No matter what part of the world you live in, food is a big part of any culture. The holidays are no different. In fact, holiday traditions and food are the cornerstone of most societies. Christmas and other winter holidays are worldwide festivals that bring people together. Culinary dishes are the backbone of society and differ from culture to culture.
Traditions range from roasted turkey to figgy pudding, and from butter tarts to minced pies. Each culture has its own blend of unique delicacies that grace their table each and every Christmas. Here are some traditional winter holiday foods from around the world.
Roast Turkey and All the Trimmings, United States
Starting in the United States, we have roast turkey. This is the most traditional American meal during the holidays. There are typically mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and green beans along with the turkey. This traditional feast features a crispy, golden-brown turkey cooked to perfection.
This type of meal celebrated for the holidays was documented for the first time in 1619 in what is now called the Commonwealth of Virginia. It was the settler’s way of giving thanks to the almighty God for His provision.
Peking Duck, China
Duck has been roasted in China since the southern and northern dynasties. These ducks are specially bred for this meal. They are slaughtered after 65 days and then well-seasoned, roasted, or put in a hung oven. This delicacy combines soft meat, delicate, paper-thin pancakes, and crispy duck skin to represent richness and festivity.
The Peking roast duck was fully developed during the Ming Dynasty and, since the mid-20th century, has become the country’s national symbol. Although not technically a Christmas dish, this meal is one of the most popular dishes in China.
Banh Chung, Vietnam
The Bánh Chưng is a type of rice cake consumed and enjoyed during Tết, the Vietnamese New Year. The required ingredients of Bánh Chưng are glutinous rice, mung bean, fatty pork, salt & pepper, and sometimes green onion. Once these cakes are made, they are wrapped in a la dong or a banana leaf and tied together with strings split from Giang.
These rice cakes are not just for consumption. They are also placed in front of family altars to pay tribute to ancestors and prayers for the upcoming year.
Latkes have been a staple of every Hanukkah in Israel for many centuries. These potato pancakes are made from very simple ingredients. The typical latke is made with a variation of potatoes, eggs, breadcrumbs or matzo, and onions. On some occasions, a vegetable other than a potato is used.
This pancake is then deep-fried in hot oil. This process is symbolic of the miracle of Hanukkah. Frying the latke in oil refers to the oil lasting eight days even though there was only enough oil to last one day.
Mince Pie, England
This dish is known by a few names, including Mincemeat Pie and Christmas Pie. Most people think this dessert has meat, and some versions still do. However, many of these pies are a mixture of fruit, spices, and suet. More and more varieties today consist of pastry dough, distilled spirits, vegetable shortening, dried apples and raisins, and a spice mixture containing cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
These ingredients are traced back to the 13th century. The recipes containing spices, meats, and fruits were said to be symbols of the Christian faith. They were meant to symbolize the gifts given to Jesus by the Magi. Also, instead of a circle, these pies used to be made into an oblong shape to represent and resemble a manger.
Prime Rib with Yorkshire Pudding, United Kingdom
Turkey isn’t the only meat that is popular around the holidays. Prime rib is one of the first meat choices in the United Kingdom. This meat is also known as Standing Rib Roast or Sunday Roast in different parts of the world. This meal became an important tradition for families to eat and be together on Sundays and major holidays.
Yorkshire Pudding is an added element that goes perfectly with prime rib. It is a savory dish made from a batter of eggs, flour, and milk, which is baked in the oven until it puffs up and turns golden brown.
Rack of Lamb, Australia
Christmas occurs in the summer, with Australia being in the southern hemisphere. So, naturally, a lighter meal would be more ideal than something heavy that you would typically consume in the winter months. Most of the time, rosemary and mint are almost always added to the rack of lamb.
Australian Christmases are commonly held outdoors due to the wonderful summer weather. The added spices help bring about and add to the atmosphere that surrounds this summer holiday. Barbecues and picnics are typical this time of year and help create this traditional celebration.
Butter Tarts, Canada
These tasty treats are a tradition for Canadian households around Thanksgiving and Christmas. They’re small pastries with a sweet filling made of maple or corn syrup, eggs, butter, sugar, and sometimes walnuts and raisins. Quite a few Canadians will enjoy this dessert with a hot tea or coffee.
Butter tarts are so popular that a contest is held annually in Midland, Ontario, Canada. It is called Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival and Contest and attracts bakers from all around. This is the largest butter-tart-themed festival, with upwards of 50,000 tarts sold during the event.
Spiced Hot Chocolate, Peru
Peru is known for its spicy food, so why would their drinks be any different? If you’re looking for a way to spice up your holiday, perhaps take a page from this Peruvian handbook. Their hot chocolate is made with chocolate, condensed or evaporated milk, and a combination of spices, such as cinnamon, chili powder, cloves, and nutmeg.
This particular sweet and spicy treat is so popular that an entire event is based around it. The event is called la Chocolatadas. During this time, people will come from all over and serve their rendition of this spiced hot chocolate and pair it with a well-known dessert called panetón.
The tradition of tamales at Christmas dates back thousands of years. There is a long-standing symbolic association with tamales and the holidays. It is a time to celebrate family and togetherness. One tradition dates back to pre-Colombian times when native tribes would celebrate the winter solstice with feasts. The Aztecs offered tamales to their gods in honor of the maize goddess Xilonen.
Tamales are a traditional Mesoamerican dish made of corn-based dough, called masa, wrapped in a leaf wrapper and cooked. They are typically filled with pork, chicken, or shredded beef and take a day to make. Because the process takes so long, they were traditionally made only for holiday celebrations or other special occasions such as baptisms or weddings.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ratov Maxim/Shutterstock.com
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