We all know the saying, "When in Rome," and when it comes to dining out in The Eternal City, it's best to not order one particular dish. It's hardly a surprise that much of what we come to know as regional cuisine isn't actually consumed by the locals. Chinese food as served in America is hardly congruent with what's for dinner in China, and many of the sushi rolls found on menus stateside would be completely foreign to those in Japan. The same is true of Italian cuisine, especially for one dish that's become something of a comfort-food staple for Americans: fettuccine Alfredo.
If you see fettuccine Alfredo on a menu in Rome, you've likely fallen into a tourist trap. As Condé Nast Traveler recently explained, the pasta dish is hardly authentic to Italian cuisine, but it has its origins with a small trattoria owner satiating his wife's pregnancy cravings in the early 1900s. The eponymous Alfredo di Lielo crafted the high-calorie meal especially for his wife, who then insisted he add it to his menu, where it became a house specialty but it was never adopted by other trattorias due to its inauthenticity.
(For one, it used Parmigiano for the cheese, "a bold move in Pecorino Romano country," and butter, which at the time wasn't a common ingredient in Italian cooking.)
The reason the dish because so popular in America was thanks to the Pennsylvania Dutch noodle company that marketed the creamy sauce after New York restauranteur George Renart praised fettuccine Alfredo in the Saturday Evening Post after returning from a trip to Rome. The dish has become further Americanized with cream and sometimes chicken and still remains off the menus at most Roman trattorias.
But if you find yourself craving Alfredo in Rome, it is possible to experience the real deal. "I always encourage travelers to seek out Alfredo in Rome," says local food expert Elizabeth Minchilli. "You just need to know where to go." The answer is a 103-year-old restaurant, now lit beneath green neon lights, between Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain. It is the trattoria Alfredo himself started after his first location was torn down, and the Alfredo on the menu is much like the original dish he concocted for his wife those many years ago—hot noodles mixed with a generous heap of softened butter and grated Parmigiano.
Looking to explore more beyond Rome? Here are the best cities to visit in Italy.