From the Feast of Seven Fishes in Italy to Sacher Torte in Vienna to tamales in Mexico, Christmas food traditions are as varied as you can get. Learn all about Christmas food traditions from around the world to inspire your Christmas meal.
I had grand plans for an epic Christmas post. Last week, I was going to cook a healthy Christmas feast and blog about it this week. . Unfortunately, life happened (doesn’t it always?) and I’ve spent hardly any time in the kitchen.
So, on to plan B. As you know, I love to learn more about other countries food traditions. In fact, it’s one of my favorite parts of travel. While researching for this months Recipe Redux challenge on lucky New Years foods, it sparked an idea to look at Christmas food traditions from around the world.
Lusselatter is a saffron bun traditionally eaten in Scandinavian countries. Saffron is infused into the milk used to bake this buns, giving them a golden yellow color. Because saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, tediously picked by hand, many store bought versions use yellow food coloring. The buns are lightly sweetened, shaped into an “S” shape and studded with currants or raisins. Lussekatter is traditionally eaten during Advent or on St. Lucy’s Day on December 13th. Check out this healthier spelt version from one of my favorite blogs, Green Kitchen Stories.
In Mexico, Christmas is all about tamales. I could deal with a palm tree for Christmas if it means massive quantities of tamales! Tamales are a time intensive process, so most of the women in the village get together to make thousands of tamales in the days before Christmas. The most popular Mexican tamales are filled with spiced pork or beef. In Oxaca, the meat is spiced with mole sauce. Check out this recipe for lightened up tamales from Cooking Light.
A Sacher torte is a dense chocolate cake layered with apricot jam and drenched in a rich, chocolate ganache. I was lucky enough to try the real deal at Hotel Sacher in Vienna, Austria. The story goes, in 1832, a prince had hired a famous pastry chef to create a memorable dessert for a special meal. But the chef suddenly fell ill and the job went to his 16 year old apprentice, Franz Sacher. He created the Sacher torte, a huge success, and passed the recipe down to his son. His son then opened the ritzy Hotel Sacher, where the Sacher Torte was served to wealthy diners, and it quickly became the quintessential Viennese dessert. Check out Wolfgang Puck’s recipe.
Crema de Vie
Crema de vie is Cuban eggnog. Compared to the eggnog you’re probably used to, crema de vie has a lemony essence and is much sweeter. Instead of knocking back glassfuls then showing off your embarrassing dance moves at the office Christmas party, this is enjoyed as an after dinner drink, sipped out of a shot glass. Try this recipe from Bitchin Camero or a similar Peurto Rican drink, Coquito.
Crema de vie a little too rich for you? Me too. I prefer to stick with champagne and wine on Christmas, mulled wine to be exact. Glogg is Scandinavian spiced wine. It’s spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, almond, raisins and orange. Also, it’s fun to say. Check out this recipe from Huffington Post.
The Feast of Seven Fishes
In Italy and for many Italian-Americans, Christmas Eve means the feast of Seven Fishes. It’s based on the Roman Catholic practice of abstinence of meat and milk products on the eve of holy days, as well as during Lent. There are many theories as to seven fishes are served – seven is the most repeated number in the Bible. The most popular theory is that it represents completion, as in the seven days of creation. This menu by Saveur looks delicious, with dishes like calamari stewed with potatoes and peas, whole branzino with fennel and onions and lobster fra diablo.
Kartoffalsalat, Wurst, Pickled Herring, Stinky Cheese
I couldn’t pick just one food from Germany because this is our Christmas day tradition. In Germany, roasted goose is the main, served with a smorgasbord of sides – kartoffalsalat (German potato salad), all types of wurst, pickled herring, cheeses like stinky limburger, emmetal, and cambozola, sauerkraut, and dark, real German rye bread. It’s all delicious until you try to open presents the next morning with fingers the size of pickles, which, coincidentally also play a starring role at our German feast.
Avgolemono is served as a first course on Christmas Eve in Greece. It is a rich, creamy soup made with the simplest of ingredients – egg, lemon and rice. Some add chicken. Try this recipe from Serious Eats.
Pernil Asado is Puero Rico’s answer to America’s Christmas ham, and personally, I like their take! Instead of an overly sweet slice of spiral ham, Puero Ricans slowly roast a marinated leg of pork. It yields a crispy exterior and tender interior. Try this recipe from Saveur.
Meet my favorite cookie. Alfajores are served year round in Peru and Chile, sometimes even at breakfast (yup!), but during the holidays, alfajores baking goes into overtime. They are a buttery, shortbread like cookie with dulce de leche sandwiched in the middle. Try this recipe, from my favorite Peruvian blog Peru Delights. If you live here in Columbia, just stop by Soda City (our local farmer’s market) and pick some up from K & K Gourmet Sweets.
Our Christmas food traditions have changed a bit over the years. We used to do our German feast on Christmas Eve, until the whole swollen fingers dilemma. Now we save it for Christmas day, and enjoy fresh seafood from the DC fish market on Christmas eve. My dad makes a huge batch of clams, mussels and steamed lobster. This year, I’m spending my first Christmas here in Columbia with Scott’s family. They do seafood as well, with shrimp and grits on Christmas eve before candlelight service.
What are your Christmas food traditions?