Macaroni and cheese is a staple comfort food for family dinners and holiday events like Thanksgiving and Christmas. In many parts of the United States, a typical mac and cheese just needs a few key ingredients — noodles, a (sharp) cheese, milk, some butter and, depending on where you’re from, some kind of crunchy topping, like breadcrumbs.
Sure, you’ve probably had different spins on this beloved dish already. Maybe someone has served you a four-cheese macaroni and cheese — or maybe you’ve been to a restaurant that prides itself on adding unexpected seasonings or truffle oil to the mix. Needless to say, with just two titular, must-have ingredients, folks all over the world have their own ways to mix pasta with cheese.
So, whether you’re looking to expand your culinary horizons or add a fun twist to your next Kraft creation, these nine takes on macaroni and cheese will have you thinking outside the box.
Macaroni Béchamel | Egypt
While many Americans picture a yellow-orange cheddar cheese-based mac and cheese, that’s a pretty limited view of what this delectable duo can offer. In Egypt, the mac and cheese-adjacent dish is macaroni béchamel, which uses penne pasta, tomato sauce, and ground meat.
The meat is first baked between two layers of pasta with tomato sauce. However, the game-changer is the béchamel sauce — a mixture of butter, flour, and milk — that’s added to the dish, along with a healthy helping of cheese, after it cooks.
Käsespätzle | Germany
If Germany had something akin to macaroni and cheese it would be käsespätzle. Made from a chewy dough known as spätzle, the macaroni in this dish is passed through the appropriately named spätzel press, which is not unlike a potato ricer, and then boiled in salted water.
While spätzle on its own can be a side dish or a soup add-in, what makes the käsespätzle dish stand out is the Jarlsberg cheese sauce. Warm and comforting, this German and Austrian favorite can even be served with caramelized onions if you’re looking for a little extra flavor.
Cacio e Pepe | Italy
For many macaroni lovers, Italy is the heart of the pasta world, so it’s no surprise that it has its own special macaroni and cheese-like dish. Well, as close as we’re going to get, anyway.
Cacio e Pepe, which means “cheese and pepper,” is made with a skinny pasta — think tagliolini, bucatini, or spaghetti. That’s right — no elbow- or shell-shaped macaroni here! You’ll also add grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, butter, and fresh black pepper to the dish to taste.
Fiskegrateng | Norway
While tossing some breadcrumbs on top of your mac and cheese or adding a spritz or truffle oil to the dish might not seem like shocking additions, Norway’s add-in might stop you in your tracks. The classic Norwegian casserole dish, fiskegrateng (“fish au gratin”), consists of macaroni shells, grated cheese and… cod.
Oftentimes, this mac and cheese (and fish) dish is meant to use up any extra fish you’ve got lying around. After all, why let it go to waste? Sure, the idea of putting fish on your Kraft mac and cheese seems a little rough, but fish, pasta and grated cheese pair well in other circumstances, right? It’s all about perspective.
Túrós Csusza | Hungary
Túrós csusza is Hungary’s answer to macaroni and cheese. Made with bacon, sour cream, cottage cheese and, sometimes, lecsó — a mixed vegetable dish that’s added on top to add more variety to the classic side — this one looks pretty mouthwatering to us.
Interestingly, this dish is sometimes served as a tasty dessert of sorts after the main course. So, how does this spin on mac and cheese become dessert appropriate? You just swap out the bacon and salt for sugar.
Mac and Cheese Pie | The Bahamas
The Bahamas’ mac and cheese pie has got to be one of the best-sounding entries on our list. Traditionally, the dish is made with elbow macaroni, cheese, eggs, evaporated milk, and butter.
Once baked, it’s cut into squares, resembling lasagna or casserole. Some recipes for this macaroni bake might also call for onions or green pepper — just to add a bit more flavor to the mix. In fact, Bahamians love this dish so much that they offer food tours for visitors that are centered around mac and cheese pie.
Macaroni Schotel | Indonesia
Indonesia also has its own special macaroni and cheese-like dish, which is known as macaroni schotel — literally, “macaroni dish”. Typically, this one consists of macaroni, eggs, milk, and cheese, much like the macaroni and cheese dishes we serve up in the States.
But the key to macaroni schotel? Adding some kind of meat, be it sausage, ham, chicken, or tuna. Some folks even add potato to keep it vegetarian friendly or corned beef for a little extra saltiness. Baked until firm, this dish is served in slices — and, trust us, you’ll want more than one.
Älplermagronen | Switzerland
The Swiss twist on mac and cheese? It’s known as älplermagronen. Made with elbow-shaped macaroni, potatoes, caramelized onions, and Gruyere cheese, this dish is served with a side of warm applesauce.
Commonly referred to as “herdsman’s macaroni,” it’s a great winter staple — namely because it’ll warm you right up. Typically, this Swiss treat is served across Switzerland and Austria, especially at the restaurants located at the Alps’ famed ski resorts.
Kanafeh | Palestine
Sure, you’ve heard of dessert pizza, but what about dessert mac and cheese? Kanafeh is a Palestinian pastry made with nabulsi, a soft cheese; thin strands of semolina wheat; and a sweet-sugar syrup.
While kanafeh’s roots can be traced back to the ancient city of Nablus, it’s beloved today in many countries within the Arab World. Best served hot, the sweet is sometimes topped with pistachios — not unlike certain spins on baklava.
Can’t get enough of our regional food roundups? See which states have the best pie in In Crust We Trust: Our Favorite Takes on Pizza From Across the U.S. and take a look at our favorite ways to style this all-American sausage in Hot Dog! Regional Takes on an American Favorite. If you’re hungry for more mac and cheese, check out Symptomfind’s roundup of 5 Easy-to-Make Homemade Mac and Cheese Recipes.