Sharing a festive guest post by By Erik Wolf, Executive Director, World Food Travel Association about Christmas Bites and Beverages from Around the Globe
When we consider Christmas foods, we tend to look to countries with a Christian tradition, so while Christmas might be celebrated by many people in Africa, the Middle East or Asia, the Christmas food traditions are simply not well developed enough in those places.
Below I’d like to share some of those Christmas foods and drinks that I have enjoyed from North America, Latin America, Europe and Oceania. The handy thing about Christmas foods is that you do not have to be Christian to enjoy them!
Risgrynsgröt is also known as rice pudding, which is a popular dessert in the UK as well as several Spanish-speaking countries. In Sweden, however, the dish is also known as Santa’s porridge and includes milk and cinnamon, and sometimes raisins. A Swedish tradition is to put an almond in the center of one of the pudding dishes and, so the story goes, whoever finds the almond will marry in the coming year. The dish dates back to 1542 and over the years, it has been made not just with rice, but oats and even barley. Variations were abundant, sometimes served with golden syrup, other times with dried fruits. The ingredients of Risgrynsgröt that Swedes enjoy today became the predominant version in the 20th century.
Imagine a sponge cake that you might expect to be filled with creamy, sweet goodness. Well, in Argentina, they take that same sponge cake and fill it with savory meats and vegetables like artichokes, olives and tomatoes. It is served usually with mayonnaise, sometimes ketchup. At least, that is what Argentines do during the Christmas holidays. At other times, pionono is served either plain or with cream or dulce de leche.
Vanocni Cukrovi (Czech Republic)
Many of us have enjoyed these tasty holiday cookies, but not known where they originated. These cookies can contain jam, marzipan, white or milk chocolate, nuts, rum or more (not altogether of course). The butter cookies are often baked in the shape of Christmas themes like stars, bells and trees. Some versions of the treat are in the shape of balls. Thanks to our friends from the Czech Republic for this tasty legacy.
Coquito (Latin America)
While the Brits and Americans love their eggnog, in Latin America a similar drink is known as coquito, which is made with spiced rum instead of the cognac used in the English-speaking countries. In Ecuador, a version of this made with sugar-cane alcohol (aguardiente) and is called canelazo. There is also crema de vie, a similar drink in Cuba. The coquito is said to have originated on Puerto Rico, but beyond that, it’s unclear whether it was a legacy of Spanish or American colonization.
This sweet custard is found everywhere in Colombia during the holidays. It is usually served with cinnamon dusted on top, and sometimes also with buñuelos (kind of like fried donut holes). Sweet and utterly delicious. Originally from Spain, the Colombian version does not have any eggs, and can include prunes, raisins, chocolate or coconut.
Seen in Spain around the holidays, turrones look like blocks of chocolate, but are actually made of nougat and other ingredients like nuts and fruits. The most common ones are chocolate based but there are white ones too. There are as many different kinds of turrones as there are towns in Spain! The sweet is a legacy of the Moorish invasion of Spain 1000 years ago.
Mulled wine is found largely throughout northern and eastern Europe and is extremely easy to find in Germany and Austria. Glühwein is made from a base of red wine that has been simmered with sweet spices like clove, orange and cinnamon. Left to cool slightly before serving, it is a perfect drink to sip at a Christmas Market or around the Christmas tree, reminiscing with friends and family about the year past. The name translates loosely to “glow wine” which is a reference to the red-hot irons that would have been used to heat the wine. It dates back to 1420.
Many food lovers have heard of this Italian sweet bread, but do you know how many flavors it comes in? The traditional one has dried fruits, but try it with chocolate chips, pumpkin, Amaretto or even pineapple. Enjoy it as a dessert after your evening meal, or with a cup of coffee or tea in the afternoon. The origins of the bread date back as far as ancient Rome, but most Italians are more familiar with the origin story dating back to 1494 in Milan of a young man who wanted to impress the Duke for his blessing of a marriage across classes.
Bûche de Noël (France and UK)
The bûche de noël, which originated in France, is known as the Yule log in the UK. It is a long cake with cream filling shaped like a log. There are many variations on flavors, from plain white cream, to raspberry or orange sauce, and even mint flavor in the UK. Variations on this are seen in Spain and other European countries as well. The origin of the French bûche dates back to pagan times, when wood logs were burned in home hearths. Over time, hearths disappeared, to be replaced by wood-burning stoves. The inspiration for the sweet dessert came from the smaller logs that were burned on the wood-burning stoves.
When you start to see these cookies in bakeries across Greece, you know that Christmas is around the corner. These circle or oval cookies are flavored with cloves, orange and cinnamon and usually dipped in a syrup before being sprinkled with chopped pistachios. The sweet originates in the times of ancient Greece when a version of it was offered to the gods at funerals.
Pavlova (New Zealand & Australia)
As the discussion goes with Lamington cakes, there is a lot of back and forth among the Kiwis and Aussies as to which country invented pavlova, which is made of meringue and chopped fruit like strawberries and blueberries. Since Christmas down under is during the summer, this is a refreshing holiday treat for the warmer weather. The dessert was named after the famed Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who toured Australia and New Zealand in 1926.
Christmas Pudding (UK & British Commonwealth Countries)
Christmas pudding is not really a pudding at all, at least in the American sense. “Pudding” in the UK means simply a dessert. You may know this food by its synonyms, namely “plum pudding” or “figgy pudding”. The food dates back to English medieval times when it was made with meat and vegetables. After some time, candied fruits were added which is how it got the name plum pudding, since “plum” was a generic term for dried fruit at that time.
The Puritans banned Christmas pudding because it was considered to be too joyous for holiday merriment. Despite this, the tradition spread around the world with the British Empire and now Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and many formerly British owned islands look forward to the food every Christmastime. Christmas pudding was more popular in the United States in the mid-1900s and before. Today, American palates have changed, and it is hard to find in the USA.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ERIK WOLF, MA, CCTP, MCTP is recognized as the founder of the modern food tourism industry and the World Food Travel Association. He is a highly-sought speaker, thought leader, strategist and consultant, in the US, UK and abroad, on food and drink tourism issues, and has been featured in The New York Times, Newsweek and Forbes, and on CNN, Sky TV, the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, PeterGreenberg.com, and other leading media outlets. He advises leading global brands such as World Travel Market, Absolut, American Express, Disney, Marriott and Royal Caribbean, and organizations such as UNESCO and UNWTO. His articles, research and books have been translated into dozens of languages.