Here’s How the Rest of the World Feasts on Christmas

Fancy doing something different this Christmas? How about trading in the glazed ham and BBQs for some international fare? Christmas dinner may be synonymous with lambs, hams, pavlovas, and prawns here in Australia, but there’s a whole world of Christmas feasts out there.

As you can imagine, every country brings its own unique flavour to Christmas dinner. Whether it’s traditional age-old dishes or strange modern creations, there’s plenty of inspiration to be had by looking at the dining tables of the world. From smorgasbords to whale blubber, KFC to meatless feasts, here’s what Christmas dinner looks like around the world.

1. Seven fish in Southern Italy (and Italian America)

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This is a great inspiration for all those seafood lovers out there. The seven dish feast is more of an Italian-American tradition, but its origins hail from Southern Italy where it is known as La Vigilia (the vigil). Typically held on Christmas Eve, the meal is centred around seven different seafood dishes.

The consumption of seafood instead of meat is a common practice as the day before Christmas is traditionally reserved for fasting and abstaining from meat products. The number seven is chosen as it’s a symbolic number in the Bible, appearing more than any other number and over 700 times. That said, some Italian-American families serve up to 13 dishes.

Typically, the first seafood dish on the menu is whiting cooked in lemon, followed by clam or mussel spaghetti and baccala (salted codfish). Then, various other fish dishes are consumed, including fried calamari or shrimp, clams or lobster sauce linguini, baked cod, shrimp cocktail, fried scallops, dolphinfish, clams casino, sea snail salad, anchovy puttanesca, marinated eel, and octopus salad. Sounds delicious!

2. KFC in Japan

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Yes, you read that right. When Japan feasts on Christmas, fast-food chain KFC cheers! For a long time, Japan had no real Christmas traditions. In the 1970s, the fried chicken giant saw a gap in the market and developed a special holiday party bucket for Japanese consumers along with an ad campaign that suggested, “Here’s something you should do on Christmas”. And the Japanese listened…

Fried chicken from KFC is now enjoyed by around 3.6 million Japanese families each Christmas. Demand is so high that buckets have to be reserved up to two months in advance. Since the original ad campaign, KFC has expanded on their holiday party bucket offering and now also include Christmas cake (a classic Japanese strawberry shortcake) as well as the usual trimmings.

3. Julbord in Sweden

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In typical Swedish fashion, Christmas dinner is a smörgåsbord of different dishes. The Christmas table is called a Julbord, and it’s packed with delicious traditional Swedish dishes. For those who fancy some Swedish cuisine on Christmas, here’s what you can expect on this tasty buffet table: cured salmon, liver pate, Swedish meatballs, red beetroot salad, gravlax, cheeses, sausages, rye bread, saffron buns, and cabbage.

On top of this, there’ll also usually be a glazed Christmas ham. This is traditionally made by boiling the meat, glazing it with eggs, breadcrumbs, and mustard, then roasting it in the oven until crispy. The ham is then cooled and served cold. You’ll also find scalloped potatoes and pickled sprat casserole (janssons frestelse) and knäckebröd (dried crispbreads).

4. Wigilia in Poland

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Christmas dinner in Poland is a meat-free affair, as it is in Italy. Wigilia is the Polish term for the vigil. Traditionally held on Christmas Eve, wigilia won’t start until the first star appears in the sky and all family members have broken their Christmas wafers together. Then, the feast begins! Polish tradition calls for serving 12 different dishes to represent the 12 apostles.

Usually, wigilia will begin with either borscht (beetroot soup) with small dumplings called uszka or a wild mushroom consommé. After that, there’s a spread of traditional Polish dishes including pickled herring, various types of carp, pierogi, cabbage rolls, sauerkraut, bread, cabbage & apple salad, marinated mushrooms, boiled potato with parsley or dill, and potato salad. For dessert, there’s kutia (wheat berry pudding), gingerbread, poppyseed cake, and dried fruit compote.

5. Bacalao in Mexico

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There are many dishes on the Mexican Christmas table (including turkey, tamales, and pozole), but bacalao is unique to the southern and central states of the country. Known as bacalao a la vizcaina (Basque style codfish), the dish is made from dried preserved cod. The fish is desalted, boiled, and deboned at home, before cooking with tomatoes, potatoes, olives, parsley, and pepper into a delicious stew. Sometimes, chickpeas, almonds, and chillies are also added to the dish. Bacalao is either eaten with crispbread or made into a delicious sandwich.

6. Whale and reindeer in Greenland

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If there’s one country with unique Christmas dishes, it’s Greenland. Amongst other meals, two of the dishes served in a traditional Christmas spread are made from whale and reindeer meats. One delicacy, known as mattak, is made from whale blubber strips wrapped in a chewy whale skin. It’s said that mattak tastes like fresh coconut, however the texture is incredibly chewy and it often has to be swallowed whole.

Another traditional dish is kiviak, made from the flesh of auks (a type of arctic bird). The raw auk flesh is buried whole in sealskin for several months, and served when it reaches an advanced stage of decomposition. Finally, you’ll find other unique delicacies like barbecued reindeer. Also unique to Greenland is the tradition of men looking after the women, cooking, serving, and stirring the dishes. Not bad!

Personal chefs in Australia

It’s not an Aussie tradition, but perhaps it should be. If you want to try any of the above dishes but don’t trust yourself to whip up a new dish from a different cuisine, call in a private chef for Christmas catering.

Our team of talented personal chefs will bring an air of fine dining to your Christmas table, whether you go for a barbecue feast or intricate buffet of different international dishes. All you have to do is drink wine and socialise – we’ll take care of all the rest. Get in touch with our team here to discuss your Christmas catering options.