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Readers Respond: What do you call the stuff that goes over pasta?

Responses: 106


From the article: Pasta:
A while back Jennifer wrote to ask:

"I was witness to a heated discussion at my brother's dinner table last evening. We were raised that it is sauce; my sister-in-law was raised calling it gravy. I've spoken with Italians who have called it sauce, and some who have referred to it as gravy. Is it a regional thing? Is it gravy when it is cooked with meat? (I've received that explanation). Please advise and potentially stop a divorce from occurring."


I believe most of us 1st generation Italian--Americans called it gravy because that is how it was translated to our parents - at home, we all called it ragu (our parents' way). Whatever, it is still good - go with your own feelings - why should anyone care? About pronouncing words incorrectly - that REALLY bugs me! If you know the correct Italian pronunciation, do not listen to others - they mostly got it from dialects - you do not drop the final vowel - you pronounce it! Some of those "words" so confused me, I had to ask my mother what they meant - she laughed and said "they are dialects". So be it.


It was gravy when I was a girl in the Bronx and it is Gravy for me now in Massachusetts. No 2 ways about it, you can take this girl our of the Bronx but you can't take the Bronx out of this girl!
—Guest Anna Bucciarelli

Touchy, touchy, people!

Sauce, gravy, it's what you grew up with. NEITHER is wrong. And in my Italian immigrant grandmother's kitchen, it was called gravy, and the tradition continues in my family!!
—Guest Donna

Sauce, Gravy?

If it has meat, it is gravy. If it is plain tomato "sauce", it is sauce.
—Guest historicalpast

Gravy vs sauce not just an Italian thing

I love this! Because in my Chinese-Filipino–American household, when I was growing up, we called the liquid in any dish, which we poured over noodles or rice to fill out a meal, "gravy." When I left for college in NYC I found out everyone else called it sauce. We had only ever used the word "sauce" at home when talking about the tomato stuff you buy in a jar to put on spaghetti, or preceded by the word "soy." So I quietly switched to what I considered the correct American English. Now I am married to an Italian (not Italian-American) and I find myself explaining to him what a ragu alla bolognese is, because he's Milanese and doesn't really know. A Sicilian-American friend in New York had laughed at me when I said "ricotta" and told me it was "rigott." Now when I say "rigott" or pronounce the name of any Italian dish at all to my husband he says, "You sound so southern!" Tomato, tomahto, tortellini, won ton. Viva Italia!
—Guest Tania


Of course....sauce! If you are from Chicago and Italian...it's Sauce.


since i was a kid we called it gravy that is the right name for it
—Guest tony

Gravy or Sauce?

Who cares - nobody is right or wrong. Call it what you like. It is just an idiom for what we use over food.
—Guest Ken the cook


My mother, northern Italian..My father, southern. I grew up hearing gravy from mom, but sauce from my father. As long as it's on some shape pasta, "it's all good"

stupid f'ing sopranos

Nothing like showing ignorance for the original use of language. No one in Italy calls it gravy. Only Italian Americans who don't speak a lick of Italian call it gravy. It's also not manicott or proscutte or any of the other bastardizations of the language.
—Guest Alberto


This is definitely a translation issue. I am not Italian but lived in Italy for 1.5 yrs. and no one uses the word "gravy" because it's not an Italian word. Italy and it's food culture should not be disrespected. Italians do not call it gravy but NJ "Eye- talians" call it gravy. The dialects of different regions are the problem.... "manna got" and gabba gool, pasta fashule, brushett etc. Macaroni, manicotti, penne are just pasta shapes and in proper Italian have definitive meanings. The sauce that goes over the pasta shapes are called :Sugo di pomodoro, "tomato sauce", salsa marinara is seafood based sauce and "ragu Bolognese or "salsa ragu" is a meat based sauce. Gravy is the word that southern Italian immigrants used to wrongly translate sauce. "Gravy" in English is the juices rendered from meat and thickened with flour. The main ingredient is meat juice. Ragu is made with meat but the main ingredient is tomato sauce NOT meat. Stop massacring both languages!


My grandmother, born in Puglia Italy, was adamant that it was sauce. She said that gravy was a local, NY slang, and probably from Sicilians, whom she didn't like because of the mob/mafia thing. Very funny conversations would follow any question about this. I think it's the same with pasta versus macaroni, which is what we always called it. Modern times change accepted terms. Also, if the sauce is made and later on meatballs are added, then the base is not meat, but tomato. Therefore, it seems to depend. I will always call it sauce. I think it's funny that some people who have commented here are using sugo, the actual word that should be translated. Maybe people who called it gravy misunderstood the translation. My homemade sauce is awesome.
—Guest Lois Lewandowski

It is what it is

If it's made from vegetables, it's sauce. If it's meat-juice based, it's gravy. Doesn't matter what it was called where anyone grew up; if they're calling a tomato-based liquid gravy, they're wrong.
—Guest G


Sauce you idiots. Fruits and veggies as stock. SAUCE!!! Meat dripping as stock...GRAVY!!! You morons who don't know the difference should be boiled in both until you get it!!!
—Guest Dave

In Romanian Language

We call it Sos / Sauce (S.O.S) ...---... Save Our Souls: .....................................................................................

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