What do you think of when you’re planning your Christmas meal? Many of us will be thinking of roast turkey with all the trimmings, a delicious vegetarian nut roast or maybe a baked side of salmon.
Whatever your choice, it’s always interesting to find out the surprising festive and specific seasonal foods that are eaten around the globe during Christmas.
Let’s start in the antipodes.
Whether you’ve been to Australia or not, we’ve all heard of the ‘barbie on the beach’ tradition where a feast including meat and seafood is cooked up for family and friends. It’s not surprising that with so many of Australia’s immigrants having come from England and Ireland that they have brought their own Christmas customs with them. Christmas pudding and mince pies are popular but Aussies have their own dessert tradition called White Christmas, especially enjoyed by children, which is an easy no bake slice made using ‘krispie’ breakfast cereal, coconut and dried fruit.
Christmas in the Philippines is the longest Christmas celebration in the world, starting as early as September and ending in January. Lechon, taken from leche the Spanish word for milk, is slow roasted pig often stuffed with ingredients such as a bouquet of herbs and seasonings like leeks, garlic, salt, and lemongrass and served with a dipping sauce.
Bibingka cakes are another Christmas treat in many parts of the Philippines. These moist rice cakes are made from glutinous rice, coconut, sugar, and margarine, and are often sold by street vendors.
When it comes food eaten during the festive period in Guatemala, Tamales top the list as the most popular throughout the country, with over 250 regional varieties. The main ingredient for Guatemalan tamales is a dough (masa) made with corn flour mixed with water, wrapped around a variety of fillings, including chicken, pork, beef, cheese, and vegetables then typically steamed in a banana leaf wrapper, but they can also be boiled or baked.
Guatemalan tamales are often served with a side of salsa or guacamole and there are several different types eaten including colarados (red) stuffed with a thick, flavourful tomato sauce, roasted red bell pepper strips, capers, green olives, and chicken, beef or pork, and negros which are darker and sweeter than their red counterparts due to the added chocolate, raisins, prunes and almonds.
One of the things that Italians love most is to talk about food. Christmas food traditions vary throughout Italy from the north to the south. The Feast of the Seven Fishes (where families eat seven types of fish) is held on La Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve) and is a popular custom for Italian Americans and parts of Southern Italy, but isn’t generally practiced throughout the entire country,
Historically Natale (Christmas Day) was one of the few days of the year where people would eat expensive dishes made with meat. Nowadays, tradition hasn’t changed much and most Italians indulge in a feast of abundance, often several courses lasting for hours (sometimes all day). The meal begins with a classic antipasto spread featuring dry cured meats, salami, cheeses, olives, artichokes and more. The first course is pasta that varies by region. In Southern and Central Italy, they enjoy baked pasta, in Northern Italy, Lasagne Bolognese and filled pasta like ravioli is the preferred choice, followed by the main course of roasted veal, baked chicken, sausages or braised beef.
Panettone (literally meaning ‘big bread’) is the classic sweet bread made with candied peel, sultanas, raisins, and dried fruits now enjoyed the world over, but especially in Italy where there won’t be a Christmas table that this dessert cake isn’t found.
The most popular Christmas Eve dinner is ribbe (pork ribs or pork belly, bone in), typically served with sauerkraut, red cabbage and/or sprouts. Lutefisk (cod cured in a food-grade alkaline solution known as lye), is rarely served other than during the festive season, as is Rakfisk, a Norwegian speciality which is trout that has been salted and fermented for up to a year.
The southern hemisphere Christmas meal is either turkey, duck, roast beef or suckling pig with yellow rice, raisins and vegetables, followed by Christmas pudding or a traditional South African dessert called Malva, which is just like a steamed sponge reminiscent of sticky toffee pudding, best served with custard.
Known for their culinary expertise, the French have historically had their festive spread on Christmas Eve, known as Le Réveillon de Noël. For some of the wealthier French a decadent seafood platter laden with lobster, oysters and scallops and garnished with fresh truffles and caviar was a necessary custom. Other classic holiday dishes include game meat such as doe, wild boar, venison or pheasant and for dessert bûche de Noël, or chocolate Yule log cake.
Finally, we go to Japan where unbelievably the must-have for Christmas is fried chicken from fast food chain KFC! Ever since the 1970s when KFC ran a successful Christmas marketing campaign it has been the food of choice for the Japanese and it is rumoured that families reserve their festive ‘Party Barrel’ meal up to two months in advance.
What will be on the menu for your Christmas meal this year? Whatever it is, although the food is important it is more about the joy of sharing food and spending time with friends and family.