It is almost Christmas, that time of the year we gather with family and friends to celebrate. What better way to enjoy the festivities than with good company and excellent food?
Christmas meals around the world
Different countries have different traditions. That is why I have tapped the collective wisdom of women all over the world. I asked my network of friends, family, travel bloggers and expats what food is typically eaten in their country during the festive season.
Interestingly enough (admittedly also slightly embarrassing being Dutch), I can’t think of any typical Christmas dish from my country. That is not to say there is no good food to be had in the Netherlands. We just do not seem to have a Christmas tradition concerning food.
Researching international eating habits, I also learned that most of my fellow countrywomen appear not to be carp fans. This fish is often eaten in Poland, Austria and Czech Republic. Nor do they seem to like the Portuguese bacalhau. All too fishy, perhaps?
Other remarkable findings are that countries with an abundance of fresh fruits, for instance, mangoes have inhabitants who prefer to eat canned peaches for dessert. In contrast, people in other countries are happy with any food (because they have little).
Below you will find in alphabetical order of country the contributions of women all over the world. This list is by no means comprehensive, so if you have something to add, please leave a comment below, and I will add it.
Both Chrissy Dreher-Verboven and Regine Rademaker mention carp, a popular fish in Austria (and in many other eastern European countries, as you’ll find out below).
Regine adds to that in Tirol the Austrians tend to eat Hauswurst mit Sauerkraut und Kartoffel or Schnitzel.
A female expat in Burundi asked on my request her work colleagues what their typical Christmas dish is. Their answer was rather sobering:
“anything available will do, but preferably a piece of meat“.
This is, of course, a country where most of the population lives under the poverty threshold and food in general, let alone meat, is not readily available for everybody.
Caroline Maas, guide in Andalucia (Spain) email@example.com shares her favourite Cuban dish, the Pierna Asada a la Cubana or roasted pork leg Cuban style.
The pig is slaughtered just before Christmas and eaten during the festive season with the family.
The leg (10 – 15 kilos) has to stay in the oven for four hours at 160 °C, with a juice of lemons or oranges, garlic and bacon fat after leaving it overnight to marinate in salt, pepper and oregano. But first, clean the leg in abundant water.
Que aproveche y Felices fiestas!
Joyce Reijnen, Mathilde Smeulders-Rademaker and Marjan Rijksen Kadijk all mention Ayaca. Although the recipe is originally from Venezuela, it is now the traditional Christmas dish in Curacao.
Ayaca is precooked corn flour stuffed with chicken, plum, olive, capers (optional ham) wrapped in banana leaves.
Yvonne Senneker and Liselotte Rokyta both mention the carp as the ultimate Czech dish. It is usually served with potato salad, in a soup or fried in breadcrumbs. Apparently, it is an acquired taste; this fish is definitely not for everyone.
According to Yvette Van Empel, the Ecuadorian Christmas dish is oven-baked turkey served with a vegetable salad (corn, peas, carrots with mayonnaise en boiled potatoes).
As a dessert, the Ecuadorians like canned peaches! Who knew?
Nosje Heybroek-Nikkilä and Iris Mark mention that several Finnish dishes are similar to the Swedish, which is not strange as these are neighbouring countries.
With Christmas (and all year round), the Fins eat lots of fish, salmon, herring and stockfish. Also, ham with homemade mustard served with several oven dishes (potatoes, kohlrabi or carrots) and beetroot salad with cream.
Dessert is usually rice pudding with fruit compote.
Delicious: glöggi (mulled wine) with gingerbread, stars made out of puff pastry with plum jam.
My dear friend (from Moldova) Natasha has lived many years in Great Britain; below, she shares her Christmas experiences.
A traditional Christmas dinner – all over Britain more or less is roast turkey stuffed with sausage meat and sage. Pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon or pancetta); roast veggies, such as potatoes usually roasted in goose fat, parsnip and carrots. They serve all these with gravy and Yorkshire puddings.
For dessert: mince pies or a traditional fruit cake that is quite rich and has a substantial amount of alcohol.
Chiarangela van Lieshout, interpreter and teacher, particularly enjoys the Italian Christmas cake.
Panettone is Italy‘s leading Christmas sweet. In the Veneto region in northern Italy, it is also called pan d’oro, or bread of gold. This fluffy cake has a cupola shape and is best enjoyed with hot cocoa or liquor during the holiday season.
My Moldovan friend Natasha explains about her country’s traditions, where food is delicious and homemade.
” This is how we celebrate Christmas in my village:
First, we serve the so-called racituri savoury, clear jelly from meat (from pork or a cockerel). Homemade sausages and smoked ham; sarmale – rice, carrots, onion and usually mincemeat, spiced and wrapped in either vine leaves or cabbage (our family prefers cabbage).
We also serve roast duck, goose or chicken or a combination of these, served with sauces either white (flour and cream, with spices) or red (carrots, onions and tomatoes & tomato paste) with homemade meatballs.
We have winter borsch made with big chunks of pork or goose (usually quite fatty) and big chunks of pickled in brine (again home pickled) cabbage. This borsch has not much liquid. We typically eat it with a fork. Furthermore, we eat Russian salad my village style, homemade koftas. And kiftelute homemade burgers, small and oval, usually served alongside salads of peas, onions, salt & vinegar.
Seledka, a Russian word for fish in brine, it comes in different forms. Still, a popular variety is a salad made from this fish with cooked/steamed beetroot, carrots, boiled eggs, mayo, spices all arranged in layers like lasagne. In my village, it is called shuba, which means fur coat in English.
We serve different cheeses, pickled veggies such as tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, and pickled fruits such as watermelons and apples. Homemade sambale, winter salads made with aubergines and tomatoes or peppers.
Homemade apple juice for kids or any other fruit juice that was prepared in summer and stored in a cellar for winter. Homemade biscuits and sweet dough bread with walnuts & poppies, cheese or cherries (prepared in summer). Homemade liquor from berries for adults and wine. Slices of fried Aubergines used as wrappers for garlic mayo with fresh tomatoes.”
Maria Christina Van-Vliet who lives in Norway mentions the Pinnekjøtt or ribbe.
Pinnekjøtt is a main course dinner dish of lamb or mutton, a festive dish typical to Western- and Northern Norway. This dish is primarily associated with the celebration of Christmas, served with puréed swede and potatoes, beer and akevitt.
37% of Norwegians say they eat pinnekjøtt for their family Christmas dinner. An ongoing discussion is the use of the Norwegian word “ribbe”, as the eastern part of Norway uses the name “ribbe” for pig ribs. In contrast, the western part of Norway uses the term “ribbe” on ribs of sheep (source).
Joke Vel Slot who lives in Kraków, says there should be twelve dishes on the table, no meat, Barszcz (beetroot soup with dumplings) and carp.
Helena D’Olival mentions bacalhau, a Portuguese classic all year round, but especially with Christmas. However, she is not a big fan. That´s why we turn to Nelson Carvalheiro, a Portuguese food blogger. His recipe of oven-baked bacalhau surely will whip up your appetite.
Cris Puscas, owner, blogger and social media specialist at Looknwalk.info explains her country’s traditions.
A very popular and traditional Christmas Food in Romania is sarmale (meat-filled cabbage rolls). As the name suggests, they are made with minced meat, which is browned a bit together with rice, onion, and condiments. The mix is then rolled into cabbage sheets and arranged in a big pot. Depending on the region, the dressings and what’s added in the pot differs. Typically some bacon and minced cabbage leaves are added. And maybe some tomato juice.
They are served with mamaliga (polenta) and smantana (sour cream). Sarmale makes up the main dish for Christmas. But, again, traditions differ by region (and household). In my family who lives in Transylvania, we’d have a big Christmas Lunch. Sarmale is not typically Romanian, though. It came to the country via the Ottoman Empire when they conquered the region. The Turkish Sarma and Greek Dolmades are made with grape wines. The version which uses cabbage leaves can be found in Romania and Hungary.
To read more about Romanian Christmas food, check out Cris’ blog.
Andrea Drieman, on the other hand, is a big fan of salata boef, which is a traditional salad made for Easter, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It can be served as a side dish or a meal on its own.
Gerry Bakker likes cozonac (also a Bulgarian dish), a traditional sweet bread made from flour, eggs, milk, butter, sugar and salt.
In Spain, traditions vary by region.
Nicolette Ottolini-Krinkels is a food coach. For more on Spain, visit her Facebook page, ‘The Perfect Balance’. According to Nicolette, in Valencia, traditionally, a soup called Puxtero is served. The soup comes with different kinds of meats and vegetables. It takes some time to prepare, but the result is definitely worth the effort.
According to Jacqueline Gies, in Cataluña, they eat sopa de galets farcits, a stock from chicken or meat and pasta filled with minced meat.
A typical dessert from Valencia and Alicante is turron, usually a rectangular shaped sweet, typically made of honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds.
Femke van Zandvoort mentions gammon, apparently “South African’s don’t eat turkey for Christmas, they gammon.”
The gammon is the hind leg of pork after it has been cured.
In Sweden, not everybody eats the same, but some classic dishes are:
- Gravadlax: salmon with a mixture of salt and sugar, often served with hovmästarsås (sweet mustard);
- Janssons frestelse: an oven dish with anchovies, potatoes and onion;
- Julskinka: in the oven cooked and grilled ham with herbs and mustard;
- Köttbullar: Swedish meatballs;
- Prinskorv: small roasted sausages;
- Herring in sauce or marinated;
- Red cabbage salad;
- Julmust a soft drink similar to cola and julöl dark beer.
Natascha Dietz from Switzerland suggests the ultimate Christmas dish as far as I am concerned. The nutritious, delicious raclette.
Heather Hudak, aka the Wanderlust Wayfarer, shares one of her fondest holiday memories.
One of my fondest holiday memories is helping my grandmother prepare our family’s traditional Christmas Eve feast. As a little girl, I would arrive at her house early in the morning to help her knead the dough and pinch pastries. But my very favourite food to make was khrustyky. These Ukrainian cookies are made from little more than flour, sugar, and water.
Once mixed together, the pastry is rolled so thin it is nearly transparent before being cut into small, rectangular strips. A tiny slice is made in the centre of each strip. And one end is pulled through the slit to form a twist. Each rectangle is then tossed into a vat of hot oil and fried until golden brown.
After cooling for a few minutes, icing sugar is sprinkled over the khrustyky to give them their distinctive sweet taste. My family affectionately referred to these delicious treats as “nothing” because they take nothing to make and are so lightweight they feel like nothing on your tongue. Instead, they practically melt in your mouth.
Christa Noordover likes the deep-fried turkey that is the Christmas dish in Texas, USA.
It only takes five minutes of preparation time and serves 6 – 8 people.
And for those worried about their waistline: remember, it is not about what you eat between Christmas and New Year, but about what you eat between New Year and Christmas.
Afternoon Tea, the quintessential British experience
The complete how-to guide to afternoon tea This is the complete how-to guide to afternoon tea for the alien in Britain. What is it, how to indulge and where to go for the best experience? Let's be clear. An 'afternoon tea' is not just a cup of tea. It's an experience,...
Pasta Bolognese di Mamma, delicious and home-made
Fresh home-made pasta with Bolognese sauce is easy to prepare with this authentic Italian recipe from my Italian mother.
Sushi with a smile at restaurant Sukiyaki in Fuengirola
Sushi with a smile When a restaurant serves delicious Asian food with a smile, the place has a winning formula. That’s precisely what happens at Sukiyaki restaurant on the Paseo Marítimo Rey in Fuengirola. Sukiyaki restaurant Although the restaurant works with an ‘all...
Quiche Lorraine, the ultimate recipe for delicious food
This recipe for Quiche Loraine is simple and delicious. It is easy to prepare once you know the tricks. Great as a snack or with a soup as a main course.