When I went to Italy my goal was to try as many things as possible - but also to eat a whole lot of Carbonara! This dish is really hard to find in the UK - that is it's really hard to find a Carbonara which isn't spaghetti in cheese sauce with some ham called a Carbonara. Carbonara doesn't have cheese in the sauce (some people put a little in for thickening, but it's mostly cream, the salty taste is from the meat) - you add the cheese to the top when you are finished to the taste of the diner. In my case you just don't add the cheese and life is good. The 'Carbon' part is the black pepper - and that should be in the sauce already. Us Brits really seem to struggle with this concept and just treat it as a kids dish and give out macaroni cheese and have done with it.
A visit to Italy was the perfect time to see it done properly.
And I struck gold on the first attempt.
Around the corner from Santa Croche (where Stendhal's Syndrome was first described) tucked down an unassuming side street (Borgo Allegri?) we spotted a nice little place we could sit outside in the shade and I ordered the above Carbonara - and it's perfect. The meat is luxurious and not too thick, the spaghetti was al dente and coated in the creamy black pepper sauce and it was probably the best Carbonara I've ever had. The deep bowl masks the generous portion too. I wrongly assumed this was how all the carbonara would be over in Italy so I decided to vary things a bit.
The next evening I thought I'd order something I'd not really heard of - and it ended up being Carbonara without the meat - but with much thicker pasta. This was a lovely restaurant in Florence and as usual was stocked with the wines and smells that Italy provides so well. At first I was a little disappointed that I'd ordered something so basic, but the pepper and pasta flavour was just so rich and good. I really should start taking pictures of the menus and restaurants so that I can go into more detail!
Back at the camp-site one evening the girls just had 'light bites' so I grabbed a Carbonara! This was like a good version of what I'd do at home, the sauce was cream and a whole egg (so it was a little eggy) and had chunkier meat in and not quite enough pepper (but there was plenty on the sides and table to suit). This wasn't by any stretch an expensive meal and fitted the hole in my stomach perfectly. If I'd been served this in the Uk I'd have been pleased, basic and effective.
The next offering on the other hand was not quite what I'd planned.
I'd wandered around a bit of Florence looking for something exciting to eat - I'd thought I could have a luxury meal for one then pop back to the campsite. Instead I decided to see what the tourist trap places served for Carbonara - buoyed on by the incredible pizzas we had in view of the tower of Pisa. Everyone at the tables seemed to be enjoying the food, it wasn't massively expensive and it had nice views of the square.
Not only did they only have Sprite instead of the Italian soft drinks, but I got easily the worst Carbonara of the visit - and possibly the worst one in my Adult memory. It was basically a plate of warm spaghetti that they had stirred cream and ham into and then coated in cheese. No quality bacon, no pepper at all, and the meat tasted awful in places with a fatty aftertaste! Maybe they thought they were doing the tourists a favour by matching their low expectations - maybe they thought people would give this to their kids. This will teach me to try out the hot spots without using trip advisor! There was no name on the outside of the restaurant presumably so you find it harder to give them bad feedback. I ate most of it, but left zero tip.
I couldn't leave Italy with that being the last Carbonara, but wanted some more variety. I spotted this on one of the last days of the trip.
It's essentially a hybrid of ravioli and carbonara which suited me fine. Each little pasta parcel is packed with meaty creamy goodness and it's clear that a good amount of thought went into the composition of this - making 'just pasta' a more exciting meal than a plate of peppery worms. This was my second favourite Carbonara experience.
Overall I think that I'd happily order the four non disappointing ones again. Campsite carbonara has very different criteria to the restaurant grade variety, and I'd happily go back to Florence just to try the first one again. Although I'm sure I could find that somewhere new, or closer to home.