Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cooking and Eating

I don't remember the first time I had carbonara. I'm sure I was very young, propped up in my high chair, pigtails in my hair, and wearing a much-needed bib. My mother probably brought it out with the grown-up dinner, cut it up, and placed it in front of me in a miniature bowl, which I probably tipped over to eat directly off my high chair while exclaiming "Yoi yoi yois!" (which my parents somehow interpreted to mean 'macaroni') in a perfect New York accent. From that moment on, carbonara, particularly with fettucine or "bowties," has been my favorite food.

After consuming carbonara for twenty years, I've become somewhat of an aficionado. There are several rules that I've devised when it comes to carbonara.
  1. Carbonara is a special meal comprised of special ingredients. These ingredients include egg, prosciutto, broth, onion, pasta, and Pecorino Romano. These ingredients are not to be tampered with.
  2. Never, ever pronounce the word 'carbonara' as it is spelled. I'm talking to you, Olive Garden. Carbonara is meant to be pronounced "ca-bon-ad-a," or something like that. I'm not that hooked on phonics.
  3. The carbonara I have grown accustomed to is a family recipe.  My mother would personally murder everyone who ate the meal if it was stolen.
  4. If you use bacon, you're doing it wrong.
That being said, I was delighted to come to Italy to try some real, Italian carbonara, for which Rome is apparently famous. First, I tried it at a little restaurant by the Colosseum where our program director took us all to eat on the first day. It looked thick and yellow. There was no soup-y aspect at all, and the pasta was rigatoni. The meat used was pancetta, which I had heard was the Italian way. When I got back to the hotel that night, I used my extra seven minutes of free internet to tell my mother that hers was still the best.

To be honest, that first experience with Italian carbonara kind of threw me off it for awhile. For the next three weeks, I didn't order it at restaurants for fear of another let-down. Then, just three nights ago, I decided to take the leap and try it again.

The plate that the waiter put in front of me was piled with spaghetti, which I accepted as a step in the right direction. It was less yellow and a bit more malleable, still sprinkled with pancetta and garnished with Pecorino Romano. I took my first bite and noted a thicker consistency than my mother's cooking. Of course I cleaned my dish (I've learned that it's quite insulting not to here in Italy), but I still felt disappointed.

I don't know if I'm ever going to find carbonara better than my mom's. Sure, I'll eat it, but it's more for the sake to say that I had it in Italy, not because I'm enjoying it so much that I never want to eat it again at home. I haven't eaten much outside of Rome, but so far, I've decided that, at least with meals, Mom makes it better. Maybe I just have a little bout of homesickness.

Or maybe I haven't ordered the right meal yet!

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