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What do Italians call spaghetti?

Spaghetti is one of the most popular Italian foods around the world. The long, thin noodles coated in tomato sauce are a staple of Italian cuisine. But what do Italians actually call this beloved pasta dish? The answer may surprise you.

Spaghetti in Italian

In Italian, the word for spaghetti is “spaghetti”! Yes, it turns out that Italians use the same name for spaghetti that is used in English and many other languages. The word “spaghetti” comes from the Italian word “spago” meaning thin string or twine.

So when Italians refer to spaghetti, they use the word “spaghetti” just like English speakers do. Some example phrases in Italian are:

  • “Vorrei degli spaghetti alla bolognese” – I would like some spaghetti bolognese
  • “Gli spaghetti al pomodoro sono il mio piatto preferito” – Spaghetti with tomato sauce is my favorite dish
  • “Abbiamo mangiato spaghetti per cena ieri sera” – We ate spaghetti for dinner last night

The word “spaghetti” has been adopted directly from Italian into many other languages as the name for this pasta. Interestingly, while the plural of spaghetti in English is “spaghetti”, in Italian the plural is “spaghetti” – the same as the singular form.

Other Names for Spaghetti in Italian

While “spaghetti” is the most common Italian word for spaghetti, there are some other regional words that are used as well:

  • Vermicelli – In some parts of Italy, especially Tuscany, spaghetti can be referred to as vermicelli which means “little worms”.
  • Maccheroni – In parts of southern Italy and Sicily, spaghetti is sometimes called maccheroni, which is a broader term for pasta shapes.
  • Fili di ferro – In parts of the north, spaghetti is referred to as fili di ferro which means “iron wire”, referring to the long thin shape of the pasta strands.

However, while these regional names exist, the most common nationwide Italian word for spaghetti remains “spaghetti”.

The History of Spaghetti in Italy

Spaghetti has a very long history in Italian cuisine. Some historians believe that similar long pasta shapes may have already existed in ancient Italy, possibly brought over from China by Marco Polo. However, the modern version of spaghetti emerged in Sicily around the 12th century.

Spaghetti quickly spread across Italy and became very popular, especially in poorer areas because it was inexpensive. The tomato sauce that we associate with spaghetti today was not developed until the late 18th century. Before this, spaghetti was typically served with just olive oil or butter.

By the 19th century, spaghetti had become a mainstay of Italian cooking and a symbol of Italy’s regional cuisines. Immigrants later brought spaghetti overseas to the United States, South America, and elsewhere, introducing new audiences worldwide to this iconic pasta.

How Spaghetti is Made in Italy

Spaghetti starts out as a simple dough made from durum wheat semolina and water. Durum wheat grows very well in Italy’s warm dry climate. The semolina flour is mixed with water and kneaded to form the pasta dough. Traditional pasta makers knead the dough by hand.

The dough is then extruded through a die cut with small holes to create long thin strands of spaghetti. As the strands come out, they are laid to dry before being packaged. Fresh spaghetti has about 30% water content, while dried spaghetti is around 12% water.

Drying the pasta is an important step, as it preserves the spaghetti and infuses it with its unique texture. Italy’s low humidity provides ideal conditions for air drying spaghetti and other pastas. In modern times, commercial pasta makers may use controlled temperature drying rooms rather than open air drying.

High quality spaghetti is made from durum semolina, with coarse grains that give the pasta its rough surface for grabbing sauces. Inferior spaghetti may be made with softer wheat flour. Italians use precise standards to classify spaghetti and other pastas based on shape, size, texture, and manufacturing method.

How to Cook Spaghetti the Italian Way

Italians have very specific guidelines when it comes to properly cooking pasta like spaghetti. Here are some tips for cooking spaghetti the authentic Italian way:

  • Use a tall pot – Pasta needs plenty of room to move around as it cooks.
  • Use lots of water – The pasta should have space to swim freely while cooking.
  • Add salt to the water – This flavors the pasta and raises the boiling temperature.
  • Don’t add oil to the water – It will make the sauce slide off the pasta.
  • Cook until al dente – The pasta should be firm with a little bite, not soft or mushy.
  • Save a bit of the cooking water – This helps emulsify the sauce with the pasta.
  • Don’t rinse the pasta – Rinsing removes starch needed to bind the sauce.

Spaghetti is typically paired with tomato or meat-based sauces in Italy. Common combinations are spaghetti alla bolognese (with meat sauce), spaghetti al pomodoro (with tomato sauce), or spaghetti aglio e olio (with olive oil and garlic).

Use good quality ingredients, especially for the sauce. Fresh tomatoes, herbs, and Parmesan cheese can make a simple sauce taste divine. With these preparation tips, you’ll be cooking spaghetti like an Italian mamma!

Popular Spaghetti Dishes in Italy

Beyond just plain tomato or meat sauces, Italians have created a huge variety of signature spaghetti dishes over the centuries. Each region has its special way of preparing and saucing spaghetti. Here are some of the most popular spaghetti dishes you’ll find across Italy:

Dish Name Region Description
Spaghetti alla carbonara Rome Spaghetti with creamy egg, pecorino cheese, and bacon or pancetta sauce.
Spaghetti alla bolognese Bologna Spaghetti with meat (beef, pork, veal) ragù sauce.
Spaghetti alle vongole Coastal Spaghetti with fresh clams, white wine, olive oil, garlic.
Spaghetti aglio e olio Southern Italy Spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes.
Spaghetti al pomodoro All over Spaghetti with simple tomato sauce.

There are countless other beloved regional spaghetti preparations as well. Part of the fun of traveling in Italy is sampling the unique spaghetti creations from each area!

Spaghetti Etiquette in Italy

Italians have some specific etiquette rules when it comes to properly eating spaghetti:

  • Don’t cut long strands with a knife. Instead, twirl strands around a fork.
  • Don’t slurp up strands noisily. Eat silently and neatly.
  • Don’t put parmesan cheese on seafood-based pasta dishes.
  • Do grated parmesan yourself; don’t expect it pre-grated.
  • Mix some sauce with pasta on fork before taking a bite.

By following basic Italian table manners for spaghetti, you’ll eat like a native!

Where to Eat the Best Spaghetti in Italy

Naturally, the best places in Italy to eat amazing spaghetti are in Rome and Bologna, the homes of classic pasta dishes like carbonara and bolognese. But excellent spaghetti can be found all over Italy.

Some top restaurants for spaghetti in Italy include:

  • Felice a Testaccio (Rome) – Traditional Roman pastas
  • Da Nerone (Bologna) – Bolognese specialties
  • Ristorante Savini (Milan) – Refined northern Italian fare
  • La Madia (Licata) – Innovative Sicilian cooking
  • Trattoria dal Billy (Naples) – Classic Neapolitan pasta

At any traditional trattoria or ristorante in Italy, you are sure to find wonderful freshly made spaghetti creations boasting regional flavors.

Spaghetti in Italian vs. Italian-American Cuisine

When Italian immigrants came to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they brought beloved dishes like spaghetti and meatballs with them. However, over time Italian-American cuisine diverged from what is typically eaten in Italy today.

Some differences between spaghetti in Italy vs. Italian-American cuisine:

  • Spaghetti and meatballs is rare in Italy but common in the US.
  • Italians use less marinara sauce; Americans smother their pasta.
  • Italian pasta has fewer ingredients; US versions are heavier.
  • Italians rarely use Italian seasoning or oregano.
  • Basil, parsley, and garlic are more common Italian herbs.
  • Alfredo sauce doesn’t exist in Italy.

That said, Italian-Americans have created their own beloved Italian-American food traditions that have little to do with modern Italy. Both styles have their merits when craving delicious pasta!

Spaghetti in Pop Culture

As an iconic Italian dish, spaghetti has made its way into pop culture around the world:

  • Movies – Spaghetti is featured in classic films like Lady and the Tramp and Big Night.
  • TV – Comedy skits from Lucille Ball to the Three Stooges have used spaghetti for silly effect.
  • Books – In the Neapolitan Novels series, Elena Ferrante vividly describes lavish meals of spaghetti in Naples.
  • Music – Many songs reference spaghetti, from Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” to the Beastie Boys’ “An Open Letter to NYC.”
  • Art – Andy Warhol painted his iconic pop art print “Spaghetti” in 1972.

Spaghetti’s inclusion across so many creative mediums shows just how much this pasta has embedded itself in cultures worldwide as a symbol of Italian cuisine.


In Italy, spaghetti remains deeply tied to regional traditions and local pride in a way that has been lost in globalized modern cooking. Savoring a properly cooked bowl of spaghetti cacio e pepe in Rome or spaghetti alla puttanesca in Naples offers a delicious taste of Italian life and history. Even if the name has stayed the same, the meaning and pleasure Italians derive from their beloved “spaghetti” is untranslatable.