Do You Call It GRAVY or SAUCE ???


The Great Debate, is it GRAVY Or SAUCE ???

What do you Call it?



by Catherine Scorsese

  GIA Says : It’s interesting to me that people who call it “gravy” believe that the people calling it “sauce” must only be those who came as immigrants later and that “sauce” is a newer term. Not in my estimation. My grandparents from Italy only spoke Italian, came over in the 20’s and their families called it “SAUCE” no matter if there was meat in it or not. Sundays was always meat in it the “sauce” and on Weds, leftovers, less meat or no meat at all. They lived in the Cobble Hill area of Brooklyn and Park Slope respectively as the children (my Father) became adults. We NEVER said “gravy” and I never heard the term “gravy” until I was much older and it became grounds for a silly argument. I am a second generation Italian American and all my Aunts and Uncles called it “Sauce” regardless if it had meat in it or not. Sometimes it was just a marinara w/out meat but it was always referred to as Sauce on Sundays and Weds. Sundays were characteristically special when you had the relatives over and there was plenty of meatballs and sausage and lets not forget the cheese!! In our house it was always ROMANO on the table. Left overs were eaten on Weds and the meat was either gone or a bit more was added to it usually in the form of ground beef. Many times we ate it without meat due to budget or just not being able to get to the butcher in time. Again, in my mind “gravy” has a completely different smell, consistency and color and sometimes has onions in it and is usually very salty. It;s usually white or brown flour based and goes over mashed potatoes, biscuits, liver etc.  

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Cooking a Pot of SUNDAY SAUCE

or is It GRAVY ???

What Do You Call It ???


  I’m “really” Italian-American and I get extremely annoyed when Italian-Americans call it gravy instead of sauce. Even more irritating is when the pretend to know how to speak Italian and pronounce Italian words incorrectly, almost always chopping the vowel off of the end. I feel Italian is the most beautiful of the romance languages and they make it sound horrible :-(   JAMES PASTO : Hi Andrea, thanks for your comment. I get your point, but as I see it, “gravy” is a term that somehow emerged as the preferred term for a lot of Italian immigrants to America. The usage is very widespread so it is ‘correct’ as far as they see it. We always called it “gravy” and to me this was one of the ways we distinguished ourselves as “Italians.” On the pronunciation of words: I don’t think it is a matter of pretense but of language adaptation in a new setting as well as the fact that many of the “Italian” words that resulted were originally dialectical forms and not standard Italian. I agree that Italian is a beautiful language and it is too bad many if not most Italian Americans lost it, but I think there is a certain charm to the Italian American “Italgish” that emerged. I don’t see it as a detriment to the Italian language but rather as its survival in a majority English environment under great pressure to give up all non-English forms. But that is my view….   CHELLE says : I agree, Andrea. I’m first generation US born, 1/2 Italian, who has been to Italy a handful of times. My grandmother born and raised in Italy, living there until her mid-20’s, called it sauce. I find it annoying when people here call it gravy. My grandmother made lovely gravies, from creams and wines, that were truly gravies. I dislike, even more, that I’m always corrected with “gravy” every time I say I’m making my grandmother’s sauce. The people correcting me have never been to Italy, let alone their parents and sometimes even their grandparents…they are 3rd and 4th generation to the US.  


We Know What New York Italian-American Author Daniel Bellino "Z"

Calls It ... GRAVY !!!

  JR in Rhode Island says :

  By my standards in good ol’ Italian-America Rhode Island, a gravy is a tomato sauce with meat, but not like a bolognese. The base of this gravy is made with braciole, pork, sausage, meatballs, and my favorite, chunks of pepperoni. Getting some color first on the braciole, pork, and sausage is a must, meatballs can be fried or baked separately then tossed in the gravy to finish cooking, and the pepperoni can just be tossed in as well. In addition, a proper gravy must cook for a solid 2-3 hours, then simmer for another couple hours. It needs that time to properly cook the tomatoes and get all that flavor out of the meats… so delicious. Also, it is typically made in big batches and freezes pretty well. Buon Appetito!  



  Growing up an Italiana-Americana, my family always called pasta with marinara, “sauce.” Ours always had some form of carne or meat: meatballs and sausage for sure, and sometimes we would add ribs or make Braciola. No matter what, there usually wasn’t much left after dinner and we all had to retire to the living room to crash on the couch and digest for awhile. My late Grandmother, Carmella, made our Sunday Sauce dinners most of the time since we would then be visiting both her and Grandpa, Nunzio. Later, I learned how to make it and my Dad began calling me, “the meatball machine,” when I was in high school. I usually made mine a bit larger than my Grandma’s, and near softball size. The mo’ the better, right?! Plus, they did look quite impressive on the plate, if I do say so. Nowadays, I make them smaller or maybe NYY baseball size. It helps with the waistline and there’s more to go around if there are a few peeps dining. So, God Bless Sunday Sauce and my Angels (my Grandparents) up in Heaven from Abruzzi (Italia) that taught me how to make it and create a special connection with family and friends, while enjoying a deliziosoa feast. Mangiare! Mangiare!   ANDREA TAVOMINA from BROOKLYN says : Hi, My Nonna & Nonno & my Pop’s were all in Brooklyn, NY and we have always called it sauce. This gravy thing is so strange to me as that’s the brown stuff you put on a turkey at Thanksgiving.I know there is no right or wrong answer here but some get very upset over this “Gravy” thing and consider those if us who were raised using sauce to be “not true Italians”. That is what upsets me, my last name is Tavormina and it’s due to it getting a “V” added at Ellis Island (or so my Pop’s was told and then I was told) my nonno being from Taormina and Nonna from Palermo. So weather your a sauce or a gravy italian…please remember just because some of us are Sicilian and say sauce doesn’t make us any less a true Italian! Mille Grazie

ANTHONY says :

  It’s called gravy only by Italian Americans in South Philly??? Oh I don’t think so. Its Gravy…. for most of New England (North East United States) at least is true for Massachusetts and Connecticut Italian-Americans I grew up with. We actually call it gravy, Sunday Gravy, Sunday Sauce and Sauce. My Italian grandmother, grandma Salerno called it gravy and my mom calls it gravy. I have an Italian-American Recipe website and I have talked with a LOT of Italian-Americans of the past 15 years on this subject and the term “Gravy” for the pasta sauce is definitely confined to the northeast United States. You can see much discussion about this and many other things Italian-American food related ...   ROBERT from da BRONX says : Good morning James! Great story. My family is from the The Bronx and we were raised to call it gravy. We still call it gravy. I don’t believe that there is a right or wrong here. Both sets of my grandparents are immigrants from Italy and when they arrived here, they called it gravy. Another issue is that some folks only called it gravy when there was meat cooked in the tomatoes. Now that is made up here in the U.S. Someone tried to calm the powers to be and come up with something in the middle…..Ours was always gravy no matter what or how it was being cooked. There was a comment above about how she was a “real Italian American” and could not stand how some people spoke Italian and would chop off a vowell at the end. The truth be known is that there are hundreds of dialects in the Italian language and some were real proper and some were somewhat slang. It also depended on where you lived….for instance if you were living in the mountains, it was somewhat slang. The folks that lived in the hills were mostly farmers and schooling was not that important. Different story if you were living in the flatlands or in the cities.



When Italian-Americans Cook


Hi, just want to say as a 2nd generation Italian from Chicago (mama’s family from Calabria /pa’s from Abruzzi) that we call it Sunday Gravy. All of my 24 aunts and uncles and 27 cousins did the same.We put it on before mass, went to Visit Nonna/grandma at my aunts house, came home, boiled the water and put the pasta /macaroni on and ate. It was loaded with meatballs, sausage, etc. On Fridays we didn’t eat meat but we had datalini with sugo (meatless gravy). I’m in my 60’s now and I have about 22 +/- people over almost every Sunday’s for “pasta Sunday’s” my older sister, her children and grandchildren and my own. We crowd around the table(s), adults and kids.A table cloth and real dishes just like Mama taught me. I will make several pots of gravy with a lot of meat and pounds of pasta. We pass the pasta,gravy and freshly grated cheese around, eat,talk, laugh and enjoy. The youngest are 1 year old twins and the oldest …well older then me. It is getting harder to do but even the little ones ask in the middle of the week, is it almost “pasta Sunday”. It doesn’t matter what you call it gravy/sauce, it’s the heritage and link to our past. Keep the traditions going and pass the recipes down. There’s always enough to give every family leftovers with extra “gravy” LOL

Robert from Harlem, New York says :

My Sicilian Grandmother called it salsa and she cooked it every Sunday for the whole family gang of aunts, uncles and cousins. We lived in Italian Harlem in New York City. My aunt from Queens called it gravy but we all ate with the same gusto.


There are Italians in the south. lol…I know not many but we are here. Both my mom’s and dad’s family came from italy straight to the south!!! Mississippi delta to be exact. The first italians here. No influence on us from previous italians here. There are other italians here too. Most of us call it gravy. Some call it sauce. I personally have witnessed the birth of the word “gravy” being used once Italians started learning english here. My mom and other italians here called it gravy because it was thick like a “type of gravy”. It was not thin like a salsa or sauce. So the war goes on here in the south too!!!! Tooooo funny. As I grew up what I noticed was white southern americans calling anything red was a sauce. Especially because their gravy was brown. We knew nothing about that stuff. So to them the only gravy in the whole world was brown so they called our “Sugo”, “Ragu'” “Condimento” etc. a sauce. I see it being called sauce more now. As with anything involving food and language nothing is right or wrong. To me it was just a matter of how they wanted to translate or “find” an english word that would describe it. Our “Sugo” is pretty thick so I guess that’s why we call it gravy. Such an interesting subject. Please don’t think the only italians that came to america only live in the north east. Many of us in the south came in through New Orleans!!!!!!! 

All I know is that whatever you calll it, it is sure good!!!! 

Ciao tutti!!!

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