Pasta politics: Italy's Letta goes viral with carbonara tweet

"Pancetta or Guanciale" tweet becomes an instant meme in Italy.

Enrico Letta, leader of Italy's centre-left Partito Democratico and former Italian premier, on Friday posted an ironic image on Twitter evoking the great Italian debate over the ingredients of carbonara.

Pancetta or guanciale, the tweet asked, a reference to two fatty types of cured pork meat. Letta answered the question with a thumbs up for guanciale, the ingredient used in the classic dish according to Roman tradition.

The unexpected tweet came in the middle of Italy's election campaign and followed a similar black and red tweet the previous day in which Letta presented two options: "With Putin" in black, or "With Europe" in red alongside a picture of himself and the message "You choose".

On Friday morning, when Letta posted the pasta-themed tweet, it caught Italians off-guard. Many were convinced they were looking at a parody account, others asked Letta if he had been hacked.

The PD leader had in fact shared the pasta image from the Facebook page of IT specialist Matteo Cassanelli who later told La Repubblica newspaper that he created it as a joke.

While many of his followers saw the light-hearted side, Letta, 56, received a wave of criticism too. "Embarrassing", "absurd", "It's time to stop posting" were among the thousands of responses.

Opposition politicians were quick to jump on the bandwagon. Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing Lega, posted a black and red image proposing two choices for Letta: return to France or stay in Italy, a reference to Letta's years in Paris after he resigned as prime minister in 2014.

Regardless of whether people found Letta's tweet funny or not, it soon went viral, with "guanciale" trending on Twitter by Friday afternoon.

It also became an instant meme, with parodies of the parody appearing all over social media in Italy.