With Christmas nearly upon us, have you sorted out your Christmas dinner and festive nibbles? It’s likely you’re having turkey or capon, with a riot of roast veg, a ‘yuge’ yule log, and a tin of Quality Street (or are you a Roses house?). Some people might have steak at Christmas, gravlax (a Norwegian salmon dish popular with many UK families), or another familiar meal.
But what about the rest of the world where local foods, tastebuds and customs can be wonderfully different to those in the west? If you’re looking for last minute Christmas dinner inspiration, or a strange fact to tell over the dinner table (because cracker jokes are never enough), then look no further. We’ve rounded up 9 wonderful food based Christmas traditions from around the world that will intrigue you and your Christmas companions. What we want to know is which of these you’d try? Let us know in the comments!
The Christmas Pickle, Germany
Our first funky foodie Christmas tradition isn’t about a food you can eat. It’s about a glass ornament hidden on the Christmas tree, and whoever finds it on Christmas day gets good luck for the whole year (and maybe an extra present). We’re quite glad it’s not a real pickle because it would get a little stinky if no one found it! The origins of this tradition are hard to pin down, but to be honest we’re happy to enjoy it for its whimsy.
Lithuanian Spit Cake, Lithuania
We included this one because it sounds a lot weirder than it actually is. Also known as the Rauolis, Sakotis or Lithuanian Tree Cake, this cake is cooked on a spit - there’s nothing gross about it at all! A rich batter is dripped onto a stainless steel rod as it turns over a heat source. As the batter drips it also bakes, creating the impression of little cakey tree branches.
Pierogi Dumplings, Poland
Pierogi are a popular celebration food in Poland that have become a Christmas Eve tradition. There are probably as many variations of the recipe as there are people and can include things like potato, caramelized onion, cheese and sauerkraut. We definitely think this one belongs on the ‘wonderful’ side of Christmas food traditions because who doesn’t love a savoury dumpling?!
Lampreia de Ovos, Portugal
Directly translating as ‘lamprey eggs’ we promise the dish is tastier than it sounds and doesn’t include any real lamprey. Made from around 50 egg yolks (give or take a dozen), sugar or honey, and almonds, this is a gooey, rich cake that could go back as far as the 15th Century. Lampreys are a truly nightmarish creature that we really recommend you do not Google. They look like eels, but they’re actually fish, and they’re definitely vampires. Lamprey was once a red meat replacement during Lent, and then at some point some resourceful nuns started making cakes that look like them. We’re not sure of the exact link between the two, but we ended up with Lampreia de Ovos: delicious and terrifying.
Mopane Worms, South Africa
We don’t know if this makes it more appetising to a Western stomach, but mopane worms are actually caterpillars. They’re quite cute little critters too (which is why we’ve included a photo of a live caterpillar rather than a dish of roasted ones) which are high in protein and traditionally harvested around Christmas time. As festivities spread and reached parts of South Africa where mopane worms are eaten, they became associated with Christmas and regarded as a delicacy.
Peppermint Pig, Saratoga Springs New York
Here’s a tradition you might be more familiar with - the peppermint pig. Made from peppermint candy, the idea is to pass the piggy around the dinner table. Each person uses a small hammer to break a piece off, receiving good luck for the year ahead. Dating back to the 1880s, the tale goes that a Saratoga Springs chef was inspired to make a new kind of festive treat. It makes sense to have a sugary treat - but why a pig? In the Victorian era, pigs represented health, wealth and happiness. While the tradition waned over the second World War due to sugar rationing, it was resurrected in 1988 by a new confectioner, Mike Fitzgerald. We wouldn’t mind a peppermint piggy at our Christmas dinner!
Chicken Bone Candy, Canada
Thankfully, just like the lampreia de ovos, chicken bone candy is a sweat treat and nothing to do with chickens! It’s speculated they got their name both because they could look a little bit like a chicken bone, and because in the 19th century when they were invented, the name fit in with other mad candy names from the era. They are actually a hard candy stick flavoured with cinnamon and filled with unsweetened chocolate. Although there are now dozens of different recipes, ‘chicken bones’ are now synonymous with Christmas in certain parts of Canada.
Christmas Eve Apple, China
Christmas is not a traditional holiday in China, but many people like to celebrate the festivities. A new tradition that sprang up maybe in the last 5 years or so, is to hand out shiny red apples to friends and family, sometimes carved with elaborate decorations or dressed in bright tissue papers. Imaginative marketers came up with the idea because the word for apple 苹果 (píngguǒ) and the word for Christmas Eve 平安夜 (Píng’ān yè, literally meaning safe night) sound similar. The idea is that the apple represents the gift of peace.
Christmas KFC, Japan
KFC has become THE Christmas meal in Japan, with millions of families ordering theirs months in advance. But how did this immensely popular tradition begin? Takeshi Okawara managed Japan’s first KFC in 1970 and woke up in the middle of one night with an idea: the party barrel. Apparently he had heard two foreigners saying how they missed turkey for Christmas, and Okawara figured chicken would be a great substitute. It worked too - with KFC picking up the idea and running a national marketing campaign. Okawara ended up as the president and CEO of KFC Japan for 18 years. Not bad for a 3am idea!
Do you have more funky and fantastic Christmas traditions - food or otherwise? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear from you!