The smooth and spicy taste of pumpkin pie. The tart and tangy cranberry sauce. Sweet peppermint candy canes and creamy boozy eggnog. These classic flavors make their appearance in the United States every fall and winter. But what would you eat if you were born abroad? Would you still be stuffing a turkey or roasting a ham?
Every country across the globe has unique dishes that they enjoy during their most important holidays and celebrations. And while 160 different countries celebrate Christmas alone, each country puts its own spin on the festivities.
When it comes to holiday food, what seems mouth-watering delicious to some might awe others. Sweet potatoes with marshmallows? You might be confused by the combination if you’re not from the United States. But, what about ordering KFC on Christmas? For the Japanese, that’s normal!
One thing all countries have in common during the holidays is the ritual of preparing meaningful dishes to be shared with family and friends. And while the specific ingredients might change, you can almost always guarantee it’ll be something comforting and made with love. Whether elegantly prepared over an entire day or picked up quickly at a Christmas market, holiday meals are always a treat.
Hoping to expand your knowledge on culinary traditions? Want to add something new to your holiday meal menu options? Look no further. In this list, we’ve gathered seven holiday dishes from around the world tasty enough to justify holiday travel.
Tourtière: French Canada
Forget pumpkin or pecan; if you find yourself in French Canada for Christmas, you’ll be looking for the savory meat-filled version instead. Traditionally eaten during the reveillon feast of Christmas Eve, tourtière is a spiced mincemeat pie popular all across Quebec.
Depending on the specific region or family recipe, some make tourtière with pork only, while others choose a combination of meats. In Quebec City, you may find a wild game version. Over by the coast, a filling of salmon may be most typical.
One thing remains the same: the spices. Holiday tourtière should always have cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice.
Lechon: The Philippines
Quite possibly the most succulent holiday dish, lechon is the traditional method of roasting a whole pig over hot coals. Brought over to the Philippines via Spanish colonization, lechon has become an integral part of Filipino heritage.
Before being stuffed with herbs and seasonings like lemongrass, garlic, and leeks, the pig is cleaned and the hair is removed. Next, the skin is massaged with milk, coconut water, or soy sauce before it’s hung on the spit to roast. It’s a time-consuming process, but the taste is worth the wait. The skin becomes crispy like a cracker, and the meat falls apart in your hands and melts in your mouth. How does that sound?!
If you find yourself in the Philippines for Christmas, you must get your hands on some lechon. Each region puts a different spin on the pig, but many say the best hails from Cebu. Even Anthony Bourdain agrees, and in 2009 he coined this dish the “best pig ever.”
Feast of Seven Fishes: Sicily & the USA
If fish is your meat of choice for holiday celebrations, surround yourself with Italian-Americans and you’ll be in seafood heaven. The feast of seven fishes dates back to the ancient tradition of abstaining from meat and dairy on the eve of Christmas.
It’s known as an Italian Christmas tradition, but in fact, many Italians have never heard of it. While said to originate in Sicily, the feast of seven fishes became popular when Italian-Americans adopted the old tradition and brought it new life. Why seven dishes? In Christianity, seven is a significant number and symbolizes the number of sacraments, days of creation, and deadly sins.
The best part of the feast of seven fishes? You can choose any array of seafood dishes you’d like! Typically, the seven dishes are spread across multiple courses and can include anything from clam arancini to salted cod. However, sometimes the feast looks more like a potluck with family and friends all invited to partake. Besides, the more, the merrier!
It doesn’t take expensive ingredients or a day slaving over the stove to make a holiday treat that can stand the test of time. Latkes, or potato pancakes, have been an essential part of the Hannakuh tradition since the Middle Ages. They still reign as a supreme snack even today, making them one of the most popular holiday dishes from around the world on our list.
Latkes are made from shredded potatoes and onion, and are fried in oil, a step that symbolizes the corresponding Jewish miracle. And while the traditional story makes a case for a bit of oil going a long way, that’s not necessarily the case for cooking latkes. These deep-fried treats are perfectly savory and satisfying, typically topped with applesauce or sour cream.
Pavlova: Australia & New Zealand
Mulled-wine and cozy casseroles might not sound as appetizing to you if you celebrate Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. With the summer heat coinciding with Santa Claus, those down under have quite a different holiday menu.
For a refreshing and light dessert, look no further than the pavlova. Eaten widely across New Zealand and Australia, you might find yourself in a brawl if you ask which country does it better. Luckily, unless you’re from one of those 2 countries, the answer doesn’t matter. What matters is how delicious it is.
This merengue-based dessert has a crisp outer shell and a soft, airy inside. Topped with cream and fresh fruit of your choice, pavlovas make for the perfect finish to a heavy meal regardless of your position on the globe.
For Mexicans living on both sides of the border, tamales are almost a holiday requirement. And for some of us foodies, unwrapping a tamale is just as exciting as unwrapping a Christmas gift. Simple yet labor-intensive, tamales are made from corn masa which is stuffed with meat, beans, or cheese. The tamales are then wrapped in corn husks or plantain leaves and steamed. Since making tamales in large batches makes the most sense, families will often gather to make the tamales together.
Interestingly, these simple yet customizable packets of yumminess have been around for thousands of years. There’s evidence that multiple cultures including the Toltecs, Aztecs, Mayans, and even the Incas put tamales in their pockets as a portable snack. (Okay, maybe not the pocket part.)
Bahn Chung: Vietnam
An irreplaceable part of the Vietnamese New Year celebrations, bahn chung is a savory rice cake made from glutinous rice, pork, mung bean, and other seasonings. Like tamales, the filling is wrapped in banana leaves (or a giant bamboo leaf). Instead of being steamed, the packets are boiled in water. The tight banana leaf protects the contents from the water. After several hours of cooking, the ingredients meld to form one solid savory cake. Served warm or at room temperature, bahn chung is then sliced with the option of pan-frying to create a perfectly crispy piece. Serve with tangy daikon or pickles and a sweet and spicy dipping sauce.
As you can see, these holiday dishes from around the world show just how much importance, care, and dedication we put into our holiday celebrations. So this year, why not try something new?