Macaroni Salad – Two ways

Will someone please explain our national fascination with macaroni salad? mac1 Is this a holdover from 1950’s Filipino-American fusion cooking? Were our mothers so bowled over by Betty Crocker (the brand, not a real person, did you know that?) that we churned out a salad that was fundamentally unsuitable to a hot and humid tropical country where mayonnaise spoils faster than you can properly say and spell salmonella? Don’t get me wrong, I love macaroni salad. My mom made it for large gatherings with buffets laid out. I continued eating it at college cafeterias in the U.S. and later with terrific fried chicken that my sister used to and still makes. It just seems so odd that it would achieve such a vaunted position in our party food line-up in just the past few decades. According to my brief search for macaroni salad history, its earliest beginnings were in the United States in the 1950’s…

It was the quintessential low effort, high carbohydrate dish that busy mothers mac3craved… boil up some macaroni and throw on some bottled mayonnaise, eggs, etc. Serve with a sliced ham or baloney (bologna?) sandwich and the kiddies were fueled until the next meal! This was progress. And its influence was so strong it crossed the Pacific Ocean and landed on Philippine shores just about the time we were moving into gated communities with cookie cutter houses and televisions tuned to I Love Lucy and I Dream of Genie. Whatever the reason, we had to apply the Filipino touch so the salad morphed into a sweeter form that some folks even believe could serve as a desert…

Here are my two versions of macaroni salad for the truly cooking impaired mac2(in other words, I can’t believe most of you can’t do this without instructions). First, a more western-style macaroni salad. Boil some macaroni in SALTED water, drain and cool. Add some chopped celery, ham, or chopped boiled egg. Mix some Dijon mustard into lots of mayonnaise and mix into the macaroni. Season with salt and pepper. Chill and serve. Other things you can add are chopped mild onion, olives, dill, parsley, etc. Getting this right is all about balance and taste…too much celery makes it overly cruncy, too much ham makes it too salty, etc. If you use homemade mayonnaise you will get a haute macaroni, silky smooth and noticeably yummier. Second, a more pinoy-style macaroni. Boil some macaroni in SALTED water, drain and cool. Add shredded chicken, drained pineapple chunks (yikes!) or raisins, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. I tried to think of other local variations but I shuddered at the thought. I will leave this extensive list to marketmanila readers to post in the comments section. What do you put in your macaroni salad?!?

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39 Responses

  1. actually, mention i think the pinoys have adopted the macaroni and mayonnaise as indigent food na eh. hahaha. the italians would be aghast with what we can do with macaroni and chicken broth, and i think we have more use with mayonnaise than the americans. great article once again, mm… it seems you’ve been churning out your articles in speed mode lately.

  2. Macaroni salad is a great quick fix for all the resons you mentioned.
    My preparation is more laissez faire -meaning I’ll throw whatever protein i have at hand to counterbalance (haha…) the carbs. And I don’t use mayo.
    I’m biased towards whole wheat and spinach or otherwise enriched pastas – and I like the visual effect of “rainbow rottini”
    So I get my water boiling in anticipation and in the interim –
    1) Sautee and caramelize generous portions onions and garlic in olive oil and some sort of vinegar (I recommend Balsamic or Red Wine varieties) in a saucepan. If fresh basil or oregano or any kind of fresh herb (even cillantro!) is availiable throw that in as well once you’ve reduced the onions and garlic. Powdered spices will work in a pinch but its obviously not as good. I often throw in pine nuts as well – making sure to sautee them thoroughly and release the wonderful oils.
    2) Mix in mushrooms, carrots, celery, even sliced fruit – whatever is at hand – and give them a good sauteeing with the juices. Waht is important is a thorough caramelizing.
    3) At this point the pasta should be ready. Very important: always should be very al dente – the moisture from the heat and sauce added will soften it. Drain and deposit in a large serving bowl.
    4) While the pasta is still warm, distribute generously and mix grated cheese – parma, mozza, whatever – I’ve actually had good results with brie and blue (obviously not grated) – so the cheese melts and wraps itself around the pasta evenly in the bowl. In lieu of cheese one could use a cream-based salad dressing – Ranch and Blue Cheese work well.
    5) Add the sauteed preprarations and mix in with the pasta. At this point I usually add pre-cooked chicken. Canned tuna or salmon would probably work as well.
    6) To make this a true salad I usually mix in generous heaps of cherry or grape tomatoes. Broccoli, prepared asparagus, and raw cucumbers are nice as well. Pepper and curry as one favors.
    7) If one likes their macaroni salad luke-warm and soggy this could be served as is. Best to cover w/saran wrap let sit and get to room temperature and then put in the fridge. (One runs the risk of mould if put in the fridge righ taway while still warm). After the salad chills a bit and the juices, protein, fresh veggies and the cramaleized bits all get acquainted – this macaraoni salad, although uncoventional, is real treat and a proven hit.

  3. Good grief skunkeye, that sounds stupendous. Nothing like the macaroni salads I have had here in the Philippines or elsewhere on the planet! Sounds more like a pasta, filling, dressing wonder! I really can’t get over it, someone who has overthought a salad more than I ever could… an entry on salads coming up in a few days in answer to a challenge from a chef… acidboy, you are right, I forgot about our penchant for boiling macaroni in soup! Yikes, have we bastardized the ingredient or what!

  4. i don’t know about filipino-brand mayonnaise, but if you use american bottled mayo, there are so many preservatives in the typical brands that the mayo actually becomes a preservative for your mayo-based salads. you, are, however, still at risk from a lot of other add ins :)

    my aunt adds diced, boiled carrots to her macaroni salad as an alternative to the sweeter pineapple and raisin alternative, which is actually quite pleasant.

  5. i was just wondering, since you are a cebuano MM, most cebuanos i know (and even from other visayan region), they often prepare a salad with condensed milk, fruit cocktail, kaong and macaroni(?) which i am not really fond with, ‘coz i find it really odd!? Sorry, but i don’t mean to offend. they never use mayonnaise with macaroni. Are you familiar with this MM? (just curious)

  6. oh, i forgot to mention i always prepare macaroni salad, the same way you do – a combination of pinoy & western style. i add apple, pickle relish, fresh grated carrots and cream cheese.

  7. Yes, I have heard of this. My hardcore Cebuano crew loves this idea and are big fans of condensed milk. I personally have not ever eaten this but I can see why it is popular given our terrible slide into sweet things. My theory is as a nation gets poorer, the food gets sweeter, saltier or spicier to mask the poor quality of the other underlying ingredients. Stay tuned for my next post on fruit cocktail salad that is right up that alley…

  8. we used to put fruit cocktail, boiled potato, boiled chicken or ham, cubed apples, cubed cheese, pineapple tidbits, in our macaroni salad with mayonaise as dressing. Season with a little sugar, salt and pepper… How would u to try it ?

  9. Mine is the the japanese version of macaroni salad…so Japaroni Sarad? I use kani sliced into strips, whole kernel corn, dallops of japanese mayo mixed in with regular mayonnaise, crushed pineapple(including the juice)and some chopped onion. If I were splurging, I’d add some ebikko (flying fish roe. Banzai!

  10. ana, that sounds really good. I was once served japanese spaghetti at a noodle house on Pasay road and thought it was a bit strange…but now that you describe your macaroni, it wasn’t too unusual after all!

  11. thanks for that info MM, can’t wait to read your post on fruit cocktail salad which i am sure you’ll share (as always) additional information that i have never heard of!

  12. my mum’s recipe involves cooked chicken, good quality mayonnaise, boiled eggs, and pickles – the latter gives the salad quite a nice zing!!!

  13. No macaroni salad in my past. Closest is a chicken salad sandwich filled with diced chicken meat bound with a sauce velouté made from its stock. A nice break from the usual throat parching sandwiches they served at parties.

    You touched on a topic I have been wondering about too, the relentless Filipino penchant for making food inappropriately sweet. The pan de sal that I ate for breakfast as a child was burger bun sized French baguettes. Now (here in Toronto) they foist it on the unwary as sweet bun. Revolting!

  14. I’d rather do a potato salad than macaroni salad, your western style recipe would be good with roasted potatoes.

    Looking forward to your fruit salad post. I’m not a fan of fruit salad with mayonaise. There’s just something about the mixture of fruit with the oil or egginess of mayonaise that just doesn’t work for me. I’m a heavy cream fruit salad person.

    That recipe in comment number 2 above would be great as a casserole, doesn’t matter what the pasta that goes with it.

  15. MM – Have a question… Would it be too cloying to use Japanese Mayo and what can I put in there? I want a clean taste — nothing funky-Pinoy — maybe ham bits and something else?

    Btw– Your posts have officially tipped the Christmas/festive timeline eh? Nice… Good to plan ahead.

  16. i have “ameritalianized” our filipino macaroni salad LOL. i add “pepperoni chips” for color and zing. thin-sliced pepperoni — toasted in a dry skillet until crisp and the fat has drained off. before this our mostly monochromatic pinoy salad got largely ignored at parties — despite my use of minced red onion or pimientos, orange carrots, and green pickles — the pepperoni has changed all that and i now come home with an empty platter every single time. of course, i still get raised eyebrows when they realize there’s PINEAPPLE in the salad. i rather think it’s one of our more clever concoctions. steamed broccoli flowerets can always add a healthy dimension when one is feeling guilty.

  17. santos,
    i think you are pertaining to those ‘blended’ mayo-based products- like mayo magic and miracle whip, not really mayonnaise but looks like it.

    macaroni in soup? well come to think of it, the italians put rice in their soup, and the japanese make soup out of spaghetti… so i guess we are not really mutants in the culinary world.

  18. acidboy, I thought your earlier comment referred to those cafeteria dishes with soup and floating macaroni as the “laman”… stef, pepperoni chips…now that must be an original stef patentable version… gigi, why not try ana’s version above with crab meat shredded, or shrimp, and corn kernels and fish roe…sounds good to me. Mila, I love potato salad too, but my favorite version has no mayo, just lots of bacon and drippings, some olive oil and balsamic vinegar salt and pepper. The potatoes absorb all those flavorings and taste superb. Apicio, the name is being overrun by sugar…not funny. Oscar, that recipe sounds interesting, without the nori it could almost be mediterranean… Sasha, sweet pickle relish…omigod, I forgot about that, my mom used to add that as well.

  19. we don’t put all the mayo required in the recipe at the same time, we leave a little bit to be mixed in after the chilling and right before serving to make it look glossy and not to taste dry.

  20. Our house made a mayonnaisy chicken, potato & string bean salad. Funny how our meals in the 70s really lacked fiber. Beef stroganoff, for instance. Or fried chicken with mashed potatoes…

    My boyfriend Torn (who’s a Brit) cannot seem to understand why pinoys love these mayonnaise-filled dishes (fruit salad, macaroni salad…) He and some other expats I know find the idea revolting – for them Pinoy food is either some brown greasy thing or a mayonnaisy dish. They prefer Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian/Singaporean food. They prefer tom yum soup to sinigang. Sad .. they don’t get it.

  21. Ann, why don’t you try taste it.Maybe Cebuanos prefer to use condensed milk instead of mayonnaise since nowadays mayonnaise is to expensive compared to milk.I’m not a Cebuana and like you we have the same reaction when my friend serve me “Macaroni with fruitcocktail salad” but I challenge myself to taste it,and I like it (delicious and yummy).

  22. In addition to that I am very thankful that Cebuanos have this kind of Macaroni salad since my husband don’t like chicken. So instead of Chiken Macaroni Salad I’d rather prepare Macaroni Fruitsalad.

  23. I used to hate macaroni salad. OK, hate is too strong a word, maybe I just wan’t fond of it. It’s strange, but now that I am pregnant, I just can’t get enough of the stuff. I have no idea why. I especially like Wendy’s macaroni salad. It has big squares of gulaman in it, which I particulary like.

  24. Donna, perhpas your browser setting for text is set to small. If you check under the view tab, you can change it and it is very readable… thanks. Not that you can read this suggestion if you have tiny text…

  25. Hi,
    I was craving for a Filipino macaroni salad and I find it odd that you actually make it sound yucky instead of yummy. You could have kept your personal preference to yourself, or, not write another Filipino recipe at all!

  26. emma, to each his/her own. This is my blog, after all, and I do write about what I like and don’t like. Just because you disagree doesn’t make my position any worse than yours…I am not stopping you at all from eating what you want…and you most certainly don’t have to return to the blog if you in any way find it’s recipes or commentary repulsive…

  27. The best Macaroni Salad that i’ve ever tasted was at KFC. I always buy it there in a large size.. It tastes great even if it doesn’t have much ingredients! You should try eating it..

  28. After reading this post, i realized that i haven’t had any macaroni (pinoy-style) in years.. I remember in my younger years, every time i attend a birthday party in our neighbourhood, the mom’s seemed to have macaroni salad in their buffet table, and it’s always a hit with the kids! My mom used to make this for my bday too, with chicken, pineapple, and raisins! I remember helping her in peeling the chicken meat from its bone, just to make it a bit easier for her and i would sneak one or more bites! hehehe

    I haven’t made this one in years, maybe i’ll make some for my daughter’s bday coming up this month, and we’ll see how the kids, and their parents would react! Would it take them back to their childhood memories too, or would i be the “talk of the town” for serving macaroni salad with chicken, pineapples and raisins??? eheheh

  29. i love it when my dad makes macaroni salad at home.. :) always present yan esp. pag christmas :D

  30. I like the macaroni salad at greenwich… My relatives would also use cream or condensed milk for our chicken salad.

  31. i love the macaroni salad @ greenwich.
    i really love cooking. i’m inspired by the cook, and businessmen who owns fast food chains and restaurants!i hope i’ll be one one of them someday!though i am a nursing student, i relly love cooking!

  32. I really loved cooking,macaroni salad was never on my list.However,my sister used to do it almost every week,until she asked me to try her this dish.At first,I am a bit disclined for I’m not an expert,but then again I said to myself no guts no glory.Until I came across to this website,i finally realized that its about time for me to proceed.

    Thanks for posting! Keep it up!

  33. it’s a mac&fruit salad.Cebuano salad recipe may look odd to you,but lots of people love it too…:) your salad may not look appealing to other people too:). People are just different anna. And i don’t think it has something to do with the crisis we’re facing today too…Oh well…i don’t feel it much! Thank God!:)

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