If you are looking for something less mundane than mince pies and prawn cocktails to spice up your Christmas meal, why not take inspiration from your travels? Christmas is celebrated in hundreds of ways worldwide so you have plenty more to choose from than you might think. Pick something exotic from our buffet of international cuisine and start your own tradition this year.
Japan- ‘Merii Kurismasu’
Although Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, it has become more common for Japanese people to have a special meal on the 25th December. The festival is largely a Western inspired event; however the Japanese have developed one of their own traditions, inspired by their dislike for fruit cake.
Japanese Christmas cake is eaten on Christmas Eve and has been perfected over the years to suit local tastes. It’s similar to Victoria sponge, with a layer of whipped cream and strawberries at its centre, instead of jam. The cake is decorated with white icing and topped with more strawberries- you’ll find no raisins or marzipan snowmen here!
France- ‘Joyeux Noel’
Christmas in France is very much like our own; however there are a few differences that you would notice if you were to spend Noël across the English Channel. The main difference is that our French cousins eat their celebratory dinner after midnight mass, at about 1am. The main course varies according to region and preference. Turkey is eaten in some parts of France, while in other areas it’s goose. Parisians often eat fois gras and oysters in the middle of the night to celebrate Christmas.
The favourite desert among the French is the chocolate log; a yummy sponge roll covered with chocolate butter cream, which is a lighter alternative to our date pudding. After the feast, French families retire to bed and children leave their shoes (not stockings) out for Père Noël to fill with goodies in the morning. Staying up late on Christmas Eve no doubt means that French parents get more of a lie in on Christmas day than their British counterparts.
Mexico- ‘Feliz Navidad’
In Mexico celebrations are spread out across the whole of December, with traditional treats being consumed throughout the season. Christmas starts with Los Posadas, processions through the streets to mark the journey of Mary and Joseph through Bethlehem. Children also dress as shepherds, to commemorate the famous visit to the baby Jesus, parading through towns.
These rituals are accompanied by the main Christmas dish, Bacaloa a la Vizcaina, which consists of a colourful mix of dry, slated cod, tomatoes, peppers, onions and olives. On Christmas Eve Mexican children enjoy sweet buns, flavoured with whatever is in the cupboards and finished off with a sticky sweet glaze.
India- ‘Subh Krisamas’
As Christianity is prolific in India, Christmas is a religious affair which is celebrated in a similar fashion to the Hindu and Sikh festival, Diwali. Oil burning lamps are placed around the home and banana and mango trees are decorated. Some Indians bring in mango leaves and poinsettias to welcome in the festival.
The Indian Christmas dinner has borrowed a few techniques from the west, but with the country’s own characteristic flavours. Traditionally a roast duck is eaten but is given a bit of spice with local spices such as garam masala and turmeric. This also gives the Christmas dinner a typically Indian colour. This dish accompanied by stewed fruit for a truly exotic take on the festive meal.
Italy- ‘Buon Natale’
Italians love getting the whole family together for a feast. Christmas dinner feels authentically Italian and uses traditional ingredients such as sea food and pasta. Vermicelli, very fine long stranded pasta which can be cooked in a broth, is a seasonal favourite.
As in other European countries, such as France, a traditional meal is also eaten on Christmas Eve. La Vigilia Napoletana is a pre-Christmas feast which consists of around seven types of fish (though the number varies from region to region). Pannetone, which is fast becoming a British favourite, is a popular choice for desert. The famous cylindrical fruit loaf is made with cured dough to help it survive the Christmas period.
For more inspiration from around the world, to sample some of these delights for yourself or pick up a few ingredients visit the Great Eastern Market at Westfield Stratford City. Here you will find a selection of fantastic East London restaurants which bring international flavours to the capital.