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!