As winter starts to settle in, we're sharing international versions of our favorite comfort food.
Noodles and cheese make an undeniably epic combination that can’t be confined by geographic boundaries. That’s why you can find variations of mac ‘n cheese all around the world. Though the type of cheese and the shape of the noodle changes from culture to culture, the power of the dish remains the same: It will always be a favorite homey meal made to comfort and nourish.
Cacio e Pepe
Literally “cheese and pepper” in Italian, cacio e pepe is an ancient Roman pasta dish that hangs on the quality of raw ingredients. It’s made with fresh, skinny, egg pasta like tagliolini, bucatini, or spaghetti; heaps of salty, grated cheese like Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano; and of course, freshly cracked black pepper to give it a little heat. It’s a must-eat during any Roman holiday, and there’s no shortage of restaurants in Rome serving up the dish. Try the authentic, simple, and delicious version at the cozy Flavio al Velavevodetto, or push the boundaries and try an avant-garde variety with shrimp and lime at the swish, three-Michelin-starred La Pergola.
A hot mess of elbow macaroni, potatoes, caramelized onion, Gruyere cheese, and a side of warm applesauce, älplermagronen is a hearty, calorific dish designed to keep your stomach full through any wintery Alpine trek. Traditionally dished-up in mountain huts and chalets, älplermagronen is also known as “herdsmen’s macaroni,” and it’s served at home-style restaurants throughout Switzerland and Austria—especially at Alpine ski resorts. Enjoy the mountain views and try it at Restaurant Flühmatt in Engelberg, in Central Switzerland.
Spätzle is a chewy dough made from flour, eggs, and salt, which is then passed through a späzel press (similar to a potato ricer), and then boiled in salt water. Spätzle can be served in soups or with creamy sauces, including with a Jarlsberg cheese sauce to make the belly-warming käsespätzle dish. Though a popular home-cooked meal, you can find this dish served throughout Germany, including restaurants in major cities like in Munich’s Jodlerwirt and Stuttgart’s Alte Kanzlei
Filling, homemade food is easy to find in the family-run tavernas of Greece. So you can score yourself a piece of delicious, oven-baked pastitsio everywhere from the mainland to the famous blue-and-white Cyclades islands. Called “Greek lasagna,” this dish contains layers of penne pasta, ground meat, and a topping of velvety, white béchamel sauce sprinkled with hard, white kefalotyri cheese—all with the structural integrity of lasagna.
KD or Kraft Dinner (what the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner brand is colloquially called in Canada) is an undeniable icon of Canadian culture. Consisting of nonperishable dried elbow pasta; neon-orange cheese powder; and a famous blue box, this the unofficial national dish of Canada where it experiences incredible (and slightly baffling) popularity.
Mac and cheese in dessert form, you say? Kanafeh is a Middle Eastern pastry dessert made with soft cheese called nabulsi; shredded, ultra-thin strands of semolina; and sweet sugar syrup. It’s said to have originated in the ancient Palestinian city of Nablus, where it’s still an institution (and thus the name of the cheese). Locals line up at the tiny, no-frills Al-Aqsa bakery in the Old City where round, coffee table-sized pans of kanafeh bake over burners and are served cut into piping-hot, gooey squares.
Created by Macedonian immigrants, Cincinnati Chili is a prized, hometown dish from Ohio consisting of spaghetti topped with meat chili. It can be ordered several different ways, including with onions, beans, and ungodly amounts of shredded cheese. There are tons of top-rated “chili parlors” to choose from in Cincinnati, including Camp Washington Chili, which has been around since 1940.
Fiskegrateng (“fish au gratin”) is an old-style Norwegian casserole dish of shredded cod with small macaroni like shells and grated cheese. This fishy mac and cheese plate is often made at home to use up leftover fish, but you can sample it at Emma’s Drommekjokken in the center of Tromsø where the nourishing fiskegrateng is supplied in heart-shaped plates.
Lokshen kugel is a noodle dish made for Jewish holidays like Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year), and it most commonly contains cottage cheese and wide, egg noodles. It can be savory or sweet—in fact, even the famous New York Jewish deli Katz’s has a sweet version with mandarin orange, pineapple, and cinnamon. Yum! Household recipes vary from family to family, as this plate isn’t exactly restricted to geographic limits. It’s homemade dish with roots in the “old country”—wherever that may be.
Tuna Noodle Casserole
Often associated with Midwestern housewives, this creamy pasta bake made with canned tuna and topped with cheddar cheese was a 1950s family mealtime mainstay. But now that retro comfort food is making comeback, tuna noodle casserole has been popping up on the menus of trendy eateries like San Francisco’s Finn Town, where their version of tuna casserole is modernized (and hipsterized) with seared tuna, maitake mushrooms, cheddar, and egg noodles.
Called “Mexican spaghetti,” sopa seca literally translates to “dry soup” and is made with ultra-thin fideo noodles, in a “dry” sauce of tomatoes and onions, and then garnished with cheese (usually queso fresco, shredded cotija, or diced queso panela). Try this authentic dish at Porfirio’s in the Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City for this traditional (but yet ubiquitous) taste of Mexico.
Bahamian Mac and Cheese Pie
There’s more to the Bahamas than just the gorgeous beaches, and genuine Bahamian food is a part of the culture that you’re not going to want to miss. On the Bites of Nassau Food Tour by Tru Bahamian’s Food Tours, you’ll be able to sample Bahamian Mac and Cheese, an island favorite that’s usually served as a side dish, cut into squares. It’s firmly held together with eggs, evaporated milk, and of course, lots of butter.