Around the world, over 2 billion people in more than 160 countries celebrate Christmas. You can find all sorts of traditions and celebrations around the world – but Christmas is more than that, it’s also about food. What is served for Christmas around the world varies greatly, with the usual roasted Turkey rarely seen on the table. These traditional Christmas dishes from around the world provide an insight into the various ways that people celebrate and indulge in the holiday – perhaps it will inspire you to try something different for your Yuletide feast this year!
In Sweden, the Christmas smorgasbord (or smörgåsbord, as it’s written in Swedish) is always prepared with all the delicious traditional dishes. The feast begins with a nice welcome drink of glögg (Swedish mulled wine) or a cocktail. The star of the show is Julkinska a juicy Christmas ham that is boiled and then glazed with a mixture of egg, breadcrumbs, and mustard and finished in the oven. Apart from the Christmas ham, the dinner table usually includes meatballs, sausages, and a potato and fish dish.
Desert is not missing from the Swedish Christmas table, with Risgrynsgröt always being present. It is a basic rice pudding scented with cinnamon but with a great twist: an almond is hidden in the pudding and whoever gets this will find true love in the coming year.
Food is central to the Icelandic Christmas experience! Smoked leg of roast lamb is a dish that every Icelander will eat on Christmas eve. This meat dish is typically served with a side dish of peas, beans, potatoes, etc. Laufabrauð, literally meaning ‘leaf bread’ is never missing from the table. It is a crispy and round deep-fried flatbread that is served plain or sweet. This Christmas specialty is usually made at home and families take pride in decorating these pieces of bread. Households in Iceland also gather their families and bake different types of Christmas cookies or “jólasmákökur” as they say in Icelandic. Classic flavours include ginger or jam-filled cookies. The must-have drink during Christmas is the Christmas Ale, which is a mix of Appelsin (an orange-flavoured soft drink) and malt. How to mix it is a real debate as some say it’s better to pour the malt or the apples in first.
Beware, the following Puerto Rican dishes will have your stomach growling. To start the feast, Puerto Ricans have Pasteles, a true Christmas tradition. These are meat pastries made of green plantain dough and wrapped in banana leaves. Christmas is not Christmas in Puerto Rico without lechón, a roasted suckling pig served with rice and beans. The process of preparing this dish is very time-consuming as it requires a slow roast for it to result in tender and juicy meat.
Another Christmas favourite is Morcilla, a blood sausage made with pork blood, meat, rice, and spices. For dessert, Tembleque is served, a creamy coconut pudding sprinkled with cinnamon.
Christmas in Russia is normally celebrated on January 7th. If you’re a pescatarian you will love “Selyodka pod Shuboy”, meaning Herring under a fur coat. This layered salad made from beets, potatoes, mayonnaise, boiled eggs, and herring is consumed in many Russian households for the holiday season. Pirozhki, pronounced piroshki is a must-have delight on every traditional Russian table. These tasty buns are crispy and golden on the outside but doughy on the inside stuffed with meat or a vegetarian filling. Pirozhki can also be eaten as a dessert as sometimes it is stuffed with fruit fillings. At the end of the meal, Russians drink Vzvar, a sweet drink made from dried fruit and honey.
On either Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, families come together to celebrate around a true Levantine feast with a wide range of mouth-watering dishes. Lebanon’s national dish, “Kibbeh” made from finely ground meat, onion, and burghul (cracked wheat) is almost always found on the festive table. The main course will consist of roasted turkey or chicken with spiced rice. You will always find various mezze plates of hummus, beet and tahini salad, and other dips lying around. As a former French colony, french “Buche de Noel” is present on the dessert table of every home in Lebanon alongside the traditional “Meghli” a desert-based on a floured rice pudding and spiced with star anise, caraway, and cinnamon which is usually made to celebrate a newborn, and so during this time, the celebration is Christ’s birth.
In the Philippines, the Christmas season is a festive time of the year when people fill their bellies with delicious gastronomic pleasures. Similar to Puerto Rico, Lechon, a suckling pig, tender, on the inside and crisp on the outside, takes the centre stage on a Philippino Christmas table. You will find this alongside a fried Christmas Ham encrusted in either brown sugar crumble or drenched with sweet syrup glaze, usually enjoyed with bread and goat’s cheese. Filipinos also look forward to the smell of “Puto Bumbong” one of the most popular Christmas dishes. It is a violet-coloured sweet made from coconut milk, rice, and sugar. The dessert table also includes the delightful Leche Flan, a dessert made from milk and egg yolk with caramelized sugar on the top.