All images credit: cda.eu
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without lots of delicious food. A big, fat turkey fresh out of the oven with mountains of seasonal veg and lashings of gravy… it’s a dream come true for a large portion of the Western world. But what we consider a festive treat might not do for others. Some festive foods that are traditionally eaten in countries other than our own might seem a little too “out there” for our tastes.
Many of the foods eaten at Christmastime across the world have come from long traditions that have been passed down through the generations, while others are relatively new ideas. From Christmas pudding in England to mopane caterpillars in southern Africa, many of the foods we eat during the festive period were once a necessity rather than a treat. But, over the years, many of these traditional Christmas foods have become somewhat of a delicacy for many.
We started looking deeper into Christmas foods around the world, and we have to say, some are pretty eye-opening! Here are our favourites:
Smalahove in Norway
Originating in the western regions of Norway, smalahove is a dish made from a sheep’s head that’s served with potatoes and swede. It was traditionally served the Sunday before Christmas and would have been considered an indulgent meal for the poorer Norwegian population. What makes this dish so interesting is the way in which it’s prepared. The head of a sheep is split in two, and once split, the brain is removed and the pieces are soaked in water for two days. Once soaked, the head is salted, dried and smoked. It’s then boiled or steamed, ready to be eaten.
The eating process is also an art in itself. First, the ears and eyes are eaten as they’re considered delicacies. The meat is then eaten from the skull, starting at the front and working the way to the back. These days, smalahove tends to be reserved for tourists and isn’t something that would usually be found on a Norwegian dinner table at Christmas.
Selyodka pod shuboy in Russia
Originating in Russia, selyodka pod shuboy is probably one of the more extravagant-looking dishes on our list. Translating to “herring under a fur coat”, it’s called so because it’s made up of diced pickled herring that’s layered under diced potato, carrot, beetroot and onion and mayonnaise, then topped with chopped boiled egg. Often fashioned into elaborate designs, the dish is usually served as party food and is a must at many Russian holidays, particularly at Christmastime.
Christmas fried chicken in Japan
With a very small Christian population, Japan has few Christmas traditions. It does, however, have Christmas fried chicken. A relatively new tradition by most standards, it’s popularity started to grow in the 1970s, when KFC in Japan began to promote fried chicken as a Christmas meal.
These days, sitting down to a KFC Christmas dinner is something the Japanese have to start thinking about months in advance. With an estimated 3.6 million families expected to partake each year, prebooking is essential if you don’t want to queue for hours!
Christmas pudding in England
Originating in England way back in the 14th century, Christmas pudding began life as a porridge-like meal called frumenty that was full of fruits, oats, nuts and suet. It was traditionally served as a fasting meal that would be made about five weeks before Christmas in preparation for Advent.
A heavy dish, it would also be mixed with alcohol, then steamed or boiled. It was considered good luck for all members of the family to stir the mixture, making a wish as they went. The pudding would then have had various items stirred into it. Silver coins, wishbones, silver thimbles and rings were all thought to bring good luck, prosperity and even marriage to those who were lucky enough to find them. These days, you’d be hard- pushed to find any of these items in a store-bought Christmas pudding… it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen!
Mopane worms in southern Africa
Rich in protein, mopane worms are actually the caterpillars of the Gonimbrasia belina moth, which are in abundance around Christmastime in southern Africa. They get their name from the mopane tree, which is well suited to the drought-ridden landscapes of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, providing the perfect haven for the worms to flourish. The harvest begins in late November, making them the ideal Christmas protein source.
Once harvested, some worms are preserved for winter, while fresh worms are usually fried with onion, tomato and chilli. As this practice was born from necessity, they’re not something that’s eaten to the same extent these days (and many consider them a form of bushmeat), but there are a number of communities that regard them as a delicacy.
Feast of the Seven Fishes in Italy/USA
It’s traditional for Roman Catholics to abstain from eating meat and animal fats around Christmas, and one tradition that has risen from this is what’s known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Though it has no official role in the Roman Catholic calendar, the feast is said to represent the significance of the number seven in the Bible. The feast takes place on Christmas Eve, with numerous different fish and seafood dishes served across many courses.
The roots of the feast are placed in southern Italy, a part of the country dominated by delicious fish dishes taken from the bountiful coastline. As Italians began to migrate to the USA in the late 1880s, so too did the Feast of the Seven Fishes, making it a popular, nostalgic celebration dinner amongst many Italian-American families today.
Mattak and kiviak in Greenland
In one of the coldest places on the planet, food is something that needs to be taken seriously. During the depths of winter, a Greenlandic Christmas dinner would be considered somewhat of an acquired taste for the rest of the world. Both unusual and fascinating, mattak and kiviak are two dishes you can expect would be served.
Traditional Inuit fare, mattak is a strip of skin taken from the narwhal, or white whale, with the blubber still attached. This is then carved up and served in bite-sized chunks. It’s said to taste like fresh coconut and is often served alongside kiviak, the flesh of a small Arctic seabird called an auk that is stuffed inside a sealskin. The sealskin is then buried for several months to ferment. Once the auk is in an advanced state of decomposition, it’s ready to eat. Yum!
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