I know, you’ve read the title and you’re probably thinking, “but Carbonara pasta is Italian!”

Well, this article is going to be quite surprising for you. Carbonara is Italian, but also, it isn’t. 

First of all, what is Carbonara pasta? 

If you’ve been to Rome or anywhere else in Italy, you’ve almost certainly had it. Nowadays, it’s one of the most popular Roman dishes, and it’s both simple and delicious.

It has only three ingredients: guanciale (cheek lard), pecorino cheese, and egg (mostly the yolk). You can use different kinds of pasta, but the most common are spaghetti and rigatoni. 

Of course, you can also add black pepper. 

Here, you can find a recipe:



No olive oil, no garlic, no onion, and most importantly, NO CREAM. Just guanciale, pecorino cheese, and egg.

Italians are notoriously a bit rigid about food, and the Romans are among the most conservative cooks and eaters.

Using pancetta (Italian bacon) instead of guanciale is still acceptable, but it’s borderline. 

If a Roman sees you adding olive oil, or using parmigiano instead of pecorino, he might get upset. If he sees you adding cream, he might have a heart attack! 

Food is a huge part of the Italian identity. We love our food, we love our traditions, and we hate it when somebody “ruins” our dishes by changing the ingredients of a classic recipe. 

But how Roman (and how Italian) is Carbonara pasta?

CarbonaraJust like many other classic Italian dishes, its origins are more legendary than historical. It’s hard to establish exactly when and where the first Carbonara was made. 

There are definitely some ancestors of Carbonara pasta, which you can find in recipe books from the 1700s and the 1800s. In the book “Il principe dei cuochi” (the prince of chefs) published in 1881, the Neapolitan Francesco Palma describes a dish called Maccheroni con cacio e uova, (maccheroni with cheese and eggs). 

However, you need to wait until 1952 to find the name “Carbonara” in a recipe book. 

And – surprise! – it’s an American book by Patricia Bronté: “An extraordinary guide to what’s cooking on Chicago’s Near North Side”:

Boil 1 ½ pounds of Tagliarini (thin wide noodles) according to the directions on the package. Meanwhile, chop and fry ½ pound of Mezzina (Italian bacon). Drain the noodles and the bacon. Take 4 eggs and ¼ pound of grated Parmesan cheese and lightly whip together. Mix everything together and toss over a flame. Serves four.

This recipe is surprisingly similar to the current version of Carbonara pasta. 

And so is the first recipe in an Italian book, published in 1954 in “La Cucina Italiana”, although it includes garlic.

Guanciale was introduced only in 1960, along with cream, which was an important ingredient until the end of the 80s (even the great Gualtiero Marchesi used it). 

It was during the 90s that the recipe became more and more simple, until the perfection of today’s 3-ingredient-dish. 

So where was Carbonara invented, and how? The story is fascinating. 

gualandi e carbonaraEven if there is no definitive historical evidence, apparently the inventor of the dish is chef Renato Gualandi from Bologna, who died in 2016. 

Morello Pecchioli heard the story directly from Renato, and reported it in several interviews. 

He claimed that Renato Gualandi invented the dish in 1944, during the liberation of Italy. 

Gualandi had to cook dinner at the Hotel Vienna in Riccione for some very important generals: Harold Alexander, the commander-in-chief of the Allied forces in Italy, Oliver Leese, and others.  

The ingredients were mostly army supplies: Canadian spaghetti, bacon, powdered eggs, cream, cheese, and black pepper. 

Gualandi also reveals the origin of the name “Carbonara”: the pepper that he used to top the dish looked like charcoal (“carbone” in Italian). 

Has the mystery been solved? Maybe not entirely, but Gualandi’s version definitely makes sense. 

And now, the most important thing: where can you have the best Carbonara Pasta in Rome? 

Here’s a selection from the restaurants tested by Luca Cesari for Gambero Rosso, the most prestigious Italian food magazine: 




Giovanni Vergineo