Why You Shouldn't Expect To Find Spaghetti And Meatballs In Italy

Spaghetti and meatballs is one of the most popular dishes in America. The combination of tender pasta, savory sauce, and heaping meatballs appeals to everyone, from messy children to sophisticated adults. Whether it's smeared on faces or twirled on forks at fancy restaurants, spaghetti and meatballs is a classic dish that will always be appreciated.

You might be under the impression that you can't get more authentic than an indulgent plate of spaghetti and meatballs when it comes to genuine Italian fare. However, while this delicious dish is often portrayed as a significant symbol of Italian cuisine, you're very unlikely to find this delicacy while perusing the dinner menu at a restaurant in Rome.

Spaghetti and meatballs has elements native to Italy, but the dish originated far from the country. It turns out spaghetti and meatballs isn't actually an Italian dish, but rather an Italian-American creation dating back to around 1880-1920 (via Pastini).

An American innovation

We can thank Italian immigrants for the spaghetti and meatballs we know today in America. According to Escoffier Online, when they traveled to America, Italian immigrants discovered meat to be less expensive than in their homeland. As a result, they seized the opportunity to enjoy larger portioned meatballs made from ground beef and added more substance to their meals by flavoring the meatballs with red sauce from canned tomatoes and serving it up with affordable and readily available spaghetti (via Taste Cooking).

You can still order authentic meatballs in Italy, but according to Smithsonian Magazine, the Italian version, called "polpettes," are generally rolled on the smaller side, eaten by themselves or in soups, and can be made from a variety of meats, including turkey and fish.

Another reason spaghetti and meatballs is foreign to Italian cuisine is that pasta itself is served differently in their culture. While Americans enjoy heavy pasta dishes as the main course, according to Pasta Evangelists, in Italy, pasta is served "primo" or in the first course before a main course of meat or vegetables.

Despite the historical and cultural differences that led to the dish's development, hope for enjoying a plate of spaghetti and meatballs in Italy is not entirely lost. According to Travel Italy Expert, you may be able to find the dish at Italian restaurants specifically looking to appease American tourists. However, if you're looking for an authentic Italian experience, there are still so many truly Italian dishes for you to enjoy.