Italian-Americans are pretty split (and heavily opinionated) about whether their delicious Italian Sunday sugo is called “Sauce” or “Gravy.”
As owner and content creator for Hardcore Italians for over 10+ years, I have seen this argument pop-up countless times. Opinions are always very one-sided and harsh. Nobody seems to care about where the term originated. In fact, if you even clicked opened this article instead of posted your opinion in the comments, you are one in a hundred!
Literally listening to the rationale of hundreds of thousands of Italians over the years, I’ve come to, oddly, understand both sides of the story (I know, pretty crazy).
So… Where did the term come from? Should I call it Sauce or Gravy? Tell us already!
Where the term came about
Although the term “Gravy” doesn’t exist in Italy, it WAS in fact invented by Italians from Italy. When Italians immigrated to the United States, they tried to assimilate to American culture. Although they wanted to keep their traditions and heritage, they desired to become accepted in the new country. For most Italians, this meant learning English!
During the Americanization process, there was a confusion with the word “Ragu” (A.K.A. Meat Sauce). If you translate “Sugo” to English you get “Sauce” but when you translate “Ragú” to English you get “Ragout.” Ragout is a French-styled stew. Uh, oh!
I’m not sure about you, but if I was new in America trying to fit in… I certainly wouldn’t invite people over for ragout!
This lead to a difference in opinion. Some Italians choose to call it “Meat Sauce” while some decided to call it “Gravy.”
Why gravy? Americans were already using it to describe sauce containing meat. That is actually how it is termed in the definition. Understandable at the time to choose the word, since there weren’t many resources or speech pathologists on hand!
It is rumored that only certain areas started calling it “Gravy.” For example, many people will comment that it’s a ‘Jersey thing.’ However, I’ve heard people from all over the United States use it. This makes it very hard to pinpoint the exact origin.
Where ever it may have caught on… Little did they know the aftermath of their choices would disrupt the Italian-American community for all of eternity!
What should I call it?
Now that you know where it came from, it’s time to pick a side! (maybe AFTER you in some body armor…)
Well, all of America will recognize the term “Sauce” with no problems. Many believe that because of this, “Gravy” should not even be an option. The other opinion is that it’s actually kind of cool to have a term unique to Italian-Americans.
There is really no right or wrong answer. It’s a matter of preference.
I would suggest to call it by whatever you grew up saying.
It’s easy to argue because both sides have great points for and against them. However, if you look below the surface, there is a deeper reason why people are so defensive on the topic.
It ultimately comes down to an appreciation and respect of our Italian ancestors. If your grandfather sacrificed everything to come to America and called it Sauce/Gravy, and somebody says that’s wrong… It can definitely be aggravating.
We should be able to joke about the situation in a friendly way, but the argument should try to remain under control. It is a little disheartening to see others get called “Fake Italian” or “Stupid” for their preference. I have unfortunately seen this too many times.
I’m dedicated to the mission of the page, which is to make Italians feel more connected (and to celebrate) their life’s story and background. It’s a shame, really!
What do you think?
We are interested in hearing your comments! What do you call it? How did your family pick a side? Do you have a different opinion than me? Let us know!
- Image: Marinara [Flikr]