Whether you’re Team Turkey or you play in the Latka League, the holidays are a time for gathering with loved ones and indulging in culinary traditions.
Every culture has its customary dishes that speak to history as much as they do local flavours. From soba noodles in Japan and rice pudding in Sweden to French yule log and English meat pies, food is inevitably the bond that ties over the holiday season. Regardless of whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve or simply family, the dinner table is the ultimate meeting spot no matter your cultural heritage.
Take a trip around the world and discover the dishes that bind and delight during the holidays.
Mince pie: Also known as Christmas pie, mince pies date back to the 13th century. When knights returned from the Crusades, they often brought back exotic spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves that were used to flavour big pies made with mince meat and dried fruits. As time wore on, they shrank to small, single-serving pies filled with more sweet fruit and dusted with powdered sugar.
Fish: The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a Christmas Eve tradition that links back to Roman Catholicism — the seven types of fish refer to the seven sacraments. There are no rules on the varieties of fish prepared, although it is customary to serve eel, especially in the southern region of Amalfi.
Latkes: A traditional Hanukkah dish, fried latkes have a delicious and spiritual history. As one night’s worth of oil could last for eight nights, and Hanukkah is a celebration that spans eight days, it is customary to make foods fried in oil during this time. Other traditional delicacies include sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) and fritters.
Bûche de Noël: As visually pleasing as it is delicious, this traditional yule log is made from classic sponge cake filled with raspberry jam, rolled and covered in chocolate ganache to look like a real log. Its origins date back to the Iron Age, when the end of the winter solstice in late December was commemorated by burning logs decorated with ivy and holly to cleanse the air of the previous year’s events.
Toshikoshi-soba: A dish that combines buckwheat noodles with fried tofu and vegetables, the Japanese eat this on New Year’s Eve for a variety of reasons. Some say the long noodles represent a long life, while others surmise that because soba is easy to cut, it represents letting go of the previous year’s hardships.
Doro Wat: After fasting (which involves eating strictly vegan) for 40 days leading up to Christmas, Ethiopians then feast on this sumptuous stew made with chicken, or rooster, and hard boiled eggs. The bird is chopped into 12 pieces to represent the 12 apostles, and 12 eggs are added to represent eternity.
Pasteles: The reason these tamale-like treats are made at Christmas is quite practical — they’re so labour intensive and require so many hands working at once, they’re usually only made for special occasions. Speak to any Puerto Rican and they will tell you it’s simply not Christmas without these vegetable dough pockets filled with a mixture of meat, chickpeas, potato and raisins, and wrapped in a banana leaf.
Risgrynsgröt: This rice pudding is a staple on Christmas buffet tables. Traditionally, an almond is hidden in the pudding, and whoever scoops it out receives an extra gift.
Chruściki: A standard sweet treat for special occasions and feast days, these light, bow-tied shaped pastries are made from non-yeast dough, deep fried and then dusted with confectioners sugar.