Spaghetti Bolognaise: Italian or British?

Spaghetti bolognaise has become a British institution. It’s so British that it’s almost impossible to imagine it might belong somewhere else or is not exactly what we think it is.

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As flamboyantly Italian as the name is, there is much about the dish that is unrecognisable to anyone who hails from Bologna. In short, the British have done what they tend to do when it comes to foreign dishes: they have made the recipe their own.

The Italian Version

In Bologna, spaghetti bolognaise’s home town, the dish even has another name: tagliatelle al ragu. In response to a plea from Bologna’s Chamber of Commerce, the Italian Academy of Cooking drew up an official recipe. It declared the ingredients as onions, celery, carrots, beef, pancetta, white wine, tomato paste and milk. There is some uncertainty over whether tagliatelle ought properly to be used in place of spaghetti. Certainly, spaghetti is usually associated with southern Italy rather than Bologna. However, several chefs are on record as saying that the tagliatelle vs spaghetti argument stems from a wealth and class issue. Historically, only Bologna’s wealthier inhabitants could afford to eat the fresh egg pasta from which tagliatelle was made, while poorer people made do with dried spaghetti.

The British Version

Compare this Italian recipe with British versions and you soon start to see the different. It isn’t just the garlic and herbs that most Britons include, the red wine they tend to substitute for white, or even the absence of milk: it’s the additions. Ask any Briton what they put in their spaghetti bolognaise, and you’re likely to hear answers like “Worcestershire sauce”, “Marmite”, “gravy powder” and “pesto”.

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Of course, despite the criticism levelled at British diners by Italian chefs and the press, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with any of this. However, if you’d like to try the authentic Italian spaghetti bolognaise, fear not. Throughout the UK and Ireland, restaurants are coming to your rescue. For example, in Dublin restaurants that serve spaghetti bolognaise that even a Bologna native would recognise and appreciate include

Finally, there’s always the option of going home and recreating this Italian classic in your own kitchen. And if you decide you fancy a touch of roasted garlic or a slug of red wine in your version of the dish, it’s no one’s business but your own.

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