What The Gabagool Really Means In 'The Sopranos'

Paper-wrapped slices of capicola
Paper-wrapped slices of capicola - HBO

"The Sopranos" is all about food -- so much so that there's even "The Sopranos Family Cookbook." A few foods from the iconic show immediately come to mind: ricotta pie, baked ziti, and, of course, the gabagool. The last one may stand out more than any other food in the series' historic run. It's actually an accented pronunciation of capicola, a type of Italian cured pork, which some people refer to as gabagool. But beyond its comedic value, gabagool operates as a recurring motif and symbol for Tony Soprano's existential dread and underlies the oft-glamorized gory nature of the mafia.

One key moment in the series occurs in Season 3 during the episode "Fortunate Son." After Tony's mother's death, Tony returns to her home and learns his mother's meat delivery has continued to arrive. He sees a butcher paper-wrapped package marked "Capicola." He eats a few slices before triggering a haunting flashback in which his father chops off the pinkie finger of Mr. Satriale, the family butcher, in front of an 11-year-old Tony. He recounts this story to his therapist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, adding that later that night, after seeing his mother slice into some of Satriale's meat delivery, he had his first-ever fainting panic attack. This is the first time an explicit connection is made between gabagool and Tony's panic disorder.

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The Symbolism Of The Gabagool

Tony Soprano eating capicola
Tony Soprano eating capicola - HBO

Melfi explains that as a result of this traumatic experience, Tony's panic disorder is triggered by meat. She notes that Tony has created a link between meat, trauma, and Tony's damaged psyche as a result of his and his family's involvement in the mafia. She even suggests that the gabagool-panic connection could have been Tony's own fears about one day having to "bring home the bacon" through violent means. Stunned, Tony asks, "All this over a slice of gabagool?"

Just one episode prior to this revelation, in "Proshai, Livushka," we open on Tony passed out on the kitchen floor with an unwrapped package of what appears to be gabagool and cheese. His wife, Carmella, finds him and he comes to. We are then shown that in the moments before this attack, Tony found his daughter Meadow with one of her college friends, a young Black man named Noah, in the living room. Tony, a racist, reviles at the possibility of Meadow dating a Black man and makes his feelings known to Noah, proceeding to call him a series of racial slurs. After the confrontation, Tony goes to make himself a cold-cut sandwich, but after eating a few slices, he stumbles and faints. In this scene, the Italian cold cut is tied to Tony's feelings about loss of control over his family and his larger fears about racial mixing obscuring his and his family's identity as Italian-Americans.

Read the original article on Mashed.