mother’s family spent summers “down the shore”, so maybe that has something to do with it.

  41. Did you ever see it called “gravy” on an Italian Dinner menu? “Meatballs and tomato gravy” I don’t think so….


  42. What annoys me most about the Gravy and Sauce thing, is that people come up to me, being 100 percent italian and say “REAL ITALIANS SAY GRAVY”, or “You’re not a real italian then” WTF? You’re talking about an American word you fool.

    Its clearly an something that started somewhere. The word is Salsa in Italian, and translated means SAUCE!

    “salsa di pomodoro” my Nonna from italy said. SALSA MEANS SAUCE. Gravy is a word that started in this country in a certain area.

  43. The good folks that call it gravy are the same people that say

    manigot (manicotti)

    gabbaghoul (capicola)

    prozjoot (prosciutto)

    mutzarell (mozzarella)

    It’s more of a Sicilian thing than an Italian thing

  44. I think this dispute is cute. Randy, you are hilarious.

    Albeit, I’m not Italian, I think I can speak on this topic: My family is Bahamian, and in the Bahamas, we refer to canned evaporated milk as ‘cream’, cookies as ‘biscuits’, and the sofa as a settee; these and many other terms were handed down to us from the Brits. It was when we migrated here, we had to adapt, so the Americans would understand us. You know, when in Rome, right?

    Having researched several of these items, the differences are quite small. In many cases, it’s a regional matter, but as for gravy vs. sauce: ‘gravy’, when cooked with tomatoes, and flour as a thickening agent, is called ‘tomatoe gravy’; sauce has no flour; therefore the distinction is clear. You can call it what you want, but unless it is distincly ‘tomato gravy’, it is ‘sauce’. Some things are what they are with no room for debate. Randy don’t thrash me too hard, LOL. Furthermore, I think the ‘GRAVY’ term in the above photo is a one of endearment, not real proof regarding this subject. I think it was meant to invoke a sense of familiarity. They know you guys call it ‘gravy’.

  45. Ah, there’s no trashing coming. It’s a proven fact that it’s “gravy” :)

    FWIW, the picture above came from a product – I wish I could say I photoshopped it but that’s a skill I don’t have… I just snapped it at the local store.

  46. Oh Wow! My father was all Italian, my mother not at all, but she made good gravy. I would smell the meatballs, sausage, braciole, and chicken cooking in that gravy before I even got out of bed on Sunday morning. I would have a whole meal before we sat at the table because I could not resist “testing” everything. Also, if it wasn’t linguini, speghetti or lasagna, it was “macaroni”, not pasta. What I wanted to write is that I moved to Florida 3 years ago and discovered the Paesano Sicilian Gravy on the shelves. I was skeptical until I cooked with it and it tasted almost like my mother’s! I am never without it in my pantry! It is wonderful finding websites like yours. I married a non-Italian and lost my way of pronouncing some words. Not now — I am back using “calamad”, “mozzarel”, etc. I embrace my Italianness!!

  47. My grandma was the youngest of 11 kids. Her parents emigrated here from Cosenza, Calabria with 5 of the kids and the rest were born here. My great-grandpa actually came here alone and spent years working in the coal mines, before returning to Italy to serve his 2 years in the military. He moved back to the US after that, to Chicago, and worked at the railroads until he had enough money to send for his family. They left off all the vowels, and people from northern Italy had problems understanding them, sort of like southern dialects here can be rough sometimes. That said, it’s always been macaroni and gravy in our family, but I was never told what it was called when they were in the motherland. I WILL say that my family’s gravy recipe is the best I have ever tasted, and we have had offers from people to buy it and open restaurants with it. One guy actually wanted my grandma to come cook at his restaurant, because she wouldn’t tell him her secret ingredients. It’ll always be gravy to us, but I don’t talk down to people who call it sauce, the way so many people here are ridiculing those who call it gravy. How rude! It goes against the way I was raised: that you treat everybody kindly, even if they are stupid. :)

  48. THE GREAT DEBATE! You have to respect it as a part of Italian American culture as it has it’s place but it is not Italian. I’m first generation Italian American. My parents came to the US in 1971 and didn’t speak English… so Gravy wasn’t even a real word! Randy.. I love the fact that you put a picture of a jar of store bought “porcheria” as proof.

    A) You can’t use it as proof if you would never eat it.

    B) If you do use it… then the argument is over because you wouldn’t be Italian.

    I think it’s a generational thing.. We call it sugo.

    I gotta give you props for opening this can of worms though… and sticking to your guns.

    I just posted on it as well at

  49. all these italian americans? not me i am sicilian american. F#CK THE BOOT.we call it gravy and i have eaten the food of other regions in sucks.every time i cook for someone they say two things.thats the best food i ever ate in my life and you should open a you call it a hoagie or a sub?who grandparents owned 3 restaurants for 42 years.they did not care if you called it sh%t as long as you paid for it but at home its all you non sicilians.go to naples

  50. Who really cares what you call it as long as it’s delicious and you enjoy it! Food shouldn’t be about arguing, but embracing time with fam and friends! Life is too short. Call it gravy if you want, or call it sauce! My grandma was born in Naples and believe it or not, she calls it gravy! I usually refer to it as sauce, but I don’t think I would insult anyone if they decided to call it something else. Doesn’t make anyone less Italian, as every family is different and each region of Italy has different customs.

    So, with that being said, Just shut your mouth and eat! :)



  51. That jar was probably made in el salvador, or Paterson, NJ, but Italians in Italy say salsa di pasta, not sugo della pasta. Gravy is a sauce, just not italian tomato sauce.

  52. Well, I have to say being a 2nd generation italian that I do not care what others would like to call it I make gravy for my pasta. It sometimes is made with pork and sometimes it it made with meatballs,seafood… I am upholding my family traditions and recipes and guess what it has been gravy in my family for generations and will continue to be called gravy. I have had this argument before with narrow minded people who in reality have no sense of respect for others opinions or any family traditions, it is not worth the effort I’ll save that for my GRAVY:)

  53. Anybody asks for gravy in my house for their macaroni, I’m giving them just what they asked for – gravy – brown gravy! You want tomato sauce, you better ask for it!

  54. Ask for gravy in Sicily and they will tell you Roast beef isn’t on the menu, you 3rd generation Italians are hysterical go drink anisette and realize tomatoes sauce comes from tomatoes. Oh and that’s the Fred Meyers Brand shown and Fred Meyers is what Oh a Jew. Stop watching the Sopranos Im suprised they didnt have a guy named Brocolli Rob

  55. I know this is an old post but I came across it while “discussing” gravy with some friends. There is a book called Gravy Wars by Lorraine Ranalli from South Philly. Someone told me the answer is there but I have not yet read it. I’m originally from the Bronx and we call it gravy. I now live in NJ and we still call it gravy. My Italian cousins in Florida call it gravy too. My grandparents were from Sicily and Naples and they always called it gravy, as did their grandparents. People can call it whatever they want but I am Italian and I will always call it gravy. My grandmas made gravy on Sunday and I will continue to make gravy on Sunday as well. My 21 year old daughter will continue our tradition. It’s not ignorant, as one person here said. I have a quote on my FB for that person: “It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument.”- William Gibbs McAdoo (1863-1941) so I will refrain from arguing the point with some of the people above. “Gravy” will always be what I call it and if someone doesn’t agree, they haven’t spent a warm, homey Sunday with my grandmas. Too bad.

  56. ok well I was born and raised in Brooklyn NY 100% Sicilian And in our house it’s always been Sauce down the generations. Now I have a Cousin who mothers Naplidon and grew up in Staten Island and she says Gravy. I know Sicilian mixed Italians calling it both. Dose it matter? Maybe, maybe not. I think, If your food sucks I don’t care what you call it it just sucks. However being a true Sicilian Brooklyn NEW YORKER I’ll say this ” It’s SAUCE Dame it and I don’t give a Shit what that Can says”. ;) Or I can say “call it what ever you want just Give me the Friggin food already!”… Just thought It spice up the argument a bit.


  57. @Tim My mom noticed that too just after I posted this. We looked at that “JARED”sauce that clearly on a store shelf that he posted closer and low and behold ” Snag Out” it’s Sauce! lololol which says it all. And the worse thing it’s like processed jared already made sauce. eeww!!! oh and to clear up my last post it was a cousin in

    Long Island not Staten Island. ooppss.

  58. OK, the arguments fly fast and furious back and forth (and I can attest that my Italian-American (mostly Sicilian) friends here in San Diego are baffled as to the use of the term “gravy” to describe Pasta Sauce – although they certainly know it’s a popular term among many Italian-Americans on the East Coast and in the Midwest)…but I wanna know HOW and WHY the term originated there. Obviously Italian and Sicilian immigrants in old NY didn’t get off the boat from the old country calling pasta sauce “gravy,” (which is a word from England and certainly doesn’t refer to something ladled over pasta) but at some point that became a commonly used term.

    If you wish to take it, Randy, your assignment is to discover why (and preferably when)the word “Gravy” supplanted “Sauce” among your family and community and became (for them) the accepted term.

  59. Randy, on second thought there probably is no record of how “Gravy” replaced “Sauce” among some East Coast Italians. One of those mysteries lost to time, like the origin of certain slang words.

    One reasonable explanation is that some Italian immigrant or immigrants in the old days (circa 1890-1910) thought that “Gravy” was a good ‘ol American word that meant any kind of sauce poured over meat, noodles, potatoes etc, so why not include Italian sauces – and it took off from there.

    Keep ranting.

  60. it is called sauce for all you people. when you cook any kind of meat, the drippings that are left is a sauce. when you add flour or cornstarch to it it becomes gravy. in italy they say salsa or sugo. so everyone stop your fighting

  61. Hollandaise sauce – not one bit of drippings from meat in that. In fact, one version at Wikipedia claims that a “sauce a la hollandoise” contains flour.

    Thanks tho.

  62. I’ve read MANY of the posts above.I’m 2nd generation,so now I’m Italian-American,my family settled in CT.My mom’s family is from Long Island.Calling the stuff in question ‘gravy. I grew up calling the carbohydrate we are speaking of macaroni…pasta? How fru-fru! LOL But I can’t bring myself to say that someone is not a REAL Italian if they use different terms than I do. It seems it is not a regional thing, but probably even a neighborhood thing, do you think? Still, tomato gravy to me sounds yucky… greasy. I’ll stick to my sauce. And you think I’m not a real Italian because of that? I’m shaking my evil eye charm at you!!!! lol

  63. Sadly, you lost me at Long Island… Lilco has done very strange things to the long term residents… may my horns protect me!

  64. I love this discussion. Being from Texas, there are two types of gravy. Brown and cream. They go on chicken fried steak or on mashed taters. Lol. Glad I could help… ;)

  65. This discussion really angers me, because everyone is determining who is a “true Italian” when the definition of a “true Italian” is completely opinionated. Everyone is so set in their ways that no one can try and understand how others interpret things. My great grandparents were from Italy, and I’m not sure what they called it, but my grandmother always called it “gravy.” I’m only a quarter Italian, I live in Connecticut, and I grew up calling it that too. My grandma always used to say you weren’t a proper Italian unless you called it “gravy,” but I don’t agree with this statement. I think no matter what you decide to call it, you’re still an Italian if you practice the culture and take pride in your heritage.

    I call it “gravy” not to show the validity of my Italian blood, but because it’s just what I’m so used to calling it. Yes, I’ve gotten strange looks for calling it “gravy,” but I will continue to say “gravy” for the rest of my life, simply because that is how I was raised to say it. But as for all of you Italians out there, you should be able to call it whatever you want and not be offended by those who call it something different, because it’s still the same thing, except there are just two different names for it.

  66. I agree with Natalie. We always called it “gravy” growing up. When I met my husband who is also 100% Italian he and his family said sauce. My mother-in-law said they never called it gravy growing up..So obviously there is no wrong or right since we’ve heard from Italians who grew up calling it both gravy and sauce.

  67. Basically the whole issue stems from the italian translation pasta al sugo refers to pasta with tomato SAUCE. The confusion arises based on the fact that the italian word for gravy is sugo. Pasta in meat sauce would roughly translate to Pasta al sugo di carne whereas pasta in meat gravy would translate to Pasta in salsa di carne. And sauce in italian is salsa herein lies the dilemma. Basically neither appelation is technically wrong. But tomato based sauce by itself should be referred to as sauce whereas pasta in tomato sauce if literally translated would be pasta in gravy!!! 100% legit look it up!

  68. In English, the term “gravy” only refers to liquid made from meat drippings thickened with flour and/or butter. Some Italians mistranslated sugo and salsa as “gravy”. A marinara sauce cannot be correctly identified in English as “gravy”. It’s possible to call some kinds of meat sauces gravy if they do indeed start with drippings.

  69. Americans of Italian descent who are using the English word “gravy” are simply perpetuating the mistranslation of the Italian words “sugo” and “salsa” so they cannot be considered unimpeachable.

  70. I live in Italia-

    calling sugo “gravy” started in the USA.

    no italian calls it gravy.

    I am originally from New England and we never called it gravy but many NJ,Conn,NY folks did.

    I don’t care what you want to call it as long as it’s good!

  71. My mom is from Jamaica Queens, NY. Her parents are both from Naples. I call it sauce because she called it sauce, and I assume, because my grandparents called it sauce. Whether I make marinara, bolognese, or with meatballs, sausage, etc (which are all fantastic if i do say so myself!) it is always sauce. I have a lot of Italian friends in NY and some say sauce and some say gravy, most say sauce though. I live in Boston now and was just in the cafeteria at work and two guys were talking about the same thing – one said it’s sauce and one said it’s gravy. Speaking of Boston – fughedaboudit if i try to order something Italian here. They have no freakin idea what i’m saying – “gimme some prozhoot, gobbagol with moozadell and some monagaut on the side”. I emailed a bunch of friends and family (all from NY) a while back and asked them “sauce or gravy?” and got mixed responses. No matter – if it goes on pasta it’s sauce, if it goes on turkey or pot roast it’s gravy! (IMO). Thanks for a great site Randy! : D

  72. My Italian-American family called it “soogi,” a corruption of the real Italian word, sugo. Which is the real Italian word for the concoction many east coast Italian-Americans call gravy. My lineage is Abruzzi and Perugia, immigrating to West Virginia, then western Pennsylvania, then Cleveland, Ohio. To the Italian-Americans who think calling it gravy makes you a real Italian, realize that you are merely part of a subculture that learned what to call it.

  73. Thanks, randyrants, for an entertaining discussion from an East Coast girl living in WV who has heard the red stuff called both gravy and sauce.

  74. Both our families say sauce. His father is Neapolitan and his mother Sicilian. My family is from Rome and Naples. We also say sauce.

    Personally I can not see saying put the Pizza Gravy on the Pizza Pie. It’s a turn off. But that is just me.

    Oh, we currently live on [ugh] Long Island but he is from Brooklyn and I am from Queens. Our grandparents off the boat(s).

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