It’s almost that time of the year in which there’s nothing better than meeting friends and family, enjoying the beautiful Christmas lights decorating streets and shopping centres and, of course, indulging yourself with delicious Christmas treats.
There are so many amazing things about Christmas, but the food is one of the key things no matter where you spend your Christmas.
If you love traditional food, but you enjoy travelling and eating food from other cultures and you’d like to spice up your food this year, keep reading to discover some Christmas food Ideas from all around the world.
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Tamales – American Southwest
By Taryn of Chasing Trail
The American Southwest is world-famous for its spectacular natural landscapes, colourful history, and unique spicy-but-not-too-spicy food.
Among the most iconic foods, particularly at Christmas time, are tamales (pronounced tuh-mah-lees). For the uninitiated, tamales are made of masa harina, a corn-based dough, then filled with meats, beans, vegetables, or cheese, and finally wrapped in a corn husk.
Although some people may find tamales to be almost exotic, the food is distinctly American. The earliest forms of tamales, dating back to 8,000 BC, were a staple of the Native American diet.
Hunters and soldiers favoured tamales for their invaluable nutrition, while community leaders considered them a celebratory, almost spiritual food, believing that humans were derived from corn.
Keeping in line with everything we know about the Southwest, tamale-making is a tradition in and of itself. A true labour of love, the process takes several days – and several hands.
In fact, tamale-making parties, or tamaladas, are common because it’s so much work! The husks are soaked, the masa dough must be made with the perfect blend of spices and fillings, and the tamales require expert rolling skills so as not to lose any of that perfectly-balanced filling.
Today, tamales are a beloved Christmas food enjoyed throughout the Southwest and Mexico. You’ll find virtually every imaginable flavour combination, but popular versions include shredded pork with red chile sauce, chicken mole, and bean and cheese.
Tamales are typically the stars of the show, so expect them to be served with simple, rustic side dishes such as refried beans and pico de gallo. ¡Feliz Navidad!
Bob Ciorba – Bulgaria
By Eva of Elevate Calm
In Bulgaria, Christmas Eve is one of the most important holidays of the year. This is the last day of the Orthodox Christmas Lent so all food has to be plant-based.
Traditionally, each household sets a large table with seven, nine, or 12 dishes. These numbers respectively symbolise the days of the week, the months of a pregnancy, or the months of the year.
Some of the most popular dishes include bob chorba (a bean soup), sarmi with rice (rolled cabbage leaves with a filling), and pumpkin banitsa (pastry made with phyllo sheets).
In addition, there is pitka, home-made bread with a lucky charm inside. The bread’s round shape illustrates the cycle of life. Pitka is also decorated with different shapes made of dough: a cross, fruits, flowers, animals, etc.
The oldest person at the dinner table breaks the bread into pieces. The first piece is for the Virgin Mary, the second is for the house, and the rest of the pieces are spread between the family members. Whoever finds the lucky charm will be fortunate during the next year.
There is another custom that is used to foresee the year ahead. At the end of the Eve, everyone cracks open a walnut. If the nut looks delicious, this is an excellent sign. If the walnut has mould, you must be very cautious.
Once the dinner is over, all the leftovers remain on the table. It is believed that they feed the souls of the family members who have passed away.
Butter Tarts – Canada
Mince Pies and Christmas Pudding – England
By Sophie of We Dream of Travel
Each year as December rolls around, the beginning of the festive period in England is marked by the appearance of mince pies and Christmas puddings lining the shelves of cafes, bakeries and supermarkets.
If you’re visiting England during the holiday season, be sure to visit one of the many pretty English villages and enjoy a mince pie for a quintessential festive experience!
Mince pies can be traced all the way back to the 13th century, so it’s fair to say they are something of a tradition in England. These tasty little treats are sweet pastry tarts filled with mincemeat.
Today, this mincemeat is a mix of dried and candied fruits, suet and spices, soaked in rum or brandy and is typically enjoyed as an afternoon treat or a dessert. However, originally mincemeat developed as a way to preserve meat, typically mutton.
In fact, mince pies were once savoury and served as a main course. But over the centuries, as fruit became more readily available, the meat was slowly removed, the pies became smaller and sweeter, until they developed into what we are used to enjoying today!
Another firm Christmas tradition is the Christmas (or plum) pudding. This one dates back to the 14th century, when it was known as ‘frumenty’ and was more like a soup made with meat, raisins, currants, prunes, spices and wine.
The Christmas pudding of today has evolved into something far greater! Enjoyed as a dessert after Christmas dinner, it typically gets a few oohs and aahs as it is served aflame. However, it is a very rich, dense pudding, laden with butter, suet and alcohol soaked fruit, so usually only a spoon or two are enjoyed at a time!
There are many superstitions surrounding the Christmas pudding, from making a wish while stirring the pudding to adding a silver coin (traditionally a six pence) to be baked into the mix for good luck.
Plätzchen – Germany
By Victoria of Guide Your Travel
In Germany baking cookies during the winter months is an important tradition that all generations enjoy.
There are many different types of Christmas cookies although almost all fall under the category “Plätzchen” which translates to “little place”. The most common type of Plätzchen or Christmas cookie is simple sugar cookies which are decorated in different ways.
The dough is very buttery and made with sugar, flour, butter and eggs. The vanilla extract gives the cookies a delicate flavour. After rolling out the dough the cookies are cut out in different shapes and sizes.
Once they are baked and have cooled they can be decorated which is a great activity for the entire family. The icing of different colours as well as sprinkles is popular although you can also fill the cookies with jam which goes well with the crumbly texture of the cookie.
Although this type of Christmas cookie is probably the most popular there are many others commonly served during Christmas time.
The “Vanillekipferl” is a flaky vanilla cookie coated in icing sugar. If baked correctly these cookies are crumbly on the outside and delicate and moist in the centre.
Then there are “Kokosmakronen” which are made from dried coconut and then dipped in chocolate.
Home-made Christmas cookies are a large part of Christmas in Germany and are often gifted to friends and neighbours. No German would have store-bought Christmas cookies during the winter months. They need to be made at home for the best results.
Bejgli – Hungary
By Raluca of Travel With A Spin
Some time ago, the 24th of December was still a strict fasting day. People weren’t allowed to eat meat and dairy products on Christmas Eve. Nowadays, most Hungarians have the main Christmas meal on that day.
It is celebrated with the immediate family: parents, children, grandparents and brothers. The dinner table is decorated festively with green fir twigs, oranges, apples and candles.
As delicacies, there are usually laid fish soup, stuffed cabbage, turkey and of course, bejgli. They are accompanied by plenty of wine to toast and celebrate.
For most people in Hungary, the smell of freshly baked bejglis is synonymous to Christmas time. As they can’t miss from any Christmas table, they are often nicknamed Christmas rolls.
This traditional dessert is made out of yeast dough and poppy seeds filling. The preparation of the batter requires a little more time, but it is worth it. The raised dough needs to be stretched thin, filled with poppy seeds filling and rolled into cylindric shapes.
This dish draws its roots from an old superstition and it’s important to have it on the Christmas table. Back in the days, foods prepared with tiny seeds, like poppy, peas, lentils and beans meant good luck, wealth, fertility and protection against unpleasant things in the coming year.
From the base recipe, there are usually made several roll variations, just by replacing the poppy seeds with something else, like walnuts, coconut or apricots.
They are also brought as a gift by the relatives, but it’s fine. You can never have too many. The rolls can be stored for up to three weeks. They are best served cold with a cup of tea or milk.
Pandoro and Panettone – Italy
By Greta of Greta’s Travel
One of my favourite things about Christmas in Italy is the food, especially the Christmas cakes; Pandoro and Panettone.
Despite appearing somewhat similar, these Christmas cakes are actually very different and are the source of many debates amongst families on Christmas day, who usually solve the problem by having both available.
Pandoro is a tall, sweet, bread-like cake, which you cover in powdered sugar before serving. If you indulge a little more you can serve it also with sweet cream.
Panettone is similar in that it’s also a sweet bread-like cake, even if a bit shorter and not as sweet as pandoro. The main difference lies in panettone having raisins and candied fruit mixed in with the dough.
Children generally don’t like panettone as much because of the raisins and are the biggest supporters of pandoro.
Regardless of whether you are team pandoro or team panettone, if you travel to Italy during the holidays, tasting one (or both) of the cakes is a must on any Italy bucket list!
The Japanese Christmas Cake – Japan
By Natasha of Away From Origin
Although most people in Japan are not Christian, Christmas in Japan is celebrated with as much excitement and winter-wonderland as any other part of the world.
However, Japan takes Western Christmas traditions and puts a little bit of Japanese sparkle on top to make it their own.
While Christmas in the rest of the world is usually celebrated with family and a big feast, most young people celebrate Christmas as a romantic holiday to get together with their partners.
In fact, many restaurants during the Christmas season prepare for the ultimate Christmas present engagements. So, if the Western Christmas feast isn’t a tradition in Japan, then what is?
A huge Japanese Christmas tradition is the Christmas cake. No, not a fruit cake. The Japanese Christmas Cake is traditionally a beautifully decorated strawberry shortcake.
As the Christmas Cake has gotten more popular, you can find cakes of all styles, shapes and flavours, but a Japanese shortcake is quintessential.
Pillowy and rich white whipped cream (sorry folks, no buttercream in Japan), airy yellow sponge cake, and tart strawberries drizzled with a sugary glaze – it’s a food that everyone in Japan looks forward to!
If you find yourself in Japan during Christmas and want to buy a traditional Christmas cake, there are a few important things to remember.
You must order in advance. I don’t mean a week in advance. I mean that advertisements for Christmas cake pre-orders start in mid-November.
These beautiful cakes aren’t cheap, either! One round cake for two people can cost over $30 USD. You can also pre-order a cake at the convenience store for a little cheaper, so don’t worry about the cost.
Regardless, the Japanese Christmas cake is a deliciously sweet tradition that anyone can enjoy.
Sarmale – Romania
By Jade of The Migrant Yogi
Flavorful and satisfying, Romanian Christmas foods are any foodie’s dream come true. Romanians take a lot of pride in their traditional dishes and any festival or religious celebration is reason enough to showcase their culinary prowess.
Christmas is without-a-doubt the biggest holiday of the year in Romania, so save your appetite if you find yourself in Romania for Christmas dinner!
The most famous of traditional Romanian foods, sarmale are a virtual guarantee on your Christmas plate. The aroma of these cabbage rolls stuffed with minced meat, rice, tomato, onion, and herbs is prevalent in the air during the holiday season.
Their roots go back over 2,000 years and, while other countries have their own variations, they are considered the official dish of Romania.
Sarmale are most traditionally served alongside mămăligă (polenta) with a dollop of sour cream and a few pieces of smoked pork meat.
Although sarmale are the most popular (and abundant) traditional Romanian Christmas food, there are a number of other traditional dishes that will undoubtedly be served.
Cozonac is a sweet marble bread usually flavored with walnut cream (although other flavourings are used as well). There will be no shortage of house-made sausage and other smoked pork dishes.
And, considering the amount of preservation Romanians do during autumn in preparation for winter, there will be a wide variety of pickles – cucumbers, green tomatoes, cauliflower, chile peppers, and more.
If you find yourself in a Romanian household during Christmas time, consider yourself very lucky! Poftă Bună!
Roscón de Reyes – Spain
By Cristina of My Little World of Travelling
Christmas in Spain is all about enjoying delicious food with family and friends. Christmas meals vary depending on the region, but no matter where you are in Spain, you’ll find starters like jamón ibérico (Spanish ham), manchego cheese, prawns and pate on every table.
When it comes to Christmas, there are about four meals – starter, main, second and dessert. Main and second courses include a soup and a meat or fish meal, and desserts are anything from nougat and mantecados to flan de turrón.
However, one of my favourite Spanish Christmas days is The Three Kings Day celebrated on the 6th of January. If you’ve never heard of this special day before, it’s the day in which the three wise men leave presents to kids. It’s like having a second Christmas day as families get together early in the morning to open presents, have breakfast and later lunch.
Something that must be on the table the night before or in the morning of the 6th of January is a Roscón de Reyes. The Roscón de Reyes is a traditional ring-shaped sweet (it seems like a giant donut) prepared with a sweet, yeasted dough and topped with sugar and colourful candied fruit.
The special thing about this dessert is that you can find little presents inside. These are a porcelain figure wrapped in foil and a dry bean. If you find the figure, you’ll have good luck, but if you find the bean, you pay for the cake.
Fondue – Switzerland
By Sara of Sara Far Away
One of my favourite Swiss Christmas traditions is Fondue evenings. A Swiss national dish, cheese Fondue is made of melted cheese, served in a community pot called “Caquelon”.
Fondue has been a Swiss national dish ever since the 1980ies and became really popular in 1930 when the Swiss Cheese Union (yes, that is a thing in Switzerland!) started promoting it to increase cheese consumption.
The basic Swiss Fondue is made of cheese, starch, garlic, white wine, and nutmeg. But there are no limits to creativity when it comes to additional ingredients. I’ve had delicious Fondues with beer and bacon, or with herbs, chillies, or sundried tomatoes and olives.
The Fondue is cooked in a Caquelon, and when it is liquid, it is placed on a special table grill in the middle of the table. We then use special, long forks to dip bread in the melted cheese.
But the best thing about Fondue is not the fact, that it sends every cheese lover to food heaven. Because Fondue is so much more than just a meal.
It is (almost) always shared between a group of people, and just like Christmas, it is all about spending time with our loved ones, sharing a meal, a laugh, and a good glass of wine.
There is one unwritten rule when it comes to Fondue: you can’t lose your piece of bread. And if you do, you will be punished. Punishments can be anything, from having to sing a song, to having to do the dishes, buying the next round of drinks, or going for a barefoot walk in the snow.
Every family has its own traditions, and in the end, this is what makes every fondue evening so special and unique.
As you can see, Christmas food options and celebrations are endless, but the most important aspect of Christmas is to spend it with your loved ones – at home or abroad for a different experience.
What’s your favourite international Christmas food?
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