How my dad’s sugary East Baltimore spaghetti made me want to abolish the pasta shape

I thought long and hard before penning this article, mainly because I have bravely shared my stance on spaghetti noodles with loved ones for years only to be met with middle fingers, people recommending that I seek help, and occasionally being told, “Get the hell out of my house!” 

So, I can only imagine how dark and cold the internet will be after the statements I’m choosing to make, but still, I cannot hold this in any longer, and if you read this with a clear mind, then you would probably agree that spaghetti is by far the worst noodle. Doesn’t matter if you buy it from that fancy Whole Foods in the gentrified neighborhood or from the cheap bodega. It doesn’t matter if you stumble into a small back street in Venice — catching an Italian grandpa who wakes up at 5:00 a.m. to make a fresh batch of pasta from scratch — or if God took a vacation from heaven to hand deliver you a fresh batch. They suck. Spaghetti noodles suck. 

Initially, I hated the dish as well. 

I loved Italian food before I knew Italian food was Italian food. My Aunt Trudy made the best lasagna anyone has ever tasted in their lives. It had like six layers, and we were from the block. No one on any block like ours did six layers back in the day. She was truly ahead of her time. On days I knew she was baking it, I would be sure to skip breakfast and lunch just to have enough space to return for seconds and thirds. We lived across the street from Trudy, so if her side dominated the hood in the lasagna department, then my dad was king of spaghetti. 

“Yo, your father makes the best spaghetti in the world!” My friends would say. “I could eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.” 

I would respond smugly with a shrug, like “You can have it.” 

And this is not to say that the taste wasn’t good; it’s just that I knew when my dad made spaghetti that he was going to try to feed it to us for about four to five days in a row. The idea of eating it so much used to make me nauseous. 

I should also say this isn’t the kind of spaghetti I would eat now–– this is the East Baltimore version. 

My dad would boil some of those godawful spaghetti noodles while frying ground beef, mixed with peppers and onions before placing them to the side. He’d then fry some of those fat, brown spicy turkey sausages that were supposed to taste like pork (however, we didn’t eat pork, which explains the turkey). Then he’d dump a couple of Ragu jars into a huge pot, mixing the meat as the sauce boiled. Some of this sounds normal to the people who choose to eat this dish, but this is where East Baltimore comes in. 

Dad would drain the noodles and mix them with the meat and sauce, creating one big batch that he covered with enough sugar to rot and fracture every tooth in our zip code. We all love sweet and savory, but dad was sweet and spicy. There were no sides, salads, or warm pieces of garlic bread–– just sweet-ass spaghetti, which could double as some type of sick and twisted dessert. 

And I don’t want to be too hard on dad because it was solid on the first day, but always fell off by day two. Remember, we were small children, and we probably should not have been using the microwave to heat up leftovers, but we did, and his sweet, spicy specialty always reheated hot as hell on top and freezing cold in the middle. I’m no scientist, but I’d bet my last dollar that those terrible noodles may have had something to do with that because my canned Chef Boyardee ravioli always came out fine. (Side note: I grew out of  Chef Boyardee and basically everything that came out of a can by 7th grade)

While we are on ravioli, even if they are stuffed with thumbtacks and rusty pennies, they are better than spaghetti. Cavatappi, rotini, rigatoni, conchiglie, farfalle or bow tie, penne, tagliatelle and angel hair — all better than spaghetti. My daughter’s princess-shaped pasta is better than spaghetti. It could be the shape, texture, my dark past with the actual dish — or a combination of it all — but I still can’t bring myself around to eating it. 

By high school, I was fortunate enough to discover the many excellent restaurants in Baltimore’s Little Italy. There I learned that fresh noodles must be laid on a plate with the meat sauce gently placed atop, not mixed together , thrown into a Kool-Aid pitcher and shaken like a martini. Even though I rarely ordered the dish, that new way of having spaghetti became a bit more acceptable. 

But one day, I was having dinner at Sabatino’s and spaghetti was on special. I was in high school and not used to spending a ton of money on food, so when the waiter popped out saying that spaghetti was under ten bucks, I was in. 

“Let me ask you a question,” I said, scratching my head. “Is it still on special if I switched the noodle?”

“Young man, you can have whatever type of noodle you want,” the energetic waiter answered, running off a list of all the options I had to choose from. “But why would you want to change the noodle?” 

I told him that I like a bowtie, and he brought it out, and it totally changed the idea of “spaghetti” — or the idea of pasta with red sauce — for me. It tastes like something completely different, and from then on, I knew that spaghetti noodle should be abolished. If you are used to using the spaghetti when you make the dish, I challenge you to try bowtie, and guarantee you will have a better dining experience.


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