It doesn’t matter where you’re from or where you live now, if you celebrate Christmas then food is bound to play a big part in the festivities.
When I was growing up the highlight of Christmas dinner wasn’t the turkey, the trimmings, or my nan’s mince pies (although they were, undeniably, the best mince pies in history). Nope.
It was the moment when my grandad would douse the Christmas pudding in enough brandy to fill a bath and then, with the lights out and the curtains drawn, set it alight. I have vivid memories of the smell of burning sailor booze filling the room and sitting transfixed as the blue flames appeared on the pudding like some sort of flickering mountain range.
With the Christmas holidays fast approaching I embarked on a whirlwind tour of the different foods that are used to celebrate Christmas around the world.
Here, for your delectation, are five of my favourites.
Finger lickin’ Christmas
Nothing says “traditional Christmas dinner” in Japan quite like a bucket filled with the Colonel’s fried chicken.
In the 1970s KFC’s Japanese franchises began offering customers a holiday party bucket featuring a combination of KFC chicken and a traditional Japanese Christmas cake. It filled a gap in a country that, except for cake, didn’t have many existing Christmas traditions. The Christmas bucket has proved to be a hugely successful gimmick.
So successful in fact, that about 3.6 million Japanese families now reserve their bucket up to two months in advance so that they can enjoy it on Christmas Eve.
Preparation time: one week
Lithuanian “kūčios” is another traditional Christmas meal that takes place on Christmas Eve but unlike in Japan, there’s nothing fast about this food.
In fact, it takes up to a whole week to get everything prepared for this mammoth meal. It consists of 12 courses (one for each of the apostles). And this long preparation time is a deliberate choice.
In Lithuania – as with elsewhere – the Christmas holidays are about spending time with family and friends. The slow and steady approach to preparing the food for kūčios is used as a chance to catch up with people whilst making the dishes consisting of fish, vegetables, and breads. It’s all finished off with cranberry puddings.
Going for goose
At the centre of the Christmas dinner table in Germany is the “Weihnachtsgans” or, the Christmas goose.
This tradition stems from the Middle Ages when goose was the central culinary element for celebrating the feast of St Martin on November 11th. The oldest known recipe for the meal can be found in a cookbook from 1350.
Nowadays, it’s been firmly established as a Christmas dish and is usually stuffed with apples, chestnuts, onions, and prunes, before being spiced with mugwort and marjoram to add a little bitterness and citrus to the meat. It’s usually served with red cabbage, dumplings, gravy and sauerkraut for a meal that sounds so hearty I might need a nap just thinking about it.
Time for tamales, secret tamales
Every family in Costa Rica has their own secret recipe for making the perfect tamales and at Christmas everyone gets together to whip up a batch.
The starting point for all tamales is corn dough wrapped in banana leaf or corn husk. Before this is steamed ready for serving, each family adds their combination of ingredients including pork, beef, or chicken with things like cheese, garlic, onions, potatoes and raisins.
All sounds incredibly delicious to me. If the people of Costa Rica ever need a volunteer to come over and decide once and for all exactly which family has the best recipe for perfect tamales, I’m happy to offer my services as a taste tester.
After all of that fried chicken, Lithuanian fish, stuffed goose, and secret tamales, it’s probably time for some dessert.
How about sampling orange-zest infused cookies? That’s the traditional Greek sweet treats on Christmas tables. They’re called melomakaronas and are said to taste a little like baklava, which is very good news in my book.
As soon as they are taken from the oven melomakaronas are soaked in honey-sugar water and topped with a sprinkling of walnuts. Even if you’re stuffed, it’s worth trying to find a little room in your stomach for one or two…
So there you have it, a banqueting table’s worth of Christmas food from around the world. If that hasn’t whetted your appetite for the festive period then I don’t know what will.
As for me, I’m off to search out some trousers with an elastic waistband, I think I’ll be needing them this December.