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A Film Dishtory – Lady Met the Tramp and Fell in Meatball Heaven

A Film Dishtory – Lady Met the Tramp and Fell in Meatball Heaven

Elisa Teneggi

Feeling saucy? Lady and the Tramp’s spaghetti meatballs are calling for you in off-screen life. Before we get to the cooking, let’s explore what lies behind.


Forget about Italian style and glamour: it is not uncommon for good things to spring out of times of trouble – and this holds all the more true for Lady and the Tramp’s spaghetti meatballs. The “so very Italian” serving Tramp treats Lady to might not be the height of refined gastronomy, but they did secure for themselves a place of honour in the Olympus of unforgettable cinematic delights. Here’s how they made their way up to the top – and, once again, how Disney biased our culinary lives forever.

If you have the faintest notion of Italian cuisine, you should know that its best and best-loved dishes have humble origins. World-class fresh products, creativity and impassioned love of all things concerning “the good life” – this is all it takes to cook up outstanding supper parties. It does not come as a surprise that all major Italian specialities are double-knottedly tied to one certain region of the country or the other – you had to make a living, and an outstanding one, with what the earth could offer. Then sometimes things get fancy, especially around Christian festivities or those months when produce grows abundant. When it comes to Italian bon vivant cuisine, both pillars come into play – that’s why Italian food is so diverse and yummy. If you cannot do as the royals do, then you might as well pretend you’re enjoying a royal life by celebrating the joys of the dinner table. Self-evidently, you’ll have to start from food.

The rule holds true even as Italian immigrants crossed the Atlantic in the late 1800 to start off new lives and leave behind political turmoil, poverty and systematic unemployment. Those immigrants abode the stereotypes – they were straight down-and-outers, mostly industrious individuals who had not been given the right chance to prove their worth. They went to the US to find jobs – and jobs they found. They settled down and kept on building families and enjoying the simplest pleasure of life as they would do back home. Nevertheless, America was no poor old Europe, and payrolls skyrocketed rapidly. Hold on tight: we’re almost there.

Spaghetti meatballs (Klara Kulikova on Unsplash)

Newly gained economic stability gave Italian immigrants the chance to spend more on their food. Therefore, they could buy those luxury foods they could not afford in Italy – meat being on top of the list. As a result, they started buying more meat and, in full Italian fashion, started to turn raw, minced meat into something else. They mixed it with herbs and spices; then they considered adding tomato sauce for them to bask in, and the experiment went swell. Spaghetti came in last, and for two main reasons: they were the easiest type of pasta they could find in the US; and they piled up a satisfying, hearty bunch of carbs that would have kept them running throughout their day. Et voilà the homesick dush par excellence, which speedily became one of every Italian trattorias’ favourites first, an American classic afterwards, and which vainly promised to bring back that authentic Italian flavour. The Tramp inadvertently deploys the Italian groove of our dish to court Lady, but it is with the American Dream that he wins her over: it does not matter whether the sauce is made with freshly squeezed tomatoes or not.

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