19 Christmas Foods Around the World That Are Equal Parts Festive and Fascinating
Christmas in the United States usually calls for glazed ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sugar cookies and lots of hot cocoa and eggnog to wash it all down. But internationally speaking, the menu can include a much wider range of food and drinks. We’re talking mince pie, carrot casserole, rum cake and even pickled fish. Read on for 19 Christmas foods around the world that will make you want to mix up your menu.
1. Coquito in Puerto Rico
Aka eggnog’s Latin cousin. Where the two Christmas drinks differ is in their base: Coquito is made with mostly coconut milk and sweetened condensed milk, while eggnog is primarily made from milk, cream and eggs. Coquito is also spiked with rum, cinnamon and sometimes vanilla and nutmeg. Similar variations can be found in other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, like ponche de crème in Trinidad and Tobago, ron ponche in Panama and cola de mono in Chile.
2. Jamaican Christmas Cake in Jamaica
Also called Jamaican black cake, this confection is among the most popular desserts on the island. Commonly eaten on Christmas and at weddings, the cake is thought to be a descendant of British figgy pudding, since both contain warm spices, breadcrumbs and dried fruit, but black cake calls for soaking the fruit in red wine and Jamaican rum instead of traditional brandy. Browning and burnt sugar are also used to turn the cake’s color black.
3. Stollen (Christollen) in Germany
Before the notorious fruitcake came stollen, a dense, heavy bread invented in Dresden, Germany in the late 1500s. Like Italy’s panettone, stollen is made from enriched yeast dough made with butter and sugar. Both breads contain citrus peel and dried fruit, but stollen is also dotted with marzipan and almond paste, then finished with a dusting of powdered sugar. We’d wash it down with plenty of glühwein, a mulled wine made with fruit and spices.
4. Rabanadas in Brazil
This treat is sort of like deep-fried French toast rolled in cinnamon sugar, and it’s commonly served on Christmas morning in Brazil. It’s a descendant of Spanish torrijas and came to Brazil via Portuguese imperialism. In Portugal, rabanadas are topped with port syrup drizzle and eaten for dessert instead of breakfast.
5. Saffron Buns (Lussebulle) in Sweden
Swedes kick things off early for Saint Lucy’s Day on December 13, a holiday that honors St. Lucia, the patron saint of light. The ceremony ends with ginger cookies, coffee and saffron buns, which are yeast-leavened sweet buns flavored with saffron and raisins. (They’re also eaten in Finland, Norway, Cornwall and the Netherlands.) On Christmas Eve, they indulge in a buffet-style julbord, which stars smoked and pickled fish, jam, sausage, potatoes, cabbage and meatballs.
6. Guinness and Mince Pie in Ireland
In the U.S., we leave cookies and milk for Santa Claus to nosh on after he drops off presents. In Ireland, he prefers a mince pie (a pastry stuffed with dried fruits and spices) and a tall glass of Guinness stout. Irish families also commonly nosh on cakes made with caraway seeds, Irish pudding, turkey and spiced beef on the big day.
7. Tourtière (French-Canadian Meat Pie) in Canada
Residents of Quebec serve this hearty dish as a side for roast beef, stuffed turkey and cranberry sauce. Think layers of pastry dough stuffed with sliced pork, potato and onion. It can also be made with minced beef, lamb, duck or veal instead of pork. It’s part of the Christmas Réveillon, a long dinner that’s hosted on Christmas Eve, but it’s also sold in Canadian grocery stores year-round.
8. Puto Bumbóng in The Philippines
This purple rice cake is sold as street food during the Christmas season. Puto is a Tagalog term for steamed rice cakes; bumbóng refers to the bamboo tube they’re steamed in. While some modern versions of the dish call on ube, or purple yam, for color, the traditional recipe is made with a type of dark purple glutinous rice called pirurutong. It’s commonly served on banana leaves as a snack or as breakfast with butter, sugar and coconut.
9. Hallacas in Venezuela
Think of these as Venezuelan tamales. The main difference is in the ratio of dough to filling: Hallacas are all about the meaty middle while tamales have more masa. Cornmeal dough is packed with a meat stew called guiso (it often includes beef, pork and/or chicken) along with capers, olives and raisins, ingredients representative of Spanish and European influence. They’re wrapped and boiled for Christmas Eve dinner.
10. Dukra Maas (Pork Bafat) in India
This spicy pork curry is a Sunday tradition in numerous Indian Catholic homes, and it’s made with onions, garlic, ginger, garam masala, tamarind water and a ton of garlic cloves and hot chiles. Bafat powder, a spice mixture made primarily of dried red chiles and cinnamon, is used to further season the pork. It’s typically the main dish on many Christmas menus in Mangalore—an Indian city that’s home to numerous Catholic sites—and served with sannas, or steamed rice cakes.
11. Bacalao Navideño in Mexico
Christmas Eve is incomplete without this codfish entrée on the table. Bacalao is dried, salted and available year-round, but it’s most commonly eaten during the holidays in the form of bacalao a la Viscaina (or Basque-style codfish stew), a Spanish dish made with tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, green olives and olive oil. Some other recipes call for raisins, cinnamon, almonds and wine as well.
12. Porkkanalaatikko in Finland
Finnish observers usually celebrate Christmas with some sort of root vegetable casserole, but the most famous is this spiced carrot number. The carrots are mashed with rice or barley and liquid—sometimes cream or milk, sometimes pure carrot juice. Butter is mixed in along with spices and sugar. Once it’s assembled in the casserole dish, the whole mash is baked until golden. You can even buy it premade at some Finnish grocery stores.
13. Malva Pudding in South Africa
This South African dessert is essentially a sponge cake oozing with apricot jam. It has a caramelized flavor, which is only made more delicious by a buttery cream sauce that’s poured over the cake while it’s hot. It’s typically served warm with custard or à la mode. There are also chocolate variations out there to indulge in.
14. Vitello Tonnato in Italy
The Feast of the Seven Fishes may be what first comes to mind, but it turns out that that’s mostly an Italian-American tradition. In Italy, namely the northwest region of Piemonte, vitello tonnato is far more common. Think cold, sliced veal doused in tuna-spiked mayonnaise sauce and finished with capers. The dish is also popular in Argentina for Christmas.
15. Bûche de Noël in France
Also known as a Yule log, this dessert is served in many European countries and French colonies. It’s a rolled sponge cake made to look like a miniature Yule log, which is a special log burned at Christmastime in parts of Europe and North America (though the tradition is likely rooted in Germanic paganism). Most recipes call for yellow cake and chocolate buttercream, as well as mushrooms, branches and berries sculpted from meringue or marzipan.
16. Pryaniki in Russia
They’re colloquially known as Russian gingerbread cookies, and if you know Russian, the secret to their appeal is all in the name, since pryaniki translates to “well-spiced.” Not only are they spiced with ingredients like nutmeg, cardamom and clove, but they’re also topped with a sweet glaze and stuffed with plum jam. Pryaniki are similar to medenjaki (Slovenian honey biscuits) and lebkuchen (German gingerbread).
17. KFC in Japan
People brave hour-long lines for a $40 fried chicken dinner with the Colonel on Christmas. Since turkey is impossible to find in Japan, a 1974 KFC marketing campaign suggested eating fried chicken in its place for the holiday. The appeal was largely its Americanness rather than any religious reason, so it explains why it’s so popular despite only about 1 percent of the Japanese population being Christian. The meal now includes fried chicken, salad, cake and Champagne.
18. Ollibollen in Curaçao
Brought to the island by way of Dutch imperialism, an oliebol is a large dumpling that’s deep-fried in oil and studded with raisins, sort of like a doughnut. The dough is rounded in an ice cream scoop and dropped in oil. Once fried, it’s dusted with powdered sugar. Ham di Pasku, which is a ham marinated in honey mustard and baked with pineapple slices and cherries, and ayaka, a tamale-like cornmeal dough stuffed with meat, raisins and olives, are also popular during Christmas.
19. Guavaberry Rum in St. Maarten
Guavaberry rum, a liquor made from oak-aged rum, cane sugar and hand-picked guava berries, is popular year-round in St. Maarten. But it’s a holiday tradition on the island that when carolers show up to sing at your door, you give them a shot of the spirit as a token of your appreciation.