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Thoughts on Macaroni and Cheese

I've been thinking about the phrase "macaroni and cheese" and "macaroni cheese" lately, as you know.

The more I think about it, the more deeply convinced I am that the (primarily? exclusively?*) British phrase "macaroni cheese" reflects how French the English of Britain is. It doesn't look so on first sight, for there is nothing French about either word in it. But the construction fits the model introduced to British English by boeuf bourguinion and spaghetti bolognaise. From that perspective, the construction of [main substance][sauce] makes sense.

But I can't think of a similar explanation for "macaroni and cheese". All of the [substance] and [substance] standard constructions I can think of are pairings of more substantial things than a dish and its sauce.** Sauce is something that's with, not and, as far as I can think. I can't think of any other and examples involving sauce offhand in American English.

* Of the four people who claimed otherwise on the poll, all but one unknown have definitely lived in the UK for a substantial period of time.

** Unhelpfully, the examples coming to mind aren't American. Bangars and mash. Bubble and squeak. American more often hyphenates multi-content dishes: strawberry-rhubarb pie. Apple cranberry juice.


( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 7th, 2007 10:42 pm (UTC)

This is very interesting! Something I found striking when I was living in France was the omission of the "and" in companion dishes. Where the British would say "Fish and chips", the French simply order "moules frites" when they want musssels and fries. The beer seems to simply be assumed. Of course, that's not saucy...

How about "Mashed potatoes and gravy"?
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 7th, 2007 10:56 pm (UTC)
Biscuits and gravy?
Feb. 7th, 2007 11:12 pm (UTC)
Hey just a minor quibble on French spelling: it's "Boeuf Bourguignon".

I'm also not sure that it quite fits into the scheme that you're highlighting as well because "bourguignon" refers to the style of preparation of the dish, and "boeuf bourguignon" could be translated as "Beef Burgundian Style". Technically the same applies for "spaghetti bolognaise" though with this example "bolognaise" has actually become the actual name of a sauce, though it originally referred to spaghetti prepared in the style of Bologna, just as many other "French" sauces derive their names from places (Bearnaise, Hollandaise, Americaine etc.).

See the Wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bourguignon.

Also, while it's been a while since I traveled in francophone Europe, I don't recall there being a particular name for "macaroni and cheese" in either France, Belgium or Switzerland, it would just be "macaronis avec sauce fromage" or "macaronis au fromage" or something along those lines.

Now I'm thinking I need to google instant pasta boxes in French ...

Feb. 7th, 2007 11:13 pm (UTC)
Actually I also suppose that one could alsot interpret "Boeuf Bourguignon" as "Beef in Burgundy Red Wine Sauce".
(no subject) - littleowl - Feb. 7th, 2007 11:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 7th, 2007 11:18 pm (UTC)
Roast beef and Yorkshire, roast lamb and mint sauce.

But - and I think this is significant - "cauliflower cheese". I rather assume the macaroni dish is seen as a (rather extreme, admittedly) variant on the older traditional dish.

Where that name came from, Lord knows. But at least it's more native!
Feb. 7th, 2007 11:54 pm (UTC)
Macaroni cheese is a dish of some antiquity. William Verral, host of the White Horse Inn in Horsham, refers to it in the early 1700s.
(no subject) - gillo - Feb. 8th, 2007 12:49 am (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 7th, 2007 11:25 pm (UTC)
Cauliflower cheese suffers a similar expansion in American English to "cauliflower and cheese sauce".
Feb. 7th, 2007 11:26 pm (UTC)
Well, I wouldn't consider macaroni with cheese sauce to be macaroni and cheese. Macaroni and cheese requires a cheese sauce, layers of grated cheese, and baking. It must not have anything resembling egg or custard. In the sense of macaroni cheese, my way of making it (regardless of "and") is more akin to cauliflower cheese, i.e., it has less to do with sauce than the fact that there is real cheese, melted, involved. (I suppose I should explain that cauliflower cheese in my family is steamed cauliflower with melted cheese, whereas with sauce, it would be cauliflower with cheese sauce).

So it may be less a sauce thing than a substantive thing.

Of coure, in my family, we also eat eggy toast (boiled egg on toast).

OH!!! Tuna-noodle, short for tuna-noodle casserole. But creamed peas and potatoes.

Although, by your reasoning, it's not that it's sauce, it's one of those bastardizations. In American English, we also say spaghetti bolognese, fettucini alfredo, penne puttanesca, etc. -- when it's "in the fashion of". But if it's a thing plus a type of sauce, it's 'and' or more likely, 'with', so, asparagus with hollandaise sauce. Those are things that make grammatical sense. If your theory about cheese as sauce is right, then it's one of those things where pig-ignorant usage has taken root to become commonplace -- 'cos 'macaroni in the style of cheese' makes no sense.

OTOH, the lovely American pizza pie ...
Feb. 7th, 2007 11:40 pm (UTC)
Right so "macaroni and cheese" would be a short form of "macaroni and cheese sauce" but that would leave "macaroni cheese" sort of twisting in the wind.


I'm trying to think of more examples in french now too ... because I'm pretty sure there's usually an "avec" in between (foodname) and (sauce name) though sometimes in shorthand the "avec" drops out ...
(no subject) - a_d_medievalist - Feb. 8th, 2007 01:26 am (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 8th, 2007 02:42 am (UTC)
Spaghetti and meatballs.

Technically meatballs are not a sauce but it is understood that it is the topping, in a tomato base, for spaghetti
Feb. 8th, 2007 09:09 am (UTC)
The only example like "macaroni cheese" in English that is not a name taken directly from another language is "cauliflower cheese". The big question is which word modifies which - is it the macaroni or the cauliflower that is important, or is it the cheese? If it's the cheese, then there may be a mistaken premise in the original post. The sauce element is almost incidental as it is not something that is added to the dish at the end, but intrinsic to it, and a vehicle for mixing the cheese in with it; all recipes I have come across have ended up with topping the dish with grated cheese before putting it in the oven.

In any case, neither of the two examples from foreign that you mention involve, strictly speaking, a sauce; each of them is a dish cooked in the manner of a particular place - Burgundy or Bologna. So again there is a problem with the premise.
Feb. 8th, 2007 09:53 am (UTC)
Macaroni-style cheese? Macaroni-flavored cheese? Macaroni-topped cheese? It's plausible that the cheese is the main substance, I'm just reticent to believe it.

As for your other point, yes, it's a problem. And it's a problem even when place isn't involved and the dish is eggs benedict or potatoes dauphinois. Yet without any other examples of a bulky starch or vegetable as a noun-acting-as-adjective modifying cheese, I'm struggling to think of another explanation for it other than the dismissive "quirk of English" explanation.
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Feb. 9th, 2007 07:42 am (UTC)
rather unhelpfully all I can think of is the very American "hamburger with ketchup".

In Arabic a number of dishes are named with the linking particle "bi" - which means "with", but in a more immediate sense. hummus bi-tahineh (hummus with tahineh), hummus bi-lehmeh (hummus with shaved meat on top), etc.

BUT you can't say, for example, shai/qahwa bi-haleeb (tea/coffee with milk). You say: shai/aahwa maa haleeb (maa is the "proper" word for "with").

Contemporary Arabic, especially here in the Levant, has grandfathered in a number of terms and grammatical usages from French. I've wondered before whether the use of "bi" in dish names isn't one example of Arabic a la francaise.
Feb. 13th, 2007 05:32 pm (UTC)
I went off on one about said Macaroni Cheese yesterday and my mate (who is married to an American! YAY WERE IN ENGLAND TAKIN YER STUFF!) pointed me to you.

I'm glad someone elses is thinking the same thing as me.
( 40 comments — Leave a comment )