Origin and history
As with many recipes, the origins of the dish and its name are obscure; however,
most sources trace its origin to the region of Lazio. The dish forms part of a family
of dishes involving pasta with bacon, cheese and pepper, one of which is pasta
alla gricia. Indeed, it is very similar to pasta cacio e uova, a dish dressed with
melted lard and a mixture of eggs and cheese, which is documented as long
ago as 1839, and, according to some researchers and older Italians,
may have been the pre-Second World War name of carbonara.
There are many theories for the origin of the name carbonara,
which is likely more recent than the dish itself. Since the name is
derived from carbonaro (the Italian word for ‘charcoal burner’),
some believe the dish was first made as a hearty meal for
Italian charcoal workers. In parts of the United States,
this etymology gave rise to the term “coal miner’s spaghetti”.
It has even been suggested that it was created as a tribute
to the Carbonari (‘charcoalmen’) secret society prominent in the early,
repressed stages of Italian unification in the early 19th century.
It seems more likely that it is an “urban dish” from Rome,
perhaps popularized by the Roman restaurant of the same name.
The names pasta alla carbonara and spaghetti alla carbonara are
unrecorded before the Second World War; notably, it is absent from
Ada Boni’s 1930 La Cucina Romana (‘Roman cuisine’).
The carbonara name is first attested in 1950, when it was described
in the Italian newspaper La Stampa as a dish sought by the
American officers after the Allied liberation of Rome in 1944.
It was described as a “Roman dish” at a time when many Italians
were eating eggs and bacon supplied by troops from the United States.
In 1954, it was included in Elizabeth David’s Italian Food,
an English-language cookbook published in Great Britain.