We are well into the festive season now and we have it pretty much down to an annual routine with all our foodie traditions so much ingrained in our western Christian culture. Generations have made it what it is but we just seem to be making it more and more commercial. Our menu is still as it has been for decades with a few modern tweaks here and there. If you are having your Christmas abroad this year things might be somewhat different however.
I managed to get home each Christmas I lived away except the once when I enjoyed a western Australian outback Christmas in 40c heat. There was still turkey and all the trimmings as the Aussies are a chip off the old colonial block but it was just not the same without a chill in the air or an inch of snow. In other countries though, the Christmas table takes on a whole other look as I have discovered over time.
In France the yuletide offering is oysters and their controversial liver pate called foie gras, then goose is the bird of choice as a roast or a cold seafood platter on the coasts or just something special like lobster. Cheese is a must have and a chocolate log dessert as the sweet treat. The main difference from us in it is all eaten on Christmas Eve. The Spanish also eat on the day before and love seafood too and charcuterie but will also have a turkey, lamb or pork main course depending on the region and nougat is the preferred sweet treat for them. Being such a large country the menus will vary widely too but there will be some copious amount of eating and drinking.
In Germany the meal is on the day itself though with turkey, duck, goose or even rabbit. They will have stuffing, red cabbage and dumplings all followed by stollen, a sweet bready cake and lashings of beer and wine to wash it down.
The Italians also like to do their big dinner on Christmas day, pasta and charcuterie to start, hot veal or chicken dishes for mains but again very region dependent from north to south with seafood a big part near the Med. Their famous dome shaped fruit cake pannetone is their dessert of choice and becoming popular here too it seems.
Outside of Europe things take on a whole new look and taste. Of course the non Christian countries have now got caught up in the global Christmas spirit even if their food has stayed traditional to their likes. In Japan however an incredible special Christmas KFC package meal which also includes cake and bubbly has been a hit since the seventies. I guess it’s their own unique way of finding something totally left field to embrace culinary wise that is as far from their sushi and sashimi as possible.
The Middle East celebrates Christmas too with lamb naturally being prominent and turkey also making it on the menus and even Yule logs being eaten in places like Lebanon. Despite all the religious, economic and cultural differences most countries seem to take time out for this global holiday even if their menus often can be somewhat unappetizing.
In some countries in Africa Christmas day merits a feast of fried worms or caterpillar, now how is your appetite for that? In the Philippines they eat a suckling pig with a purple rice cake. It’s not just the far flung places that go off menu as we know it, the nearby Norwegians like a smoked, salted and boiled sheep’s head with brains and all left inside, not for the faint hearted that one.
So you can see that we are pretty safe here with our rather more conservative fare and when you sit down this week for your big feed have a think about what is being enjoyed or endured on other far flung tables around the world.