How Did Italian Food Become “Red Sauce”?

Apr 19, 2019 149


Restaurants in major U.S. cities once fit into two categories: fancy French on the high end and dreary workingmen’s hash houses on the low. Then came the 1880s, and with them a massive influx of Southern Italian immigrants. Exotic yet accessible, the restaurants they opened appealed to “Bohemians,” the hipsters of that era. Red-and-white-checked tablecloths gave a soigné-but-informal vibe, as did candles in straw-wrapped Chianti bottles (standard in Italy to prevent the bottles from breaking, perceived as picturesque in the States).

From Sodini’s Green Valley in San Francisco to Dante & Luigi’s in Philly, chefs developed dishes that were unknown in the old country. The higher American standard of living meant more meat, so meatballs were paired with spaghetti. Parmesan, formerly a special treat, was now lavished upon eggplant, chicken, and veal dishes.

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