7 unique Christmas food traditions around the world

Christmas is about family, friends….and food!

Speaking of food, what people choose to indulge in during the festive season differs across countries. This is not including the varying regional traditions thrown into the mix!

From sheep’s head to a seven-course seafood feast, keep reading for the delightfully diverse menu of 7 unique Christmas food traditions around the world!

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)
Japan

It’s that time of the year again for an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families to feast on fried chicken from KFC. Yes, you heard that right! It allegedly started with Takeshi Okawara, the manager of the first KFC in Nagoya. Back in 1970, he overheard an expat saying they missed eating turkey for Christmas, and that chicken was the next best option¹. Okawara made it his aim to make KFC’s chicken the next best option in Japan!

His efforts paid off — according to the American fast food chain, their Japanese outlets pulled in 6.9 billion yen (roughly US$63 million) from December 20 to 25 in 2018. Lines are reportedly out the door every year from December 23 onwards²!

You can fry up your own chicken at home easily! It may not be a secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices, but we’re sure that it’ll be just as tasty. Serve these Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Gravy to accompany the fried chicken to replicate the true experience.

Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images

Pierogi
Poland 

Pierogi, or dumplings, is served at the Wieczerza Wigilijna (Polish Christmas Eve dinner) of most families in Poland. Meat lovers also won’t be finding their pierogi stuffed with pork or beef anytime soon as traditionally, eating meat is forbidden at Christmas³. Cheese, potato or sauerkraut stuffings are more common.

Traditional pierogi are boiled, but fried options are getting increasingly popular. Try your hand at making them with these Pierogi with Potato Fillings — your guests will surely polish them off quickly!

Mattak & Kiviak
Greenland 

Ever wondered what raw whale skin with blubber tastes like? Only Greenlanders will be able to describe the taste to you!

Mattak” is made from the raw hide of a narwhal or white whale and is traditionally eaten as a Christmas delicacy in Greenland. It’s believed to taste like fresh coconut, and often served alongside “kiviak”⁴. Kiviak is another Christmas food unique to Greenland made by wrapping an auk (small arctic bird) in seal skin, and then buried to ferment for several months⁵!

Feast of the Seven Fishes
Italy and North America

This Feast of the Seven Fishes is a tradition that stems from the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on the eve of most holidays⁶. Also known as Festa dei Sette Pesci or La Vigilia, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is held by Italian communities all around the world on Christmas Eve. As its name suggests, this is a huge dinner that consists of seven courses of fish and seafood to kick off the festivities!

Fun fact: The number seven also holds great significance in Roman Catholicism: it refers to the number of Sacraments⁷ and days of Creation, even the number of deadly sins!

Pull together a quick seafood-inspired meal with the simplest ingredients! Frozen seafood is great if you’re strapped for time.

And that’s just some of the ingredients you need to impress guests with this Baked Seafood Pasta Bag! It’s an easy recipe that really allows such quality ingredients to shine.

Selyodka Pod Shuboy
Russia 

It’s all about the seafood! Next up, we’ve got the Selyodka Pod Shuboy (Селёдка под шубой) — a beautiful layered salad that’s served on every holiday and is a symbol of the New Year celebration in Russia⁸. Its Russian name directly translates to “herring under a fur coat” and it’s an apt one, considering that the pickled herring is usually covered in other ingredients like cooked beetroot, white onions, and carrots⁹! Its Russian name directly translates to “herring under a fur coat” and it’s an apt one, considering that the pickled herring is usually covered in other ingredients like cooked beetroot, white onions, and carrots⁹!

Selyodka Pod Shuboy is usually served cold as a starter or snack before the main meal.

Mopane Worms
Southern Africa 

We’re mixing it up a bit with a South African delicacy!

Originally eaten out of necessity rather than pleasure, mopane worms are incredibly high in protein. The edible insect is actually a large, spiny and mottled caterpillar belonging to the Gonimbrasia belina species (or Emperor moth)¹⁰. It just so happens that they’re usually harvested during the year-end.

So, forget the turkey for Christmas — you’ll be having a serving of mopane worms fried with tomatoes, garlic, chillies and onions at the South African Christmas dinner table instead!

Fun fact: Mopane worms get its name because they feed on the leaves of the mopane tree! Mopane trees are called “macimbi” and “mashonja” in Zimbabwe, “phane” in Botswana and “omagungu” in Namibia¹¹.

Smalahove
Norway 

Lastly, we’ve got Smalahove! Smalahove (Smalehovud, Skjelte) is a traditional Western Norwegian delicacy with sheep’s head as its main ingredient¹². Yes, the sheep’s head — salt-cured, smoked and boiled to serve whole on your plate!

The idea of Smalahove is believed to have initially come about because of the need to use the whole animal without letting any part go to waste. Today, all Norwegians who enjoy it tend to have Smalahove on the last Sunday before Christmas! It’s usually served with potatoes (“rutabaga”), beer or an Akvavit¹³.

While we wait for an opportunity to travel to Norway and try this delicacy, you can first serve up strong flavoured spirits similar to an Akvavit for guests who enjoy them:

There’s also an option for the guests who still love a classic red with their meal. This shiraz pairs well with other meats more easily found in Singapore like lamb and braises.

We hope that this article has given you a glimpse into how Christmas is celebrated by various cultures around the world.

Shop for all of these fresh picks, as well as more you need for the upcoming festive season here!

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References:

¹  Bouwers, K 2021, What’s the deal with… KFC and Christmas in Japan?, Time Out, viewed 22 November 2021
² Springer, K 2020, How KFC became a Christmas tradition in Japan, CNN Travel, viewed 22 November 2021
³ Karolina, Polish Christmas traditions: how do we celebrate Christmas in Poland?,  Travel Poland Tours, viewed 22 November 2021
⁴ Park Leisure 2018 – 2021, Around the world with 10 Christmas traditions, viewed 22 November 2021
⁵ Scott, K 2020, Weird and wonderful Christmas foods around the world, Nine News, viewed 22 November 2021
⁶ Mock, N (upd. Kaminski, L) 2021, How to host a Feast of the Seven Fishes, Taste of Home, viewed 23 November 2021
⁷ P. Richert, S 2019, The Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church, Learn Religions, viewed 23 November 2021
⁸ Russian Flora 2018, Make it a holiday with these 3 unorthodox Christmas recipes, viewed 23 November 2021
⁹ Lica 2021, Traditional Russian recipe – ‘shuba’ salad Selyodka Pod Shuboy), Happy-Go-Lica, viewed 24 November 2021
¹⁰ Masau, P 2018, A brief history of mopane worms, a famous delicacy from ZImbabwe. The Culture Trip, viewed 24 November 2021
¹¹ Sabine 2021, Mopane worms – a true delicacy in Southern Africa, The Travelling Chilli, viewed 24 November 2021
¹² Innovation Norway 2021, Smalahove – heads on the menu, viewed 24 November 2021
¹³ Taste Atlas 2021, Smalahove, AtlasMedia Ltd. (EU), viewed 25 November 2021

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