Welcome to Sounding Off, where writers have the chance to express their, ahem, unique thoughts on the food and drink world. These opinions belong to the writer, not Tasting Table.
You know that person you kind of hate, who has an inappropriately strong opinion about just about everything? I'm that person. Nice to see you again.
This week, my victim is a largely innocent, relatively tasty, yet wholly and completely overrated dish that's currently taking the food world by storm. Yes, I'm talking about cacio e pepe.
Italian for "cheese and pepper," cacio e pepe is a simple, mildly enjoyable, authentic Roman pasta dish. It's kind of creamy, salty, sharp and spicy—in short, it's fine. Good, even. I wouldn't kick it off the dinner table.
What boggles the mind, however, is that the food world has recently become fully obsessed with the stuff.
I'm talking cacio e pepe pizza, crackers, eggs—even ICE CREAM. Readers, this is Parmesan cheese, Pecorino and cracked pepper we're discussing here. It's hard to understand how this insanely basic ingredient combination can even be considered a cohesive flavor, let alone one that's unique enough to warrant so many variations.
To me, the bland cheesiness of cacio e pepe invokes a sense of childhood—that era of extreme pickiness and a palate too underdeveloped to appreciate a real, robustly flavored adult meal. Out at restaurants or around the family dinner table, I'd ignore the delicious veal Marsala or meaty Bolognese, instead insisting on a bowl of plain spaghetti tossed in butter and cheese. It was far from exciting, but it was familiar and inoffensive. It was kid food, and there's a reason most of us have moved on to bigger and better dishes.
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The reality of the situation is this: Although cacio e pepe should under no circumstances be consumed in the form of ice cream, it's pretty good as a pasta. However, is it really preferable to the rest of Italy's magical plethora of sauces? There's spicy arrabbiata, creamy carbonara and guanciale-filled amatriciana, just to name a few worthy competitors. As someone who grew up in a very Italian household, I'm saddened to see beautifully complex dishes like these being passed up for something a four-year-old would demand.
I think it's time we all accepted the truth about cacio e pepe: There's absolutely nothing mind-blowing about it. Eating this pasta out of necessity is one thing—it is cheap and easy, after all. But if you're ordering it simply because it's "trendy," please, for goodness sake, free yourself of its doughy shackles.
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