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Christmas foods around the world

By Margaret Hartness

The British roast dinner is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Christmas food… Features Columnist Margaret Hartness discusses the diversity of festive meals found around the world.

We’re all familiar with the traditional British Christmas dinner. A turkey centrepiece, roast potatoes, the nationally despised brussel sprouts, and maybe some cranberry sauce on the side. Followed by, if you’re especially traditional (or a Dickens fan), a flaming Christmas pudding, because you have to burn something at Christmas. Yet in such a diverse world, what does this dinner resemble in other countries? Well, hop in my sleigh, powered by the magic of imagination, as I take you on a tour of the world! 


Here, the main meal is served on Christmas Eve, as a feast called julbord. It consists of a buffet of cold fish, cold meats, cheese, pickles, and other nibbles. But the star of the show is the Christmas ham, julskinka, made by boiling or roasting the cut in the oven until it is crispy. Once cold and glazed with mustard and breadcrumbs, it is served with the rest of the buffet.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has several unique Christmas dishes and drinks, but their standout dish is lechón, which is a roast suckling pig on a spit. One of the best places to buy a pig for this dish is Guavate, also called the “Pork Highway”, which is a food hotspot. It’s also common for people to spit roast the pig themselves at home. But if you thought your parents cooking the turkey all day was bad, this meal requires two people watching and spinning the pig, sometimes starting from 2am!


Ah, Germany, the country that gave us the Christmas tree and is famous for its wonderful Christmas markets. Rather than a turkey, many homes will dine on either roasted duck, goose, or rabbit as their main, accompanied by sausage stuffing, potato dumplings and red cabbage. But the desserts…! You may have heard of stollen, a fruit bread made up of nuts, spices, and dried fruit, topped with powdered sugar. And of course, the pfefferkuchenhaus, also known as “the gingerbread house”.


This one may sound either familiar or alien to people in the UK, but in Japan the popular Christmas dinner meal is fried chicken, particularly KFC. This tradition began in the 1970s due to KFC’s successful marketing campaign called “Kentucky Fried Christmas”, an attempt to implement Christmas traditions in a country that is not historically Christian, which became immensely popular with the public. Some will order their meal weeks in advance to secure it for Christmas! Dessert is served as a Christmas cake, which is a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream. Wagashi is also popular, a traditional Japanese sweet in different shapes, sizes, colours, and flavours.


In Poland, the big meal is held on Christmas Eve and dishes are meat-free, varying for each region. The dinner starts with barscz (also known as red borscht), a beetroot soup which has a sour base and is served with small dumplings stuffed with cabbage and mushroom. The star of the show is the fish dish. Carp, typically only eaten on Christmas eve, is served in many different ways. Herring is also a popular choice, often pickled and prepared with onions or plums.


There are so many French Christmas dishes to talk about, thanks to France’s famous cuisine culture, making it difficult to choose just a few. The main meal occurs on Christmas Eve and is called “Le Réveillon”, meaning “awakening” or “wake up” (or “New Year’s Eve”, according to Google Translate), because traditionally it began when people returned from Mass, and would last until the early morning. Common foods served are: smoked salmon and oysters with bran bread and butter, foie gras, goose, capon or turkey served with chestnuts, and vegetables cooked with garlic and butter. And of course, dessert is bûche de Noël: the yule log. A delicious buttercream chocolate cake in the shape of a log, sometimes decorated with edible decorations to give it a forest feel.

Are there any dishes I missed that you think should have been included? Does your family have any Christmas dinner traditions? Let us know in the comments!


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