It doesn’t really matter where you’re from, it wouldn’t be Christmas without good food. But growing up in Australia, I naturally assumed that everyone in the world rang-in the season with a barbecue, a cold beer and maybe a few plates of pavlova for dessert.
It never occurred to me that in France, Christmas was the time for Champagne and roast goose stuffed with chestnuts, or Peruvians celebrated festivities with enourmous hot chocolates and panettone. I had no idea the Spanish liked to snack on baby eels and marzipan cookies (not side by side) or that a traditional Christmas Eve dinner in Poland is meatless.
Eating a country’s food is always the fastest way into its psyche, and that’s particularly true during the festive season, when many of the world’s families come together and where cooking and tradition are one and the same. Want to know what the world is feasting on this Xmas? Pull up a chair and loosen your belt. We’ve got just the guide for you…
1. Buche de Noel, France
Christmas cuisine in France is so classically French it’s delightful. To drink? Champagne. To eat? Duck or goose liver paté, oysters, smoked salmon and (in Brittany) buckwheat crepes. The main course is often stuffed goose with chestnuts, or perhaps roast beef. But it’s dessert that really shines.
The traditional buche de noel (or yule log as it’s known) is a rolled sponge cake (yum) filled with chocolate buttercream (double yum) and finished with powdered sugar and meringue mushrooms (yum3). Leave it to the French to make the world’s fanciest food containing the word ‘log’. One thing’s for sure, there’s nothing quite so refined (or rich) as a traditional French Christmas feast. Prepare yourself for post-gluttony groaning.
2. Chocolatadas, Peru
Is there no end to the friendliness of Peru? Just when you think it couldn’t outdo itself, you learn about the (wonderfully named) Christmas tradition of chocolatadas. Basically, from early December Peruvian churches use money donated by locals to help bake huge slabs of panettone and make enormous kettles of spiced hot chocolate.
The pastries and chocolate brew are then served to the less fortunate in the community as a celebration of the holiday season. The hot chocolate is a particularly warming treat, made with a saliva-inducing blend of sweetened condensed milk, brandy, butter and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Oh yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
3. Malva pudding, South Africa
South Africa is fairly traditional when it comes to Christmas fare. There’s the obligatory roast turkey (or often duck), mince pies and suckling pig with yellow rice, raisins and vegetables. Christmas fir trees and crackers are common; probably a legacy of the country’s colonial past. But one thing they do a little differently is dessert, where the usual dish of choice is Afrikaan malva pudding, also known as lekker pudding: a moist, dense apricot sponge cake served warm and covered in dreamy crème Anglaise.
It’s originally of Dutch origin, but its history doesn’t tend to matter when you’re stuffing the fourth slice of sweet cream-soaked cake into your mouth. Our top tip? If you’re making it yourself, poke the fresh-baked cake with a skewer all over – this will allow the cream to penetrate deep into the sponge. Outrageous.
4. Spit-roasted pig, Philippines
As a former Spanish colony, the Philippines are largely Catholic, which means Christmas is a serious business. The festivities officially kick off on 16 December with the first of nine consecutive dawn masses. Street vendors flock with the crowds, offering a range of traditional festive fare like tsokolate (drinking chocolate) and puto bumbong (flavoured rice steamed with coconut and brown sugar).
But the Nocha Buena feast on Christmas Eve is when Filipino food really takes off. The highlight of the evening is a whole pig spit-roasted over charcoal, usually served with queso de bolo (edam cheese) and oxtail stew.
5. Julbord, Sweden
Swedish Christmas celebrations usually kick off on 13 December, St Lucia’s Day, with the eldest daughter of the family, dressed all in white and wearing a crown of lingonberry branches, serving her family lussekatts (s-shaped saffron buns) and coffee. On Christmas Eve there’s the traditional julbord (a Swedish smorgasbord), which is a never-ending procession of cold fish dishes (a Scandinavian speciality), traditional julskinka (Christmas salt-cured ham), meatballs (of course), red cabbage, mulled wine and caramel potatoes.
If guests can still rise from their seats, they’re subjected to a hefty serve of risgrynsgrot (Swedish rice pudding), which traditionally comes with a single almond hidden inside. Whoever gets the almond in their slice receives an extra gift – probably an antacid.
Inspired to explore the food of the world for yourself? Check out our mouth-watering selection of real food adventures – from Turkey to China and Japan to Spain, we’ve got your cravings covered.