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Unusual Christmas Foods
Christmas can be a great excuse to pull out the stops to have a sumptuous sit-down meal with the family, but in many countries, they don’t have a roast dinner and in some, we would consider their choice of festive fayre far from sumptuous.
Here are 15 Unusual Christmas foods that are eaten around the world…
Kentucky Fried Chicken – Japan
Due to turkey not being widely available in Japan, KFC was thrust into the gap in 1974 with the fast food chain creating a new ad campaign for Christmas. This came about because non-natives in Japan missed the turkey dinners they were used to every year, come Christmas time.
Every Christmas, the phrase ‘kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!’ meaning ‘Kentucky for Christmas!’, rang through the airwaves, capturing the hearts of those missing their Christmas turkey. Now, even the native Japanese are pre-ordering this staple Christmas food in Japan.
Feast of the Seven Fishes – Italy
This is an Italian-American banquet, held on Christmas Eve. The dining experience usually consists of seven different types of traditional fish courses. The feast harks back to a Roman Catholic tradition, where they would abstain from meat on Christmas Eve, but seafood was permitted.
Foods such as salted cod, calamari, smelt and other seafood are consumed at this feast. There is speculation as to why there are seven fishes, even in Italy it is unknown. The number 7 is considered the ‘number of perfection’ in Christianity, which could be a possibility.
Mattak and Kiviak (Whale Skin & Fermented Seabird) – Greenland
Greenlandic festive celebrations kick off with the scent of fermented seabird in the air. And portions of whale skin. Grotesque as it may sound, these two prized Christmas foods are commonly eaten in Greenland.
Mattak is the blubber and skin from beluga whales, narwhals and bowhead whales. It is said to have an oily mouth feel with a nutty after taste. Commonly, it is eaten raw, but it can be diced and cooked as well.
Secondly, Kiviak is made from little auk, which is a species of seabird. The little auks are caught using a length of pole with a net attached to the end. Once enough birds are caught, they are tied up in a seal skin which can hold up to 500 birds. This skin is then left to ferment underground for months before consumption.
Carp – Poland
In Poland, Carp is the centrepiece of the Christmas table. Carp is usually coated with breadcrumbs and then fried, before being served up on Christmas day. Traditionally, there are 12 dishes that are served on Christmas day in Poland, with a fried bread crumbed carp crowning them all.
Supposedly, to keep the carp at its freshest before the festive day, Pols like to keep it swimming in the bathtub, alive! Before refrigerators existed, this would have been a handy trick to make sure the meal was fresh. Even so, the practice of turning the bath into a fish tank still goes on to this day.
Zimtsterne – Germany
As a child, I would have these at Christmas time, I loved their warm, spicy, cinnamon taste. Although, I never knew what they were called, so zimtsterne disappeared from my Christmas as an adult. I should have just googled “cinnamon star”, because that’s exactly what zimtsterne means.
Zimtsterne are sweet cinnamon biscuits that originate from Germany, their main ingredients are whipped egg whites and ground almonds. They can be decorated, used as decorations for the Christmas tree and most enjoyed as a fireside treat in the evening.
Goat – East Africa
East Africans commonly come together as one or two families and buy a live goat for Christmas. This goat will be slaughtered for Christmas dinner and cooked into a curry or stew and can be served with rice, yam or potatoes.
There are many side dishes that can accompany the goat at Christmas. Particularly, ‘Mandazi’ is a deep-fried sweet dough, you could liken it to the western doughnut.
Pumpkin Pie – USA
In the UK, pumpkin or squash is usually consumed in savoury dishes, like soups, stews or even oven-roasted. However, our English-speaking counterparts over the ocean like to make this vegetable into a sweet dessert.
Pumpkin pie is a pastry-crusted pie with a smooth pumpkin custard filling, flavoured with cinnamon and topped with whipped cream. In America, the state of Illinois produces pumpkins for the country, and I’m sure many of them end up in pumpkin pies. Furthermore, pumpkins are a symbol of harvest but pumpkin pie has solidified itself as a cherished Christmas food in the U.S.A.
Tteokguk – South Korea
Tteokguk is a clear broth made with anchovies and kelp, and rice cakes submerged in the soup. Tteokguk means ‘sliced rice cake soup’ and Koreans traditionally sit down together as a family and enjoy this meal at Christmas and New Years’ day.
This hot bowl of comforting liquid is eaten to welcome in the New Year, giving good luck for the year ahead. The beginning of this practice is unknown. Supposedly, a 19th-century Korean book of customs discussed eating Tteokguk at every turn of the New Year. It suggested that asking how many bowls of Tteokguk you’d consumed was the same as asking how old you were.
Mopane Worms – South Africa
These worms aren’t actually worms. They’re caterpillars. Even so, I’m not sure they’ll be making their way onto my Christmas menu. These guys get their names from the tree that they call home. The Mopane tree.
At Christmas, the Mopane caterpillars are abundant, which is great for the locals, where the desert provides little sustenance. So, the Mopane worm in itself is a Christmas food by coincidence. Equally, South Africans today have adopted the Mopane worm, making its way onto the table at Christmas time. They are generally eaten after being deep fried and regarded as having little flavour, therefore are often plated up with a flavoursome sauce.
Smalahove (Burnt Sheeps Head) – Norway
Smalahove is a sheep’s head which has been is burnt, brained, boiled then served for the festive meal at Christmas, in Norway. It is firstly prepared by the fleece and hairs being burnt from the head using a naked flame. Once bare, the skull is opened to remove the brains, now it can be salted or smoked. Finally, the head will be boiled for multiple hours before serving with mashed potatoes and swede. It sounds like quite an ordeal.
Herring – Sweden
Swedes have a particular love for all types of herring during the Christmas holidays. There are a few herring-based dishes that are served up during the festive season in Sweden. Firstly, there is senapssill which is freshly cooked herring, dressed with a rich and creamy mustard sauce.
Secondly, glasmästarsill which means ‘glazier’s herring’ which is a type of pickled herring. The reason for this name is that you are able to see through the clear brine in the jar of herring, like a glass pane window.
Chester – Brazil
Similar in taste, texture and smell to what Brits might eat at Christmas, although the name is quite different. A Chester is a type of bird that seems to be only found in Brazil. It is quite like a chicken, although larger, but not quite as plump as the turkey that we might eat on Christmas day.
The reason for its name is that the bird has a large chest with which a considerable amount of meat can be obtained. This large chest gave the bird its name ‘Chester’. Not only this but one of Brazil’s major poultry manufacturing companies has trademarked the name ‘Chester’ for one of its products.
Tourtière – French Canada
This pastry-based Christmas food can consist of a concoction of various types of meat and potatoes. However, there’s no one way to fill this pie. Depending on where it’s made, the pie can have fish or meats, whatever’s available locally.
The reason why this dish is called tourtière is simply down to the humble pie dish it is cooked in. It can be served with salads, pickles and vegetables on Christmas Eve. A condiment such as a sweet cranberry sauce can also accompany the pie as to contrast its hearty meat flavours.
Bejgli – Hungary
I’ve always liked Swiss rolls, but this rolled dessert takes it to a whole new level. The Bejgli is a Hungarian delicacy at Christmas. The sweet dough is rolled around a sugary filling made of walnuts, poppy seeds and alcohol-soaked raisins. Various citrus zests can be added as well, to give it an extra zing. The name is similar to the word ‘bagel’ which comes from the Germanic ‘to bend’.
Jiaozi – China
These dumplings are very common in China, they usually contain minced pork and spring onions. Jiaozi are boiled before serving and accompany many other dishes at the Christmas table in China, such as spring rolls, roast pork and rice. Many Chinese people like to dip their Jiaozi in dipping sauces of soy sauce, garlic and chilli. These sauces enhance the dumpling’s flavours, making them a tasty Christmas treat.
Love Festive Food? Check out this list of Christmas Day Meals by Country
We hope you enjoyed this list of unusual festive foods from around the world! If you know of any more we should add to the list, please let us know in the comments below..