As you’ve probably noticed (if you are an avid follower of my blog), I haven’t posted anything for a while. If you hadn’t noticed, then I’m annoyed with myself for bringing it to your attention, so I’ll quickly move on! I have been pretty busy these last few weeks making cakes for family birthdays, etc so I haven’t been slacking, I just haven’t posted them as I didn’t feel they represented a specific country – favourite was the chocolate cake with salted caramel buttercream – delicious! Although looking back on it I did also make a pretty good (even if I do say so myself) sticky toffee pudding, which I could have said was my English dish, but never mind. Good excuse to make it again.
In the run up to Christmas, rather than trying to fit in more baking (although I may have time for a couple of dishes), I thought I would do a bit of research and find some of the most weird and wonderful Christmas food traditions (in my opinion) that I could find from around the globe. The ones I’ve chosen include those I think are strange, those I think sound delicious and those that have great traditions that go with the dish. I’ll let you decide which one fits into each camp!
1. Japan – KFC for Christmas anyone?
Due to a massive advertising campaign in the 70’s (Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii! – Kentucky for Christmas!), KFC has become ridiculously popular as a Christmas dish. So much so that orders are placed as much as two months in advance to avoid the queues at the outlets (which can be up to two hours long). According to one article I found, over 240,000 barrels of fried chicken are sold during Christmas, five to ten times more than normal. Who knew!
2. Sweden – creamy rice pudding
Julgröt is Sweden’s Christmas rice pudding, which has a whole almond hidden in it. Traditionally, whoever finds the whole almond will get married within a year. My Mother started making this pud on Christmas Eve and it’s become one of the things I really look forward to and a bit of a family tradition – even though we have no Swedish connections. It’s so deliciously creamy, full of almondy loveliness and goes perfectly with some sort of red fruit compote. Definitely recommended – we always fight over it at home, but not one to pick if your dieting (although not sure anyone diets at Christmas).
3. Czech Republic – visions of golden pigs
The traditional meal (served as dinner on Christmas Eve) consists of either fish soup or pea soup and fried fish (traditionally carp) served with potato salad. According to tradition, people fast on Christmas Eve until the evening Christmas dinner in the hope that they will see a vision of a golden pig on a wall. This is said to bring good luck.
4. France – THIRTEEN desserts
In the French region of Provence, the Christmas meal traditionally ends with 13 dessert items, representing Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles. When I saw this it sounded like my idea of a great tradition. Thirteen puddings???? Perfect! The dishes are all served at once, and guests are expected to have a little bit of each one.
Dishes include: an olive oil flatbread, which is eaten with grape jam . The bread is traditionally broken into individual servings with the fingers, rather than with a knife. This apparently protects you from bankruptcy in the coming year. Other dishes include the “four beggars” (les quatre mendiants), representing the four mendicant monastic orders: Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinian and Carmelites and are represented by nuts and dried fruit.
5. Poland – star spotting
A 12 dish Christmas Eve supper is traditionally prepared in many Eastern European cultures. The 12 dishes again represent the 12 apostles, but also represent the 12 months of the year. No meat is served, or in fact eggs or milk, so food includes fish, mushrooms and different grains (eg herring, Borscht, sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, poppyseed cake).
No food is eaten until the first star is spotted in the sky, so I’d imagine that I’d be out there desperately looking skywards until I spotted one. I wonder what happens when it’s cloudy?
Once the first star has been spotted, before dinner begins, each person breaks off a piece of a thin wafer, optalek, which they then share with family members.
It’s also common to find hay on, around or beneath the table, which is a reminder that Jesus was born in a stable. Traditionally, an extra place is always set at the table for any unexpected guests as Poles say that no one should be alone or hungry, so if someone unexpectedly knocks on the door they are welcomed – which I think is a lovely mentality.
6. UK – stirring it up
The Christmas pudding is something that people can take or leave, but I like the tradition behind the making of the pudding. Apparently each member of the family (including children) is supposed to take turns stirring the cake mix clockwise while making a wish. Older traditions include putting a coin in the mix which brings wealth to whoever finds it in their helping. Or a ring for luck in marriage and a thimble for good luck in life.
7. Greenland – NO! NO! NO!
This is one of the traditions I don’t think I’d want to try. Fancy some raw whale skin and blubber (mattak) on Christmas day? Head to Greenland and you won’t be disappointed. Other Christmas delicacies include wrapping a small arctic bird (auk) in seal skin, burying it for several months and then digging it up to eat its deliciously decomposed flesh. Sounds absolutely divine!! It’s called Kiviak, so if you’re one of those people who likes to order random things from the menu without knowing what they are, I’d recommend that you store that one in the memory banks so you can avoid it!
8. South Africa – perfect protein hit
For another delicious delicacy, head to South Africa where apparently deep fried caterpillars from the Emperor Moth are all the rage. On the plus side, it’s an important protein source in parts of the African content, but I still don’t think that convinces me. Its harvest season tends to line up with Christmas, and whilst most of the harvest will be dried or otherwise preserved for the winter, fresh caterpillars are fried up for the holidays. Tasty!
9. Iceland – snowflake bread
Laufabraud or Leaf Bread (sometimes known as snowflake bread) is made a few days before Christmas Day in Iceland. It’s a crisp flatbread, made from a very thin dough. From the photos I have seen I’ve decided they look a bit like poppadums, but am happy to be corrected. Before being deep fried, the dough is rolled out into thin rounds and decorated with an intricate cut-through geometric pattern using a special tool called a leaf bread iron. Sometimes the designs can look like snowflakes (hence the name). After being deep fried it’s saved to be eaten with the Christmas meal. Traditionally it’s the only time of the year the men help with the cooking! I picked this one as it was so different from everything else, and it amazed me how much time was spent making something normally so plain look so pretty.
10. Germany – gingerbread houses
A post on traditional Christmas foods wouldn’t be complete without gingerbread houses. Whilst the first known recipe for gingerbread did not originate in Germany, Germans were the first to turn them into houses. Some believe that the first houses were the result of the Brothers Grimm’s well known story, Hansel and Gretel, where the children are captured by a wicked witch who lives in a house made out of gingerbread and sweets; and others believe that the gingerbread houses came before the story. Either way, there’s something very magical about gingerbread houses and whilst they weren’t part of our Christmas tradition when I was growing up, they do somehow capture the imagination and when you see them being sold in the shops it really does make you feel like Christmas is here.
So there are my picks for traditional Christmas foods. Are there any I’ve missed that you think should be included? Are there any you disagree with or think I’ve got wrong? I’d love to hear your thoughts.