FOOD FIGHT – Traditional Roman Pastas battle for which is our favorite

 In Food

The four main pasta dishes you’ll see on almost every menu in Rome are all’ Amatriciana, Alla Gricia, Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe.  Anyone who’s lived in Rome for a while will have their favorite and unlikely stray from it, but if you’re just visiting, you must try them all as often as possible, and don’t let any of the locals sway you into choosing to hastily.  I’ll break down the differences and history of each so you can begin your taste testing with a bit of background .  knowledge.

Pasta Alla Gricia


I start with this one, because it is not only my favorite, but the oldest of the four.  Food historians believe this recipe was invented in 400AD by the ancient Romans, and if you look closely at the pastas below, each of them is a variation of this original, basic recipe.  Most believe the recipe originated with shepherds because its ingredients were easily carried around while they herded their flock.  The only ingredients in this dish are spaghetti (or rigatoni), guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino and black pepper.

Pasta all’Amatriciana (or Matriciana)


Romans say they invented this dish, but so do the people from the small town of Amatrice.  The histories vary, but the most likely one is that this is a spin off of the Pasta Alla Gricia in which the people of Amatrice then added the tomatoes and brought this new dish with them when they came to Rome to trade in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The ingredients are simple and few, tomato sauce, guanciale (pork cheek) and pecorino.  The pasta can vary from the traditional spaghetti used in Amatrice, to Bucatini used here in Rome.



This dish has a complicated past, believed by some to have been invented in America, by others to be a spin off of Alla Gricia (just add egg), the seemingly truth to the creation of this pasta lies in a kitchen in Bologna in 1944.  Local chef Renato Gualandi was asked to prepare lunch for a meeting between English and American Army Divisions.  During wartime, rations of food are limited, and according to Gualandi “the Americans had fantastic bacon, delicious heavy cream, cheese and powdered egg yolks.  I put it all together and served this pasta to the general and officers for dinner.  At the last moment I decided to add some black pepper that gave off an excellent taste.  I cooked the eggs quite “runny” and they were conquered by the pasta.”  He later became the cook for the American troops and the recipe spread throughout the country.  Italians have a hard time with this history of this pasta, but the Roman chefs have certainly refined it to the delicious dish it is today, which would never include processed cheese or powdered egg yolks.

Cacio e Pepe


This pasta shares its history with Pasta Alla Gricia, from Ancient Rome and the main meal of shepherds out tending and following their flock, it was an easy 3 ingredient meal.  The only difference to Alla Gricia being the lack of guanciale.  Cacio e pepe was made by boiling pasta, then putting grated pecorino cheese and black pepper into a separate bowl, the starchy pasta water was added to the cheese and pepper creating a creamy sauce for the pasta.  This is the most basic of the four pastas, but possibly packs the biggest punch.  Be sure to try cacio e pepe made in the traditional way and not with cream or butter to get the true taste of this Roman dish.


Now that you have the history and ingredients for these main traditional pastas here in Rome, go out and sample them as frequently as you can in order to choose your heavyweight pasta champ!

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