Critical Analysis

Economically, the dish shows the new wealth that the Italians gained when they came to America. When they emigrated, they were coming from such poor and poverty stricken areas of Italy. Upon coming to America, these immigrants only had to spend a small portion of their wealth on their food and because of this, their ethnic dish transformed into the spaghetti and meatballs that we know and love.

When a group of people come to a different country, they bring with them their ethnic cuisine and their own style of cooking. However, upon arriving to said different country, these individuals learn that they must make do with the ingredients that are readily available in the new country. This is precisely what happened to the Italians that came to America. According to Serious Eats,  the meat dish that most Italians traditionally ate is called “polpettes.”  Polpettes are different from meatballs in the sense that they were eaten as a meal by themselves. However, one can say that the polpettes evolved into meatballs when Italian immigrants came to America. Therefore, one can say that the dish spaghetti and meatballs is purely a dish of American design.

According to the Smithsonian, from the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s, about 4 million Italians migrated to the United States. The majority of these immigrants were coming from Southern Italy, where political and economic circumstances left the cities rather impoverished and poor. Therefore, to escape these harsh realities in Italy, an Italian Diaspora resulted. When the Italians from that area came to the United States, they gained this new found wealth. In Italy, people spent up to 75% of their income on their food while in the United States, this same ethnic group only spent 25% of their income on food. Because of this drastic change, people were buying a lot more food than they previously were. The food that these new immigrants decided to splurge on, was of course, meat. Rather than it being a luxury food like it used to be to these people, it became an important factor in Italian American cuisine. Because beef was available now, it became the meat of choice for the Italian American’s and that’s how polpettes evolved into the meatballs that we see today. Since only certain ingredients were found in America, the Italians adjusted their ethnic dish into what we now know as meatballs.

The question then becomes, if polpettes were eaten as a dish by themselves, then where and how did spaghetti become associated with meatballs? The answer is simple. The Smithsonian argues that due to the new economic gain for the immigrants, they began splurging on food and as spaghetti was one of the only Italian ingredients that was available in America at the time, they began using more and more spaghetti. However, that is only one theory. Others argue that when Italian immigrants began opening restaurants in America, they created the dish and put both things together to appease the Americans that were now coming to their restaurants. Therefore, the meaning that Spaghetti and meatballs has in this group is that it symbolizes their journey to the United States, and the increased economic opportunity that resulted.  


Each of the three members of the Holy Trinity have it’s own unique history. Then, I will examine the history and changes the dish has endured once all of its elements were combined.

According to Smithsonian, polpettes in Italy are the ancestors of meatballs. Polpettes are eaten plain, in soups, and can be made with any source of meat, including turkey and fish. Polpettes can be up to the size of golf balls, and are commonly the size of marbles, called poplettines.  Due to it’s small size and low protein content, it was considered an appetizer, snack, or second course. However, once these Italian Immigrants found a new home in the United States, they escaped poverty, made more money, and as a result, increased the size and meat content of meatballs. Therefore, polpettes are different from meatballs because they include more bread than meat. Another reason for the evolution of this dish is due to American eating habits and the savvy business techniques of Italian restaurateurs. Americans are notorious for using starch to accompany meat, as exemplified by potatoes. Italian restaurant owners acknowledged this, and married meatballs with spaghetti, now as a main dish, and created a new role for spaghetti.



Secondly, the widespread use of tomato sauce in Italian American dishes at all restaurants including eggplant Parmigiano and baked ziti was certainly not the case in Europe. Life in Italy explained how the origin of the tomato is very much American, and was eaten by the Aztecs as early as 700 AD. In the early 16th century, Spanish conquistadors returning from Mesoamerica brought tomato seeds to southern Europe. However, this fruit did not have the best reception in Europe, and was widely feared as the “poison apple” in the 1700s. Once this fear went away, farmers began growing different varieties, leading to the heirloom, roma, and cherry tomatoes. Currently, over one and a half billion tons of tomatoes produced commercially annually.

Third, as explained by PBS, pasta’s affordability, shelf life, and versatility, resulted in its firm roots in Italian culture. Also, since the the warm Mediterranean climate of Italy is a great environment for fresh vegetables, creative dishes using tomato based sauces emerged as a favorite complement to pasta.  Tomatoes are still the most popular ingredient in pasta sauce today. Life in Italy states that traditional pasta takes about 50 hours because it was dried at a much lower temperature. By the 14th century, dried pasta was very popular for its nutrition and long shelf life, making it ideal for long ship voyages. Now, there are 300 different shapes and varieties of dried pasta in Italy and dried pasta is mass produced on a global scale.

The combination of the separate histories of the 3 components of spaghetti and meatballs, the immigration of Italians to the United States, commercialization and globalization describe how the histories unite in this dish. As stated in  Life in Italy, the first pasta recipe using tomatoes was documented in 1839. Eventually,  SF Globe explains that Americans commercialized this product like everything else. Variations include frozen dinners, restaurants, canned preparations like Chef Boyardee in 1928 and Progresso soups. Also, creativity resulted in a multitude of different preperations, including meat sauces, muffin tins, turkey meatballs, vegetarian meatballs, and many more. Tuscan Traveler explores additional  evidence of the secure spot that Spaghetti and meatballs has in American culture is exemplified through it’s portrayal in the American founded Disney movie, Lady and the Tramp, as well as the title of a song in the extremely popular American television show, Sesame Street, and in all Italian American restaurants in the United States.






Origins of the Dish

The origin of this dish is in dispute. According to the Smithsonian, spaghetti and meatballs evolved from polpettes when 4 million Italian immigrants arrived in the United States between 1880-1920. The topic of most debate is the origin of pasta. Escoffier Online argues that pasta was first documented in Italy before 1295, when Marco Polo returned from China and discussed lasagne, which then meant noodles. By 1400, it was being produced commercially. PBS disagrees because the Marco Polo’s original text no longer exists, and retellings of the book by various authors are insufficient. Therefore, he attributes this story to mythological origin. Another reason why this theory falls short is because pasta was already gaining popularity in Italy in 13th century, before Marco Polo’s journey.  The Smithsonian asserts that pasta is a descendent of ancient Asian noodles that was brought to Sicily in the 8th century by the Arab invaders. Then, the Mediterranean region refined the process and dried the durum due to its many benefits, including long shelf life.   However, some argue that this cooking method dates back to 2 AD, supported by the Jewish Talmud, which discusses whether boiled dough is unleavened bread under Jewish law.

Detailed Description of Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs combines the holy trinity of beloved ingredients: spaghetti, meatballs and tomato sauce. This family staple and widely enjoyed dish is absolutely delicious. The Food Network perfectly captures this beloved Italian American dish with simple ingredients and directions. These include coating meatballs in eggs, parsley, and breadcrumbs, frying them in olive oil, making a tomato sauce, and putting it all over spaghetti.   This dish is usually prepared for dinner as the main entrée. According to PBS, pasta is made from unleavened dough made from ground durum wheat and water or eggs. Since pasta is a very popular and inexpensive staple, humans worldwide enjoy variations of this dish. As stated by First We Feast, there are Polish Pirogues, Swedish Meatballs, Indian Lamb Kofte, Mexican Albodingas Soup, and Greek Keftedes. Other variations can include making fresh tomato sauce or buying canned goods, adding a variety of spices and vegetables, using fresh or store bought pasta, and buying different types of meat, although beef is the most common in the United States.

FN_Ina Garten Real Meatballs and Spaghetti.tif
FN_Ina Garten Real Meatballs and Spaghetti.tif


As a very culturally involved individual, Kiran’s affection for her Islamic faith and Pakistani culture inspired Erica to examine her disconnected Jewish faith using her grandmother’s life story. Erica always eats spaghetti and meatballs at her grandmother’s apartment and was curious why her Jewish grandmother is rather invested in Italian cuisine. As a result, we were inspired to research the history of the main ingredients in this iconic dish. Also, we learned that spaghetti and meatballs has a widely disputed history, and that this dish is wrongly attributed to Italy. Rather, Italian Americans should be credited since it is an integral part of American culture, enjoyed by members of all ethnic groups, as exemplified by Erica’s grandmother.

Grandma Sunny ☀️

AAS proj pic collage-2

Born in 1933 during the peak of the Great Depression, my grandmother was the daughter of  a factory worker.  As a result, my low income ancestors lived in tenements in Brooklyn and faced financial struggles.  My great grandmother left Poland to escape the rise of anti-semitism and the increased power of German soldiers, while my grandfather left Russia due to the chaos of the Russian Revolution, when the tsar was overthrown.  In order to feel more comfortable in a new country, they resided in a neighborhood that my grandmother described as 95% Jewish.  My great grandmother made a point to keep a Kosher home, although my grandmother loved when she and her father ate Chinese food, for it made her feel adventurous and sophisticated. As explained by Tuchman and Levine in “New York Jews and Chinese Food,” this exemplifies childhood memories, postmodernism, cultural diffusion, and homogeneity.  Therefore, Chinese food is an integral part of being Jewish in New York.  According to Grandma Sunny, most neighborhoods were separated by ethnic communities.  However, my grandmother’s questioning, intelligent, and adventurous spirit led her to a higher socioeconomic class, and motivated her to migrate to Long Island, where she separated herself from her binding financial and religious constraints, including strictly Jewish food. While in Long Island, her children became Americanized, eating classic dishes including London Broil, chicken, and tv dinners.  According to Jennifer Berg’s explanation of the three chronological periods of the New York City Jewish experience in her article, “From the Big Bagel to the Big Roti?”, my family is included in this historically noted location and food change. My great grandparents experienced Genesis on the Lower East Side, my grandmother experienced an Exodus to the Suburbs, and now I am embodying the Aliyah, and will probably live in New York City as an adult, enjoying the food icons that Jewish immigrants popularized in the 20th century with a sense of nostalgia. However, her Italian friend, Joe, taught her how to cook delectable Italian dishes, including Spaghetti and Meatballs.  Grandma felt empowered and independent when cooking what she wanted, and loved showing off her worldliness to all of her guests through her cooked meals.  Another way in which my grandma separated herself from her mother is her questioning of Judaism, and religion in general. As a teenager witnessing the atrocities of the Holocaust through the television and other media outlets, she realized that religion separates people, often leading to ridicule, and harm. The notion of right versus wrong, according to her, is within you, not based on a religion.  Therefore, my grandma’s hunger for expanding knowledge about herself, her religious beliefs, and financial security is reflected in her food preferences.  Instead of restricting herself to her parents’ lives, she wanted to embrace the diverse ethnic groups in the United States and their food.  Her passion for the flavor of food, labor of cooking, and sharing food experiences with loved ones is unmatched by any other person I know.  


Works Cited

Berg, J. (2010). From the Big Bagel to the Big Roti? In Gastropolis:          Food and New York City (pp. 252-273). Columbia University                     Press.

Tuchman, G., & Levine, H. (1993). New York Jews and Chinese Food. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 22(3), 382-407. Retrieved November 19, 2015.


Jew-ish ✡

It is always powerful when you talk to a friend that has a completely different lifestyle than you because it results in reflection.  During the duration of the semester, I learned how Kiran’s daily life is centered around her Islamic faith and her cultural devotion.  Her mastery of knowledge about the Quran, weekly mosque visits, family dinners, trips to Pakistan, meaningful clothing and accessories prove a deep connection to ancestors.  In comparison, I would like to introduce my family.  We call ourselves “Jew-ish” because I can’t even tell you the last time that we stepped foot into a temple. Although my siblings and I went to a Jewish community center for camp for about 8 years, and I occasionally attend college Shabbat dinners, it was never for the intent to practice religion, although these experiences make me feel a little more connected to my culture.  For example, the camp I attended was for theater, with a mix between Jewish and Christian kids, unrelated to religion.  Additionally, I attend Shabbat dinners with my Jain and Catholic friends.  However, I would like to further explore my Jewish Identity,  exemplified by that fact that my sister and I would really like to travel to Israel through Birthright as well. Aas proj collage 2-2

Through this project assignment, I can use food as a window to explore my family background.  As a result, I automatically decided to investigate the dish, Spaghetti and Meatballs. All I could think about is my grandmother, the woman who every time I visit her apartment, I gain about 3 pounds from the piles of delicious Italian food on my plate, always including this iconic dish.  She has seemed to successfully master the Italian meals that she has been cooking for over 50 years.  Plot twist: she is the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland. This peculiar realization motivated me to center our project on my Grandma Sunny.  So, I quickly called her, and in the matter days, I received a package with dozens of pictures delineating her fascinating life, as well as my introduction into it.  After I showed my friend, Kiran, all of the pictures, she commented that we look alike, and I glowed with pride because I would be grateful to be half the woman my grandmother is.

Dil Dil Pakistan ❤️

Growing up in a Pakistani household, my parents always stressed the importance of staying connected to our roots and because of this, I grew up in a very cultured household. Whether it was food, language, clothing, or anything else you can think of, everything in our lives had that Desi twist to it. When my siblings and I were younger, we always hated the fact that our parents made us speak in Urdu rather than English when we were at home. I remember constantly fighting with my mom about how it didn’t matter what language we spoke at home and every time her reply would be the same. She would simply say “if you don’t speak it, you will forget it” Looking back on it now, those fights seem so pointless because this time, like every other time, my mother was right. If she didn’t make me speak it, I would have forgotten Urdu. I look at the other Pakistani children that I grew up with, whose parents never stressed the importance of culture, and I thank my parents for raising me with these cultural values. Culture and Religion have become such a big part of my life. Praying 5 times a day, reading the Quran every morning, waking up hours earlier than I need to because the early morning is one of the most blessed times of day, all of these things are a part of my daily schedule and at this point I build my daily schedule around my cultural and religious schedule. People always ask me, “Why are you so Pakistani? You were raised in America, why aren’t you more Americanized’? Every time someone asks me that question I always get the same puzzled expression on my face. Why is it that in today’s society, being cultured has become a strange thing? Why does it seem like people believe cultural roots should be a thing of the past? If you ask me personally, my culture and my religion make me who I am. They are my identity, and if you lose your identity, then what do you have left?

My Heart is Pakistan 


Desi Khane Ka Ziaka 😍😋

Food is one of the most important aspects of Pakistani Culture. Whether it is Savanya, a dessert made out of noodles made for Eid Day, an Islamic Holiday,  just to grab a snack while shopping, or simply enjoying a meal at home with your family, food shapes the everyday lives of the Pakistani people. In Islam, the family unit is very important, and what’s the best way to bring everyone together? Food of course! My family stresses the importance of family dinner. It is a tradition of ours to have dinner together once a week since many of my family members live in the same neighborhood.  Every weekend we all get together at one of our homes in order to eat together and enjoy each other’s company. Essentially, food brings us together. It gives us an excuse to see each other often and brings us a sense of closeness. Food also plays a huge role in an Islamic wedding ceremony. There are two events in an Islamic wedding ceremony. The first one is the actual wedding ceremony, which is called the Nikkah. The second part of the ceremony is called the Valima. The Valima is an extensive feast that the groom’s family cooks and presents for the guests of the weddings. In this meal, everyone unites in order to celebrate the couple. For Pakistani people, food is very important. It brings us together, gives us a sense of closeness to our culture, and overall it just makes us feel good.

The Flavor of Desi Food