The holidays are here once again and for most people that means large family meals. Growing up in the southern part of the United States these meals largely consisted of things like turkey, spiral ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and an assortment of homemade desserts. However common in this area, that does not necessarily hold true for other parts of the world or even other areas of the United States. This blog will look at some of the more common dishes from around the world with information coming from Traditional Christmas Foods, Traditional Christmas Food From Around the World [With Photos!], and Traditional Holiday Dishes From Around the World.
England: Christmas Pudding and Mincemeat Pies
“A Christmas Carol” and other U.K.-originated holiday stories frequently mention seasonal dishes such as plum pudding and mince pies.
Christmas Pudding: This dish goes by many names. Whether you call it figgy pudding, plum pudding, ‘pud’ or Christmas pudding, this dessert is a key Christmas tradition in England, Ireland and some parts of the US. Despite its name, plum pudding doesn’t actually include plums. Pre-Victorian era, ‘plums’ referred to what we now call raisins, and because dried fruits are an important part of this pudding, it is how it earned its name.
Primarily made of suet, egg, molasses, spices, and dried fruits, Christmas pudding is set alight with brandy immediately before it is served. Make Christmas pudding with this recipe.
Mincemeat Pies: Mincemeat, in its original incarnation of a mixture of chopped meat mixed with dried fruits, sugar, and spices was a way to stretch a meat supply and use up leftovers. Over time, less and less meat was included in the recipe, so that the mincemeat we know today is made entirely from fruits, sugar, alcohol, and sometimes, in a nod to its origins, suet.
By the 16th century, mince pies were a British Christmas specialty. Some suppose that mincemeat pies were popular at Christmas thanks to the Saturnalia tradition of presenting sweetmeats to Roman fathers in the Vatican. Puritans condemned mincemeat pies as a Catholic custom, which may explain why they’re less popular in the US than in the UK. Make a traditional mincemeat pie with this recipe.
France: La Bûche de Noël
La Bûche de Noël is a dessert that symbolically represents the Yule Log – a wood log that was traditionally carried into the home, sprinkled with wine, and then burned on Christmas Eve. In the 1940s when the practice started to disappear, this dessert took up the mantle.
To honor this tradition in an edible and decadent way, sweet cakes were baked and rolled to mimic the aspect of a log. Nowadays, chocolate Yule logs are commonly made of layered or rolled genoise sponge cake filled with mousse or buttercream. Often decorated with marzipan or meringue mushrooms, forest creatures, or holly leaves, the log can be simply dusted with powdered sugar and decorated with a few red berries.
Other variations of the dessert have emerged. Now you can find recipes for anything from tiramisu to cran-raspberry mascarpone, caramel cream to Meyer lemon.
Make La Bûche de Noël with this recipe.
Japan: Kentucky Fried Chicken
In Japan, the Christmas season is the most wonderful time of the year for Kentucky Fried Chicken, or KFC, a fast-food chain. Because about 3.6 million Japanese families eat KFC on Christmas Eve, they often need to reserve their meal up to two months in advance.
During the 1970s, KFC put together a holiday party bucket and behind it, a brilliant marketing plan. At the time, Japan didn’t have many Christmas traditions. KFC filled that void by telling consumers “Here is something that you should do on Christmas”. The trend caught on quickly.
Today, the KFC Christmas bucket doesn’t include just fried chicken. It also includes a Christmas cake – another important food item on Japan’s holiday menu.
Order online from KFC.
Kūčios, the traditional Lithuanian Christmas dinner, is held on December 24th every year. And hosting kūčios is no small feat – this meal can take up to a week to prepare.
For Lithuanians, the holidays are about spending time with family, so a week-long meal prep is certainly a great opportunity for families to get together and is likely why the tradition has persisted.
Originally kūčios had nine dishes. It was a pagan practice that later expanded to 12 dishes (one for each apostle) when it was appropriated by the Christian church.
No meat, dairy, or hot food are a part of this meal. Instead, it includes fish, breads, and vegetables. Some of the items you might see on the menu are herring served in a tomato, mushroom or onion-based sauce, smoked eel, vegetables such as potatoes, sauerkraut (it’s cabbage so it counts as a vegetable, right?), and mushrooms, bread or cranberry pudding.
Example of a dish, make this cranberry fruit jelly with this recipe.
Bacalao, or salted cod, is not common in most countries during the holidays, but it’s a staple dish in Mexico.
Before refrigeration existed, salting and preserving meats and fish was necessary. Today, this is no longer the case, but the practice still exists. And when, in the case of bacalao, the fish is rehydrated and cooked, the result is tender and delicious.
In Mexico, the ingredients to make the Bacalao a la Mexicana include tomatoes, ancho chiles, onions, cinnamon, potato, and olives. It’s filling and it certainly warms you up!
Make bacalao with this recipe.
Italy has numerous regional traditions when it comes to Christmas dinner.
In some parts of Italy, they celebrate with The Feast of the Seven Fishes. This meal includes seven different fish prepared in seven different ways. More often than not, two of the featured items are baccalà (salted cod) and calamari.
In other areas, they eat roasted lamb, or poultry roasted or boiled and seasoned with sauce.
Sweets also play an important role during the holiday season, and in Northern Italy, one of the infamous holiday sweets is panettone – a cake with candied fruit, chocolate, raisins, and nuts.
There are plenty of legends on how panettone became associated with Christmas. Some say the sweet Milanese bread was developed in the 1400s by the Duke’s falconer and his love Adalgisa, a poor baker’s daughter. Working in secret at night, the two created a rich bread that revived the bakery’s business. At Christmas, they added dried fruit and citron, a resounding success that made the baker wealthy and allowed the couple to marry. A less romantic possibility is that as a “Pane di Tono” or luxury bread, the lofty loaf—with its expensive ingredients and long proofing and preparation time—was reserved for Christmas.
Make panettone with this recipe.
United States: Fruitcake
Calvin Trillin theorized that there is only one fruitcake and that it is simply sent from family to family each year. Most Americans turn their noses at the very thought of fruitcake. But for some reason, this item keeps making the rounds.
The recipes for the heavily fruit-laden, sometimes boozy fruitcakes we associate with Christmas today have their roots in the Middle Ages. Dried fruits and sugar were expensive imports, so using them in large quantities was strictly a special-occasion endeavor; that’s why fruitcake was also a traditional wedding cake option. Plus, in the days of hard-to-regulate wood-burning ovens, successful cake baking was a tricky effort, and taking the risk of burning such precious ingredients was only reserved for the very knowledgeable and only during special occasions.
Although there are as many fruit cake recipes as there are cooks, they all agree on the use of spices, a combination of dried or candied fruit, and some liquor or wine.
Make a traditional fruitcake with this recipe.