Gravy or Sauce?
As a Long Islander by way of Queens and a current resident of the Massapequas – one of the most heavily Italian of Long Island areas – I thought I knew from Italian-American food. But then I started working on a story about Italian-American food on Long Island (See: Wow Pow Ciao at Tutto Pazzo) and I learned how much I still have to learn.
The gravy vs. sauce conundrum is one that came up right away.
The famous Italian-American Sunday sauce tradition is called Sunday gravy in many households and even within marriages there is disagreement about what to call it.
My friend Louisa Paglia Augello recalls, “Ahhhh the smell of waking up on Sunday morning to garlic and oil being sautéed and meatballs being fried and the gravy simmering all morning…my mouth is watering!”
But her husband Lenny Augello has a different take. “Gravy is brown and goes on a meat product… sauce is red and goes on macaroni.”
Louisa answers, “I know, I know. Gravy in my house! Sauce in yours. It looks like you’re starting a marital argument!!! Lol!”
The debate continues to rage wherever Italians settled, which is everywhere. Lorraine Ranalli’s book Gravy Wars claims that “gravy” is a South Philly term, but it actually pops up in New Jersey, in Boston, and on our own Long Island.
It is not clear how the term “gravy” came into use; an informal survey among my Italian-American friends brought out some beautiful immigrant stories, but no pattern of where or when their parents or grandparents came over that would give a clue.
The best theory is that it may have been an attempt at assimilation. Italian immigrants, eager to become as American as possible, may have started using the word “gravy” as the closest equivalent to their beloved salsa, sugo and ragu as a way to explain their traditions in words that their fellow Americans could understand.
And in case you were wondering: The Sopranos called it Sunday gravy.
If you have an opinion about Sunday sauce or gravy or a story about your own Italian-American Long Island heritage (and we know you do), we’d love to hear it and share it! Post your story here in the comments or on our Facebook page and keep the conversation going!