What's The Difference: Alfredo Vs. Pinoy-Style Carbonara

These two creamy pasta dishes taste different. Here's why.

IMAGE Bianca Laxamana
ILLUSTRATOR Roselle Miranda

Not all pasta dishes are Italian in origin. What is popular among classic and well-loved pasta recipes is that many were ordinary pasta dishes so good, it was passed on. That's how your ordinary dish becomes legendary. 

For the pasta, there are no truer facts than this for the pasta alfredo and carbonara. The alfredo sauce was allegedly created by a chef looking to cook a pasta dish for his wife. She loved fettuccine al burro or fettuccine with butter so to whet her appetite, he used more ingredients than there was originally in the recipe. It was such a hit that he served it in his restaurant, Alfredo's. 

As for the carbonara pasta, there are conflicting stories but one of the more popular theories is that American troops in Italy during World War II tossed pasta together with a mixture of bacon, beaten eggs, and cheese. (Whether it was bacon or guanciale or prosciutto can be a matter up for debate and availability.) 

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What is known is that there was no cream in this original carbonara recipe, however. The introduction of cream would later be a hack that would be made as a substitute for the lack of eggs. The substitute was a genius cooking solution that created a super creamy dish without the danger of scrambling the eggs in the process. This creamy version is the dish that Pinoys make and crave every time they think of carbonara pasta. 

So both pasta recipes are super creamy but how are the alfredo and creamy Pinoy-style carbonara pasta dishes different? 

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1 Alfredo needs butter. Carbonara uses bacon fat. 

The original alfredo sauce is based on a pasta recipe that was simply tossed in butter. This holds true in the alfredo. It uses butter as the main fat that marries the other ingredients together into a sauce. 

The carbonara pasta based on cream however uses bacon. Since bacon is the most accessible kind of cured meat, this is the kind used in our version.  

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2 Alfredo uses cheese. Pinoy-style Carbonara uses cream. 

The creamy sauce of the alfredo pasta is not the result of cream or even eggs. It's all about the cheese and the butter forming an emulsion to create the creamy sauce that many of us love. This is tricky since butter and cheese don't always meld well. This is where the pasta water from the pasta comes in and saves the sauce. A little water with the starch contributes to the silky texture as well as helps the two ingredients blend together. 

Pinoy-style carbonara however doesn't need any help. The cream is simply added to the bacon already cooked in the pan. The bacon not only helps flavor the cream but also tempers its strong flavor so the bacon isn't too powerful in flavor to overpower the dish. 

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3 Alfredo is tossed with fettuccine. Carbonara is tossed with spaghetti. 

You can totally use another kind of pasta or pasta shape you want in your homemade pasta dishes, but the most common pasta used for these two dishes is pasta noodles. For the alfredo, it's the fettuccine, thin but flat noodles. For the carbonara, it's the spaghetti, thin round noodles.  

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Thinking about what to cook next? Join our Facebook group, Yummy Pinoy Cooking Club, to get more recipe ideas, share your own dishes, and find out what the rest of the community are making and eating!

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