Your Guide To Christmas Food From Around The World
As Christmas day draws closer, our meals become larger and larger, and our social calendar fills up with brunches, lunches, and dinners. While ostentatious dinner parties with copious amounts of food and wine are common this time of year, tables around the world are filled with different traditional feast dishes. While you are making calls to get thatlechonfor your Christmas Eve dinners, get some ideas from these international traditions.
Since 1974, KFC has been conducting an unusual Christmas promotion in Japan: “Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakki”, or “Kentucky for Christmas”. The Japanese order months in advance for a bucket of fried chicken to eat on Christmas day. While some may call it consumerism at its finest, for many it filled the void left by a lack of any Advent holiday celebrated in the country and a practical solution since December 25th is a working day for the people of Japan. It started a tradition for loved ones to come together and bond over a delicious meal. While it may not be lechonor turkey, nobody can deny that it’s “finger lickin’ good”.
圣诞 (Mainland China)
Similar to Japan, few people in China observe Christmas as a religious holiday (or observe any religious holiday for the matter), yet the season of giving is not lost. For the past decade, many young people in major cities have adopted the Christmas tradition of exchanging gifts, but have put their own twist on it. Christmas Eve is translated into 平安夜or ping’an ye, meaning “evening of peace”, or the direct translation of Silent Night, which sounds similar enough to 苹果or ping guo, meaning “apple”. For the holidays, the apple becomes 平安果or ping’an guo, meaning “fruit of peace”, bought and given to friends, family, and other loved ones. Like many other homophonic traditions in China, eating and exchanging apples on Christmas is meant to bring on good fortune. So send a fruit basket to a loved one and have a bowl of them at the center of your next holiday brunch, to bring color to any tablescape and good fortune for the rest of the season.
Regional meals and variations of mole sauces differ throughout the country, but a classic feast anywhere in Mexico would definitely feature tamales. These are masa steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf, filled with meats, spices, cheeses, vegetables, or anything else the family recipe calls for. They take a whole day to make, reserved for feasts and large celebrations, and so their preparation becomes part of the celebration itself. There is a magic in preparing Mexican dishes, and it becomes stronger with the magic of the Christmas season, playing out like something from the pages of Like Water for Chocolate. Families host tamaladas, which are tamale making gatherings, around the holidays, so loved ones are brought together even before a meal is set on the table. It is said that tamaleswill not cook while people are arguing, so the tamaladabecomes a day of resolving differences just in time for the Christmas meal.
The night before Christmas, Greeks bake a Christopsomo, a tradition over a thousand years old with hundreds of family variations, a round bread adorned with a cross made with love as an offering to Jesus Christ. It is eaten on Christmas, when the father of the house makes a sign of the cross to bless the bread before he cuts and shares it with his family. The rest of the Advent feast table is filled with classic Greek delights, from the mezzeto avgolemonochicken soup to main dishes of pork and lamb. On the dessert side of the table, their sweet tooth comes out in wonderful, aromatic combinations of sugar and spice, including melomakaronaand kourabiedescookies made with Greek ouzo that are easy enough to make at home for you to add to your holiday feast before you can say “opa”!
Like many aspects of Argentinian culture, their Christmas traditions are largely influenced by Italian immigration. It is even jokingly said sometimes that Argentinians are Italians who happen to speak Spanish. On Christmas, the traditional Argentinian dinner is a testament to their cultural miscegeny and diversity. The classic main dish is Vitel Tone: lean and tender slices of veal in delicious tuna or anchovy sauce, topped with capers and occasionally a hard boiled egg. It is a variation of vitello tonnato, brought by Italian immigrants from the Piedmont region, and became popular as the perfect cold meal for the hot summer Christmases in the Southern Hemisphere.
All over Germany pepole wander around a Christkindlmarkt, the original Christmas markets, to buy little ornaments, knick knacks and traditional German treats, from lebkuchengingerbread to spekulatiusbiscuits, and a cup of glühweinmulled wine to sip on during a frosty winter evening. In Striezelmarktin Dresden, one of the oldest and most beloved Christmas market, Stollenfesttakes place, where an oversized version of this beloved German classic holiday fruit bread is baked and paraded around, then cut up with a knife over five feet long so the crowd can enjoy a slice. Back in their homes, a flavorful, golden brown, stuffed weihnachtsgans Christmas goose with potato dumplings and roast cabbage are a highlight of a festive Christmas dinner, with a more manageable sized christollen to eat with family and friends.
In St Peter’s Basilica, on Christmas Eve, crowds of Italians and visitors from around the world gather to hear the Pope’s evening mass. Afterwards, they come home to Cenone della Vigilia, a big Christmas Eve feast, traditionally of fresh seafood and vegetables, like fritto misto. For dessert, the classic panettonebread with dried fruit and raisins makes its appearance, having filled the shelves of Italian bakeries throughout the holiday season, its tall, dome shape familiar to many. It should be served with some crema di mascarponeto to complete any Christmas meal. It makes an excellent base for bread pudding when the holidays are over.
Families come together Christmas Eve for a luxurious révelliondinner, with foie gras, escargot, and coquilles saint jacquesto start. A classic main dish would be ganzeltopfgoose in Alsace or a roast turkey stuffed with chestnuts, the aroma of Christmas filling the kitchen and dining room. In Provence, the meal ends with thirteen classic desserts of fruits, nuts, and pastries, representing Jesus Christ and his twelve apostles, always starting with “four beggars” for the four monastic orders. Whether there are thirteen desserts, or just one, a révelliondinner is not complete without a bûche de Noëlcake log. This genoise sponge cake is made like a Swiss roll filled with jam, iced with a chocolate buttercream or ganache, and decorated with powdered sugar and fresh berries to make it resemble a real Yule log. It is an absolute stunner as a dessert table centerpiece, and will satisfy the sweet-tooth cravings of all your holiday guests.
Bożego Narodzenia (Poland)
In Poland, Christmas Eve is traditionally a day of fasting followed by feasting, the Wigiliafeast, which cannot start until the sight of the first star (symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem). An empty chair is left at the table for the spirits of departed loved ones who may visit. The supper begins with the breaking of an oplatekwafer; it is consumed and passed around while a prayer is said. This is followed by twelve courses symbolizing the Twelve Apostles, featuring mouthwatering classic Polish dishes like borschtsoup, pierogi dumplings, kapusta noodles, and a whole fish almost always taking center stage as the main course, such as karp po żydowsku, or “carp Jewish-style”, more commonly known as gefilte fish. The Jewish faith is intertwined in historical customs of Poland; before the War, Poland had the largest concentration of Jews in Europe and many were prominent members of Polish society. This meal, made for holidays of both the Jewish and Christian faiths in this country, goes beyond religion to bring together family and friends in feasts and celebrations of love.
The home of the smorgasbord has their own Christmas version, at the heart of any Swedish holiday feast is the julbord. It is the classic banquet, in a buffet style, featuring traditional Swedish dishes like kötbullar meatballs, julskinkaham, Janssons frestelse casserole, and lutefisk. While a julbordsounds delicious with some glogg mulled wine to wash it down, try grabbing a bottle of julmustsoft drink instead. Usually difficult to find during the rest of the year, julmustfills the shelves of supermarkets all over Sweden for Christmas shoppers to buy. Nowadays, IKEA brings this traditional drink around the world for the curious to try.
The center of a Danish Christmas dinner would be flæskesteg roast pork prepared with crackling, with a side of boiled potatoes and brunede kartofler caramelized onions. Leftovers can make an excellent topping for the famous Danish smørrebrødopen sandwich, decorated with a slice of orange. For dessert, ris a l’amanderice pudding with almonds is served with whipped cream and cold kirsebærsovs cherry sauce. While most of the almonds are finely chopped and put into the pudding, one whole almond is put in. Everybody comes together to eat the dessert, and the person who finds the whole pudding wins a mandelgavealmond present, usually a marzipanpig. It is served at most Christmas parties throughout the season, and it is clear why, a delicious and fun treat, it is a great way to finish a holiday meal.