Panorama of Vatican

Alfredo Sauce

November 27, 2018 / By: Heather Ruby
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Heather Ruby is a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas. She spends her time embracing the many opportunities for exploration and growth that her study abroad experience has to offer.

Monday, 10 September 2018. The grocery store is compact – what I estimate would be the size of approximately thirteen college dorm rooms laid out side by side. The overly green windows, glass doors, interior walls and shopping carts attempt to imitate the fresh, clean, cool, organic shade of crisp vegetables but instead radiate artificiality. Four fellow Bernardians and I step inside this market, our new one-stop-shop for all our lunch, dinner, snack, comfort and basic toiletry needs for the coming three months. We maneuver past the three checkout lanes immediately inside the door and lay our eyes on the goods for the first time. Fresh fruits and vegetables line the first section of the store – four dorm rooms full of apples, carrots, peppers, pears, lettuce, peaches, pomegranates, zucchini, plums, etc. Hidden behind the fruit sits a small bread counter,[1] and to the right of that is Protein Area no. 1 in which resides the all-important €4,00 package of chicken.[2] The rest of the store is about twice the size of the produce area. The sections are divided here as such: alcoholic beverages, juices, gelato, boxed pasta, fresh pasta, dairy, and snacks. There is no entire shelf dedicated to the twenty-nine varieties of Oreo cookies. There is no soda aisle boasting endless brands and flavors of carbonated, corn-syrupy bliss (though you can grab a cold can of Coke or Fanta at the end of your journey if you please). There is no deli stretching half the length of the back of a warehouse-sized store offering everything from finger jello to pre-made potato salad.[3] But this is Italy. We are not here for any of these things. We are here for the one thing that has been dancing through our minds since we learned in January that we had been accepted into the program.

Photo for Bernardi blog

Authentic Italian alfredo sauce. Even just the cheap can we are sure will be waiting for us on a shelf in Tuodi, next to the €0,52 jar of pasta sauce. However, we would soon realize, in the words of essayist Alain de Botton, “the relationship between the anticipation of travel and its reality;” our expectations of a place can never match its reality. With visions of fettucine alfredo from Olive Garden dancing in our minds, we set out on our mission. Except we do not find the sauce. It is not next to the cheeses, nor by the pasta sauce. It is not in the refrigerated Protein Area no. 1 with the chicken nor is it anywhere among the fresh pasta. So, we proceed in the following fashion: (1) We elect to hunt down a store clerk and ask where we can find the alfredo sauce and thus weave back through the customers making their way to the fresh pasta section, past the gelato and to the front of the store. (2) Chelsea approaches the clerk and asks, “Alfredo?” to which we are met with a look that I can only describe as purely befuddled. (3) Chelsea goes on to try to describe how this sauce is bianco and con formaggio and per la pasta, but the look on the cashier’s face has not changed. (4) We finally realize that something is amiss, but, nevertheless, the clerk rises from his chair and leads us back into the green dorm rooms, darting here and there, holding up items that he believes we may be looking for. (5) After no success, we are forced to accept defeat, offer a grazie and a mi dispiace for taking so much of his time, and come to terms with the fact that we will not, in fact, be eating alfredo on the regular. (6) We try to hold back the red tinge on our cheeks upon the realization of our American-ness as a simple Google search reveals that Alfredo is simply a common Italian male name,[4] and that alfredo sauce is not in fact Traditional Italian Food but Traditional American Italian Food, and that alfredo sauce proper only exists in Italy in one singular restaurant as Alfredo sauce, a specific recipe named after the owner of said ristorante. (7) We all chuckle and half-heartedly vow to visit this restaurant if we have the chance, or at least to attempt our own pseudo-alfredo recipe with other ingredients Tuodi has to offer. This has been a lesson learned in what Alain de Botton writes about, citing “the difference between what we imagine about a place and what can occur when we reach it.” 

Photo of building reading alfredo


[1] The sliced bread, however, must be found on the opposite side of the store near the dairy products.

[2] Protein Area no. 2 can be found towards the front of the store, next to the various juices. Protein Area no. 2 contains cartons of eggs – sold in packages of 4, 6 or 10. A carton of one dozen eggs cannot be purchased at Tuodi.

[3] It became very evident very quickly that I would feel the perils of long distance with Festival Foods more than with my family, home, friends, dogs, bed, or any number of other things.

[4] I am sure this fact explains much of the confusion of the store clerk upon being approached by five foreigners he had never seen before trying to get his attention with a name that was likely not his.