Rome Then & Now: The Truth about Fettuccine Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo—the real deal, anyway—is served at just two restaurants in Italy, but its popularity has exploded abroad.

Everyone has heard of fettuccine Alfredo, sometimes called “Alfredo pasta” abroad. So much so that when I lived in Houston as a child, my 9-year-old friend Allison ordered it at a restaurant.

Apparently, Alfredo pasta was very well known in the States. Too bad its Americanized version would make Alfredo himself turn over in his grave. 

When Allison’s Alfredo arrived at the table, it looked nothing like the original recipe I had tasted in Rome. The pasta was drenched in a white sauce (heavy cream, most likely)—lots and lots of it. There were pieces of cheese that weren’t Parmesan, and the worst part is that there was parsley. Parsley! 

As Allison ate her Americanized Alfredo, I thought to myself,  “you can call that pasta whatever you want, but that’s not Alfredo’s pasta.” 

So what is the real fettuccine Alfredo, anyway—and how did it become so drastically different abroad?

The real fettuccine Alfredo is hard to find in Rome. Here's why.

Photo Credit: Diogo Cortiz, Text Overlay: Devour Rome Food Tours

The original fettuccine Alfredo

The real Alfredo sauce is delicious because of its simplicity. The only ingredients are butter, Parmesan cheese and pepper. That’s it! There’s no heavy cream nor parsley. And this type of pasta dish is strictly served with fettuccine, likely due to the fact that this type of egg pasta is ideal for capturing the creaminess of the sauce. 

READ MORE: The Survival Guide to Pasta Shapes in Italy: How to Order Like You Know What You’re Doing

Fettuccine noodles before being cooked
The ingredients and shape of fettuccine noodles make them an ideal pairing for creamy sauces.

So why is it even called Alfredo pasta? Simple: a man named Alfredo di Lelio invented it. He came up with this famous dish right here in Rome in 1908. Legend says that his wife had lost her appetite after giving birth, so he came up with this simple but delicious pasta recipe. Soon, it made an appearance on the menu at the family restaurant. 

But how did fettuccine Alfredo gain the international spotlight?

In the 1920s, Hollywood stars Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford came to Rome on their honeymoon. After tasting the dish and falling in love with its simplicity, they asked Alfredo for the recipe, which he gave them. To express their gratitude, the couple sent Alfredo a set of golden silverware engraved with the words “to Alfredo, the King of the Noodles.”

As soon as they got back to Hollywood, they spread the word of the delicious pasta, which went on to take the United States by storm.

Soon, Alfredo’s restaurant became the place in Rome for international movie stars and directors. Everyone from Sophia Loren to Frank Sinatra and Brigitte Bardot descended upon Alfredo alla Scrofa to taste the famous fettuccine Alfredo everyone was talking about in Hollywood. 

The original fettuccine Alfredo, made with just Parmesan cheese, pepper and butter.
The original Alfredo sauce recipe is deceptively simple (and dare we say, much better than the cream-drenched versions popular abroad!). Photo credit: Meliciousm

Fettuccine Alfredo today

The dish was exported all over the world, along with its variations. But the original fettuccine Alfredo can only be tasted in Rome at two restaurants in the historic center: Alfredo alla Scrofa and Il Vero Alfredo

Alfredo alla Scrofa is the original restaurant that Alfredo di Lelio later sold to a new owner in 1943. Il Vero Alfredo is the restaurant at Piazza Augusto Imperatore that Alfredo and his son Armando opened in 1950. 

But what has changed more than 100 years after the dish was invented? 

The dish never took off in its homeland—in fact, no restaurants in Italy, apart from the two Alfredos, serve it. In Italy, it’s more of a dish you make at home when you have very few ingredients in your fridge. To tell the truth, it isn’t that famous here in Rome, and many people don’t even know it’s a thing.

Overseas, though, it’s still famous, with its notorious variations that range from parsley and heavy cream to shrimp and chicken. 

American-style Fettuccine alfredo with chicken
This creamy, parsley-dotted pasta dish loaded down with chicken might be delicious in its own right, but it’s a far cry from the original fettuccine Alfredo! Photo credit: Christine Chau

As for the two restaurants in Rome, let’s just say that you won’t see movie stars hanging out there anymore. Today, the most frequent guests are tourists (you’ll be hard-pressed to find an Italian customer) looking to relive the good old days of an unforgettable era. But they are in fact the only two restaurants in Italy (and around the world) where the real fettuccine Alfredo can be tasted—with not a drop of heavy cream in sight.

Want to try your hand at making a few pasta recipes Romans actually love? In our new online experience, Cook Pasta like a Roman, you’ll join Devour Rome operations manager Abbie in her Italian kitchen and learn how to make two of the city’s most iconic pasta dishes. (Glass of Italian red optional but encouraged.)

10 Comment

  1. Carolyn Schreiber says
    October 22, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    I find your article iny, always believed Alfredo had cream in it. Actually, what I like when in is Pasta Carbonara. Last time I was there, I had it every day, knowing I couldn’t find it in the states

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      October 28, 2019 at 8:29 am

      Thanks for reading, Carolyn! A lot of people are definitely surprised to learn that real fettuccine alfredo and carbonara pasta aren’t made with cream here in Rome—but in our book, these authentic versions are even better!

      Reply
  2. Jo Ann Donlon says
    November 6, 2019 at 5:13 pm

    I know I am coming late to the party but wanted to add my two cents. I agree with the way fettuccine Alfredo is made in Italy but what exactly is the difference between that and cavil e Pepe?

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      November 12, 2019 at 8:55 am

      Hi Jo Ann—traditional Roman cacio e pepe uses pecorino romano cheese instead of Parmesan, doesn’t include butter, and is a lot heavier on the black pepper than the original fettuccine Alfredo recipe. It also typically is made with tonnarelli pasta (similar to spaghetti, but thicker) rather than fettuccine. And unlike Alfredo pasta, it’s one of the most authentic and typical dishes you can find in Rome, so definitely a better choice!

      Reply
      1. Mike Labriola says
        March 6, 2020 at 7:21 pm

        Ciao Federica! I agree cacio e pepe is the much better choice! I have heard another story that Alfredo Bellinghieri Conti was the one who first popularized fettuccine Alfredo in Italy and then in Mexico City. Have you heard that name? Grazie!

        Reply
        1. Devour Tours says
          March 9, 2020 at 6:37 am

          Thanks for reading, Mike! Alfredo Bellinghieri Conti was born in 1930, several years after the other Alfredo (di Lelio) invented the first version of the pasta dish, but he did popularize a version of Alfredo sauce (as most people in the Western Hemisphere know it) at his restaurants in Mexico City. We hope this helps!

          Reply
  3. William Anidjar Serfaty says
    February 14, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    Thank you for your article, one of the best I have read regarding both Alfredo’s restaurants in Rome. it is true that the recipe is so simple that any one can do it : fetttuccine (if possible home made), double burro and parmeciano regiano to be add while it’s cooking. But…. it is not as easy as all that !!! After my very first visit to the Alfredo alla Scrofa many many years ago, and asking for that fantastic recipe, i was told to get the ingredients in a shop around the corner. Which I did. When I went back home, away of Italy, and tried to do it. My foot !!! They forgot to tell me that one of the main ingredients is the water of Rome !!! Any way, when returning back to Rome on another trip, I tryed Alfredo the other one, Il vero Alfredo at Piazza Augusto Imperatore, under the arcades. Really good. An really impossible to say which one is better than the other. One thing is true: when I travel to Rome and if I don’t go to enjoy those fabulous fettuccine, at one or the other Alfredo’s, it’s like not having been in Rome, it’s like some thing very important is missing. By the way, where ever in the world (or almost) I order fettuccine Alfredo, they know how to do it, but it is very important to explain that WITHIUT CREAM AND WITHOUT PERSIL. And I agree completely with you, no where in the world they can do it with the same taste and flavour than at one or the other Alfredo’s in Rome. Once again, congratulations for your article and again, thank you very much with kindest regards from Gibraltar.

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      February 17, 2020 at 8:17 am

      What an interesting experience, William! Thanks for sharing your story. It’s true that recreating a favorite dish from a restaurant can usually be tricky—sometimes even if you try your best, it’s just not the same! (And we’re with you on the fact that the authentic, parsley-and-cream-free fettuccine Alfredo is the best!)

      Reply
  4. May 10, 2020 at 4:31 pm

    HISTORY OF ALFREDO DI LELIO CREATOR IN 1908 OF “FETTUCCINE ALL’ALFREDO” (“FETTUCCINE ALFREDO”), NOW SERVED BY HIS NEPHEW INES DI LELIO, AT THE RESTAURANT “IL VERO ALFREDO” – “ALFREDO DI ROMA” IN ROME, PIAZZA AUGUSTO IMPERATORE 30

    With reference to your article I have the pleasure to tell you the history of my grandfather Alfredo Di Lelio, who is the creator of “Fettuccine all’Alfredo” (“Fettuccine Alfredo”) in 1908 in the “trattoria” run by his mother Angelina in Rome, Piazza Rosa (Piazza disappeared in 1910 following the construction of the Galleria Colonna / Sordi). This “trattoria” of Piazza Rosa has become the “birthplace of fettuccine all’Alfredo”.
    More specifically, as is well known to many people who love the “fettuccine all’Alfredo”, this famous dish in the world was invented by Alfredo Di Lelio concerned about the lack of appetite of his wife Ines, who was pregnant with my father Armando (born February 26, 1908).
    Alfredo di Lelio opened his restaurant “Alfredo” in 1914 in Rome and in 1943, during the war, he sold the restaurant to others outside his family.
    In 1950 Alfredo Di Lelio decided to reopen with his son Armando his restaurant in Piazza Augusto Imperatore n.30 “Il Vero Alfredo” (“Alfredo di Roma”), whose fame in the world has been strengthened by his nephew Alfredo and that now managed by me, with the famous “gold cutlery” (fork and spoon gold) donated in 1927 by two well-known American actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (in gratitude for the hospitality).
    See the website of “Il Vero Alfredo”.
    I must clarify that other restaurants “Alfredo” in Rome do not belong and are out of my brand “Il Vero Alfredo – Alfredo di Roma”.
    The brand “Il Vero Alfredo – Alfredo di Roma” is present in Mexico with 2 restaurants (Mexico City and Puebla) and 2 trattorias (Mexico City and Cozumel) on the basis of franchising relationships with the Group Hotel Presidente Intercontinental Mexico.
    The restaurant “Il Vero Alfredo” is in the Registry of “Historic Shops of Excellence – section on Historical Activities of Excellence” of the Municipality of Roma Capitale.
    Best regards Ines Di Lelio

    IN ITALIANO

    STORIA DI ALFREDO DI LELIO, CREATORE DELLE “FETTUCCINE ALL’ALFREDO” (“FETTUCCINE ALFREDO”), E DELLA SUA TRADIZIONE FAMILIARE PRESSO IL RISTORANTE “IL VERO ALFREDO” (“ALFREDO DI ROMA”) IN PIAZZA AUGUSTO IMPERATORE A ROMA

    Con riferimento al Vostro articolo ho il piacere di raccontarVi la storia di mio nonno Alfredo Di Lelio, inventore delle note “fettuccine all’Alfredo” (“Fettuccine Alfredo”).
    Alfredo Di Lelio, nato nel settembre del 1883 a Roma in Vicolo di Santa Maria in Trastevere, cominciò a lavorare fin da ragazzo nella piccola trattoria aperta da sua madre Angelina in Piazza Rosa, un piccolo slargo (scomparso intorno al 1910) che esisteva prima della costruzione della Galleria Colonna (ora Galleria Sordi).
    Il 1908 fu un anno indimenticabile per Alfredo Di Lelio: nacque, infatti, suo figlio Armando e videro contemporaneamente la luce in tale trattoria di Piazza Rosa le sue “fettuccine”, divenute poi famose in tutto il mondo. Questa trattoria è “the birthplace of fettuccine all’Alfredo”.
    Alfredo Di Lelio inventò le sue “fettuccine” per dare un ricostituente naturale, a base di burro e parmigiano, a sua moglie (e mia nonna) Ines, prostrata in seguito al parto del suo primogenito (mio padre Armando). Il piatto delle “fettuccine” fu un successo familiare prima ancora di diventare il piatto che rese noto e popolare Alfredo Di Lelio, personaggio con “i baffi all’Umberto” ed i calli alle mani a forza di mischiare le sue “fettuccine” davanti ai clienti sempre più numerosi.
    Nel 1914, a seguito della chiusura di detta trattoria per la scomparsa di Piazza Rosa dovuta alla costruzione della Galleria Colonna (oggi Galleria Sordi), Alfredo Di Lelio decise di aprire a Roma il suo ristorante “Alfredo” che gestì fino al 1943, per poi cedere l’attività a terzi estranei alla sua famiglia.
    Ma l’assenza dalla scena gastronomica di Alfredo Di Lelio fu del tutto transitoria. Infatti nel 1950 riprese il controllo della sua tradizione familiare ed aprì, insieme al figlio Armando, il ristorante “Il Vero Alfredo” (noto all’estero anche come “Alfredo di Roma”) in Piazza Augusto Imperatore n.30 (cfr. il sito web di Il Vero Alfredo).
    Con l’avvio del nuovo ristorante Alfredo Di Lelio ottenne un forte successo di pubblico e di clienti negli anni della “dolce vita”. Successo, che, tuttora, richiama nel ristorante un flusso continuo di turisti da ogni parte del mondo per assaggiare le famose “fettuccine all’Alfredo” al doppio burro da me servite, con l’impegno di continuare nel tempo la tradizione familiare dei miei cari maestri, nonno Alfredo, mio padre Armando e mio fratello Alfredo. In particolare le fettuccine sono servite ai clienti con 2 “posate d’oro”: una forchetta ed un cucchiaio d’oro regalati nel 1927 ad Alfredo dai due noti attori americani M. Pickford e D. Fairbanks (in segno di gratitudine per l’ospitalità).
    Un aneddoto della vita di mio nonno. Alfredo fu un grande amico di Ettore Petrolini, che conobbe nei primi anni del 1900 in un incontro tra ragazzi del quartiere Trastevere (tra cui mio nonno) e ragazzi del Quartiere Monti (tra cui Petrolini). Fu proprio Petrolini che un giorno, già attore famoso, andando a trovare l’amico Alfredo, dopo averlo abbracciato, gli disse “Alfré adesso famme vede che sai fa”. Alfredo dopo essersi esibito nel suo tipico “show” che lo vedeva mischiare le fettuccine fumanti con le sue posate d’oro davanti ai clienti, si avvicinò al suo amico Ettore che commentò “meno male che non hai fatto l’attore perché posto per tutti e due nun c’era” e consigliò ad Alfredo di tappezzare le pareti del ristorante con le sue foto insieme ai clienti più famosi. Anche ciò fa parte del cuore della bella tradizione di famiglia che continuo a rendere sempre viva con affetto ed entusiasmo.
    Desidero precisare che altri ristoranti “Alfredo” a Roma non appartengono e sono fuori dal mio brand di famiglia.
    Il brand “Il Vero Alfredo – Alfredo di Roma” è presente in Messico con 2 ristoranti (Città del Messico e Puebla) e 2 trattorie (Città del Messico e Cozumel) sulla base di rapporti di franchising con il Group Hotel Presidente Intercontinental Mexico.
    Vi informo che il Ristorante “Il Vero Alfredo” è presente nell’Albo dei “Negozi Storici di Eccellenza” del Comune di Roma Capitale.
    Grata per la Vostra attenzione ed ospitalità nel Vostro interessante blog, cordiali saluti
    Ines Di Lelio

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      May 11, 2020 at 8:01 am

      Thank you so much for reading, Ines! Your family’s story is indeed fascinating.

      Reply

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