The Magic of Mac and Cheese

This week was a tough week. Even though some of our students were still away on holiday (or politely looking for other hagwons for next semester), the five working days seemed to drag by like time in a dentist’s waiting room. That was until a seemingly mundane discussion on Wednesday afternoon gave us something to look forward to for the weekend. What was this fabled holy grail at the end of the week? As you may have guessed from the title, it was the humble macaroni and cheese. The thought of the goopy, delicious combination of pasta, cheese, and whatever mysterious fillings they may have drove us forward, helping the hours pass by much more briskly.

But why? Food is a common topic in our break room at our first school in Korea. As a foreigner, exploring different foods is one of the more common pastimes, alongside alcoholism and finding things wrong with your job. This exploration could be finding new, exciting Korean food or the most interesting recreations of Western-style dishes – both are interesting to the foreign population. Everyone has their favourite burger joint, pizza house, and Korean barbeque restaurant, and the merits of each are discussed at length. Is the Western dish authentic to what is experienced ‘back home’? Is it a unique Korean take on something? Most importantly, is it delicious? These questions follow each other in rapid succession, establishing a baseline for comparison of any particular dish or restaurant before the minor details are digested and savoured.

On this particular Wednesday, the subject of macaroni and cheese came up through a conversation such as this. The slightly left-of-centre nature of the dish meant that some amongst the teachers did not have a favourite place to acquire and devour good ol’ mac and cheese. The rest tended to agree that Sam Ryan’s, a foreigner pub located in nearby Suwon, boasted the best mac and cheese in Korea. Kristen painted such a vivid picture of its deliciousness that we, as a teaching unit, resolved to go to Sam Ryan’s on Friday evening for mekju (the Korean word for beer) and mac and cheese.

Once this was asserted, the week noticeably accelerated, and took on a surreal, macaroni-worshipping nature. The dish was rarely far from conversation. A co-worker even changed Kristen’s wallpaper on her work computer to honour the soul food delicacy.

When closing time on Friday finally came, the majority of the teachers hopped into two taxis bound for Sam Ryan’s. Two of our co-workers had decided to not attend. And they missed out tremendously. The mac and cheese was gorgeous. Gooey. Cheesy. Filled with love and care. And it went down well with a couple of beers (or more than a couple, in the case of some of our compatriots). What left us feeling most warm and content, however, was the good times had at Sam Ryan’s. We kicked back, discussed everything from little gripes at work to philosophy to the minutia of American football timetabling. It was a great evening, enjoyed by all.

We ate delicious food. We drank a little (or a lot). We talked about everything and nothing. It felt like our first few meals together, where we were all still excited for the year ahead. We may have become slightly deflated in the meantime, but the medium of mac and cheese allowed us to forget everything else for a little while and simply enjoy being with friends from two other countries on the other side of the world – something we forget to do all too often.

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