While traditions can be more comforting than a mug of hot cocoa on a blustery winter day, re-creating the same meal every Christmas can get a little bland. So why not shake up your yuletide menu with some recipes from across the globe? Although some Christmas standbys like ham and fruitcake transcend international borders, we went searching for dishes that would add unique and festive twists to your holiday feast. Come along for the ride as we take a tour of traditional Christmas foods from around the world (no passport required).
Tamales aren’t exclusively served at Christmastime, but they tend to be reserved for special occasions due to the time and effort required to wrap each one by hand. If you’re feeling ambitious, or if you can get some buddies on board for a tamalada (tamal-making party), try your hand at these staples of the Mexican Noche Buena (Christmas Eve). Get the recipe.
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A variation of tamales known as hallacas can also be found at La Ceña Navideña in Venezuela. As for the porcine portion of the meal, don’t expect to see a honey baked ham. In fact, while you might initially mistake pan de jamón for a plain loaf of bread, inside, you’ll discover a sweet and savory spiral of ham, raisins, and olives. Get the recipe.
The Danish enjoy a dessert of cold rice pudding topped with whipped cream, vanilla almonds, and hot fruit sauce. But there’s more to this tradition than taste alone. Similar to a baby figurine in a Mardi Gras king cake, one peeled almond is hidden somewhere in the pudding bowl. Whoever finds it wins a mandelgave (almond present). Get the recipe.
Everybody knows fruitcake’s Italian cousin panettone. But if you want to introduce party guests to a different Italian dessert, whip up torrone, a nougat candy made with sugar and/or honey, egg whites, and nuts. Get the recipe.
Cod is a constant on Portuguese menus, and the holidays are no exception. The traditional Christmas preparation is a simple one that involves boiling the fish with potatoes, cabbage, and eggs. The next day, do as the Portuguese do and make roupa velha (“old clothes” or “dirty laundry”) by mixing leftover shredded cod with garlic and olive oil. Get the recipe.
Fish also plays a major role in Slovak celebrations, where tradition calls for families to acquire a live carp a few days before Christmas. There are several explanations as to how this custom began, mostly relating to the cleaning and preservation of the fish. Regardless of the reason behind the ritual, the story ends the same way—with a breaded or fried filet on Christmas Eve. Alongside fish, it’s common to see kapustnica, a sauerkraut soup with mushrooms, meats, onion, garlic, and spices. Many family recipes also mix in apples and plums for some added sweetness. Get the recipe.
If you were to find yourself in Uganda for a Dec. 25 Sekukulu celebration, you might just be treated to luwombo—a dish of seasoned chicken wrapped in banana leaves and steamed with whole bananas. Get the recipe.
Like tamales in Mexico, jollof rice makes an appearance at many West African occasions and gatherings, not just Christmas. This blend of rice, tomatoes, peppers, and spices is popular for parties because it’s a crowd pleaser that only requires one pot to prepare. Get the recipe.
Dreading the post-holiday January blues? Celebrate Christmas again with the Orthodox Christians on Jan. 7! Get things started the night before with a bowl of Russian sochivo (also known as kutya) —a wheat porridge with poppy seeds, walnuts, and honey. Get the recipe.
In the Philippines, Simbang Gabi is a series of nine dawn masses—each one starting as early as 4 a.m.—beginning on Dec. 16. As congregants pour out of churches at breakfast-time, they’re likely to encounter vendors selling two rice and coconut-based treats: puto bumbong and bibingka. Get the recipe.
Since Christmas falls during summertime in the Southern Hemisphere, prawns are common figures at yuletide barbies Down Under. As for dessert, Australians love their pavlova. Nicknamed “pav” for short, it consists of meringue cakes smothered in cream and crowned with seasonal fruits like passionfruit, strawberries, and kiwi. Get the recipe.
The weather is similarly hot in Chile, where locals enjoy a cool twist on eggnog called cola de mono. Literally translated, the name means “monkey’s tail” and comes with a handful of possible origin stories that you and your guests can entertain. While we can’t say which one is true, we can guarantee that this blend of milk, coffee, cinnamon, and brandy will cool things right down if the family dinner table conversation gets heated! Get the recipe.
With that, we’d like to raise a figurative glass of cola de mono and propose a holiday toast to you and your kin. No matter where you’re from, how you celebrate, or what language you speak, we wish you a happy holiday season full of friends and family and equally full bellies.
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