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Reindeer for Christmas lunch – a journey through Christmas foods around the world

momo / Flickr

Christmas fare varies from household to household in Australia, with the most popular dishes such as roast turkey and Christmas pudding deriving from Australia’s British colonial history, coupled with the modern introduction of barbequed prawns, cold pavlovas and Italian panettone. However, ‘Christmassy’ foods vary widely around the world and some Christmas dishes may appear completely bizarre to Australians yet completely normal for others. Indulge your tastebuds as we present to you a visual feast of Christmas foods around the world. Enjoy!

In South America, one of the most popular dishes is Tamales de Navidad – meat and vegetable packages wrapped in cornmeal dough and banana leaves or corn husks. They are eaten in many South American countries including Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia.

256 Christmas Tamales Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock
DarioGaona / Getty Images

Chile has an interesting Christmas dessert which steals elements from Christmas desserts of two European nations – Germany and Italy. The Pan de Pascua is a cake made of dried fruits, rum and nuts which is eaten at both Easter and Christmas – the two major holidays on the Christian calendar. The sweet is essentially a combination of the German sollen bread and Italian panettone… a very cosmopolitan dessert.

Pan de Pascua chileno - En Mi Cocina Hoy
Marian Blazes / The Spruce Eats

Spanish Christmas meals often commence with Galets, a meaty soup which contains large mincemeat-filled pasta shells (similar to the Italian ‘shells’ conchiglie pasta). Traditional sopa de galets has beef and pork bones, beef and pork mince, chicken breasts, pork sausages named butifarra and pig’s foot in it – certainly not a dish for vegans.

Sopa de galets con albóndigas | NievesSM | Flickr
NievesSM / Flickr

In a shocking twist for many Australians who adore the Christmas story of Santa pulling along his sleigh of presents with the help of his beloved reindeers, Hreindýr, which translates to ‘reindeer’, are the victims in Icelandic Christmas tradition. Roasted grouse – a medium-sized game bird – and roasted reindeer are the most common main courses served for Christmas dinner, as they are very readily available in Iceland. It is a little like eating kangaroo for Australia Day….

Icelandic christmas food - reindeer
momo / Flickr

An almond rice pudding topped with cherry sauce named Risalamande is the most popular Danish dessert at Christmas time. In the 19th century, the upper class in Denmark wanted to differentiate themselves from the poor in their culinary traditions but they didn’t want to lose their much-loved rice pudding. So, they added whipped cream, cherry sauce and crushed almonds to the traditional dessert. The chef hides one whole almond in the Risalamande and whoever has it in their Risalamande receives a present; however, everyone has to keep chowing down that pudding until the Risalamande is found, even if they are full.

Risalamande (Danish Almond Rice Pudding) - The Daring Gourmet
The Daring Gourmet / Pinterest

Across Asia, the traditional Filipino dessert, Puto bumbong – purple rice cakes, which are usually steamed a thin bamboo tube called a ‘bumbong’, grace many tables in the festive season. Traditional versions were made from a specific type of rice which turned purple when cooked; however, these days, most Puto Bumbong is just regular rice coloured purple with food dye. It is often topped with butter, shaved coconut and muscovado sugar, and is served on a banana leaf.

A plate of food

Description automatically generated with low confidence
Lutong Pinoy Recipe / Pinterest

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) bucket meals, ケンタッキークリスマス, comprise a national Japanese Christmas tradition. In 1971, KFC Japan decided to launch an advertising campaign to convince the Japanese that instead of eating turkey –  a non-mainstream type of meat in Japan – to instead enjoy chicken on this day, a much more common and readily available meat in the country.  This campaign was widely successful; whilst Japan has a limited Christian population, the BBC found that more than 3.6 million Japanese families eat KFC every Christmas.

KFC Christmas
KFC Japan

In whichever way you enjoy the festive season, all the editors from The Exchange wish you a fruitful, merry and delicious December and look forward to many more tantalising issues in 2022.







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