Tastes of Christmas around the world

Several contributors share how culture defines their holiday eating habits.

Germany

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My mum hails from the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg and so we always did a German-style Christmas. It started late into the evening of the 24th with a midnight mass (ironically it started at 8pm), followed by calling family and then the grand event: the meal. The courses began at midnight typically with two courses: the fish and the ham. The fish would consist of trout, prawns, and smoked salmon bought fresh from the supermarket. A whipped cream made with horseradish and lingonberry preserve would be prepared and all eaten with nice fresh crusty bread. The main part of the meal was the Rollschinken and Kartoffelsalat, and when we got older a nice bottle of ice cold Erdinger Weißbier. Rollschinken is a special smoked ham hock that would be bought from our local butchers, boiled and baked in tinfoil until it was so tender and juicy that it fell apart when merely touched with a knife. We always had my mum’s famous German potato salad, using freshly boiled potatoes, peeled whilst piping hot, cut up and combined with chopped lettuce, red onion, spiced vinegar and some vegetable stock with various seasonings to make a rich and gorgeous salad. Christmas Eve was always a time of good food.

Portugal

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Growing up, the Christmas season has always been my favourite time of year, from the traditions, to the time spent with family, and especially the food. Coming from a typical Catholic lusophone household, the ultimate Christmas staple was always Bacalhau da Consoada. Custom states that meat cannot be eaten on the day before Christmas so my traditional family opted to cook meals with fish as the staple protein instead. Bacalhau da Consoada consists of salted codfish (as Portugal is the largest consumer of cod worldwide – 20% of all cod produced globally is eaten in the nation – it is unsurprising to see Bacalhau as a Christmas staple), boiled or sautéed potatoes, boiled eggs, chickpeas, and cabbage all drizzled with olive oil. A simple meal that initially grew out of necessity during the winter months where codfish was preserved better than meats, as well as the religious implications of eating meat on Christmas Eve, it has since stayed an important part of Portuguese Christmas.

Lebanon

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You can’t have a Lebanese Christmas dinner without feeling absolutely stuffed before the main course! The star of the show is always the stuffed baby lamb, Kharoof Mahshi. This is a whole baby lamb roasted for hours and stuffed with flavourful spiced rice garnished with nuts, raisins, pistachios, and spices. However, first you need to tackle the starters. We eat a traditional mezze that typically includes Batata Harra (spiced potatoes), Tabbouleh salad, various pastries and Kibbeh – a minced meat and bulgur pie. If you have any space left, you’ll typically have some homemade yule log and traditional Halawat El-Jibn, which are sweet cheese rolls sprinkled with honey and pistachio.

Philippenes

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The Philippines is famous for its incredible nationwide enthusiasm for Christmas, with countdowns commencing from September, heightened by an abundance of festive decorations immediately pervading the streets. Yet, the most anticipated event occurs not on the 25th, but on Christmas Eve. Nochebuena is a feast that acts as a precursor to the midnight Christmas festivities, consisting of well-loved Filipino dishes such as Lumpia (spring rolls), Pinoy-style spaghetti, Pancit (rice noodles), Crispy Pata and Lechon (pork leg and a whole roasted pig), all with ceaseless servings of jasmine rice. Oftentimes, this may be served in a ‘boodle-fight’ style in which
the food is laid out traditionally on banana leaves and eaten with bare hands. To conclude the feast, popular desserts include Leche Flan, Ube Halaya (purple yam jam) and an assortment of rice cakes such as Puto and Kutsinta. Celebrating Nochebuena as a first-generation immigrant helps affirm my cultural identity and passion for Filipino food and culture, despite being thousands of miles away.

Illustrations: and Anna Kuptsova (feature image border)

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