A week today we will be in the throes of Christmas Eve; ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ blaring from the car stereo, desperate parents trying to tire excited little ones and supermarkets frantic with last-minute shoppers.
While we ready the sprouts and check cooking times on a turkey that is never going to fit in the oven, others around the world are preparing to enjoy festive feasts of a very different ilk – some more appealing than others!
Icelanders eat their main festive meal on Christmas Eve, gathering the whole family for a feast of traditional Icelandic foods. Puffin is a unconventional alternative to our more traditional turkey, while hangokjöt (smoked lamb), laufabrau? (flatbread adorned with leaf patterns) and jölagrautur, a sweetened and spiced rice pudding, all sound a little more appetising.
If the thought of Brussel sprouts is enough to turn your stomach, prepare to be revolted by Greenland’s festive delicacies. Kiviak is the dish of choice for the Christmas period and consists of the raw flesh of the Arctic auk bird, buried in seal skin for months on end until completely decomposed. Don’t forget to save room for a side dish of muktuk; chunks of whale skin complete with fatty blubber.
Italian’s know everything there is to know about good food and big family gatherings, choosing Christmas Eve for their most important meal of the year. The Feast of the Seven Fishes, or La Vigilia, stems from the Roman tradition of abstinence on the eve of Holy Days, when communities would refrain from eating meat or milk products. With meat off the agenda, the Feast of the Seven Fishes was born, with seafood dishes created to various local and family recipes. Contrary to what the name of the celebration may suggest, the ‘seven fishes’ are open to interpretation and take many different forms; baked eel, salted cod and marinated anchovies are among the most popular.
Lavish meals that stretch long into the early hours are something the French do incredibly well; the festive celebration of ‘la réveillon’ begins after Midnight Mass and stretches into the early hours of Christmas Day. Family and friends gather for an indulgent spread of coquilles St Jacques, oysters, lobster, foie gras, capon and roast duck. Dishes vary greatly depending on region but good wine and boisterous company remains a constant. Dessert comes courtesy of ‘la bûche de Noël’, a traditional French Christmas log cake filled with chocolate, hazelnut or chestnut cream.
Those with a sweet tooth should head to Provence, where not just one but thirteen desserts are traditionally served; one each for Jesus Christ and the twelve apostles.
Napkin rings, gravy boats and Nan’s finest silverware are rendered useless at an Ethiopian Christmas dinner table, where sourdough injera flatbread is used to scoop and eat a spicy chicken stew known as ‘doro wat’. That’s one way to save on the washing up!
In 1974 a hugely successful advertising campaign promoted a much ‘faster’ take on Christmas dinner: KFC. Titled ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ the campaign was more successful than even the most ambitious marketing department could have ever imagined; KFC is now the most popular Christmas meal in Japan, with many ordering up to two months in advance to avoid queues of over two hours come Christmas Eve.
The KFC Christmas Dinner costs around 3,336 yen (£18) and finger lickin’ chicken isn’t all that is contained in the garland-clad festive bucket; dessert is served courtesy of the cake that sits in a hidden compartment at the base.
The traditional Latin America Christmas, or Noche Buena, takes place on Christmas Eve and sees much of the Argentinian population gather for picnics and barbecues. Roast turkey and pork, stuffed tomatoes and empanadas are popular dishes, along with ‘vitel toné’; an Italian dish consisting of veal slices coated in a creamy tuna flavoured sauce.
Fijians celebrate with a Christmas meal on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Popular dishes are rather more reserved than those of other countries and include garlic and spice filled chicken, banana leaf-wrapped fish and pork cooked in a lovo; a hot stone oven submerged in the earth.
Fijians traditionally prefer to buy a cake for dessert rather than making one, washing their festive dishes down with the national drink of kava.
Christmas Eve is known in Sweden as ‘Julafton’, and the occasion is celebrated with a smorgasbord of traditional local and family specialities. Favourites included christmas ham, herring salad, pickled pigs feet, homemade liver pâté, roasted pork belly and, of course, Swedish meatballs. Janssons Frestelse is a Swedish potato casserole made up of oodles of matchstick potatoes layered with cream, onion and anchovies, and is almost always included in a traditional Swedish Christmas smorgasbord.
Rice pudding is the traditional dessert for a Swedish Christmas meal, with a year of luck or a prize awarded to the lucky soul who finds the hidden almond.
Christmas dinner in Norway sounds almost as appetizing as ours; roasted pork belly and salted lamb ribs served with mashed swede, boiled potatoes and sausage.
Not so appealing though is the fact that hardy Norwegians often serve the lamb’s head with their salted lamb ribs. Boiled, salted and served whole at the table; the lamb’s tongue and eyes are apparently the tastiest parts.