Christmas dinner around the world is a richly varied affair. But whether or not there’s a stuffed turkey on the table at Christmas, the general rule is that you stuff yourself.
Here are six delicious dishes to help you discover the indulgent, festive traditions of various cultures around the world.
KFC for Christmas dinner is a time-honoured tradition in Japan
Thanks to some astute marketing back in the 1970s, KFC has a monopoly on the Japanese culinary Christmas tradition. It was (and still is) nigh impossible to find turkey in Japan, at Christmas time or otherwise, so fried chicken stepped up to the plate. Thanks to this ‘Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!’ (Kentucky for Christmas!) campaign, KFC sales still go through the roof on Christmas Eve each year. Many families pre-order a KFC Christmas meal, including cake and champagne, or queue for several hours to get their hands on a bucket of fried chicken. Apparently this campaign has infiltrated Japanese culture so deeply that some children can struggle to differentiate between Father Christmas and the KFC Colonel. In the fast-paced Shinjuku district, JR Kyushu Hotel Blossom is just a 2-minute walk from KFC.
Suckling pig, Puerto Rico
Slow-roasted suckling pig plays a starring role in Puerto Rican Christmas dinner
If you thought preparing a turkey was a struggle, spare a thought for those preparing the mandatory Puerto Rican Christmas suckling pig (‘lechón’). Slowly rotated on an outdoor spit for several hours, this is a high-maintenance but extremely rewarding feast. Other dishes include pork pasteles wrapped in banana leaves, crispy fritters and ‘coquito’, a coconut eggnog made with coconut milk, condensed milk and a generous splash of rum. Have a tropical Christmas at El Escondido Guest House, a peach-coloured property on the edge of El Yunque National Forest.
Ensalada de Nochebuena, Mexico
Mexico’s refreshing and flavoursome festive dish, Ensalada de Nochebuena
Christmas in Mexico isn’t so different from celebrations in the UK or USA, with elements like red poinsettia flowers, turkey and trees decorated with tinsel and baubles. But it also features processions, plays, fireworks and traditions like throwing your plate on the ground to bring good luck the next year. Since turkey is native to Mexico, it is served as the main dish, alongside spicy trimmings like mole sauce, bacalao (dried salted codfish) and Ensalada de Nochebuena. This refreshing and flavoursome salad marries the earthy taste of beets with the sweetness and tang of oranges and pineapples, on a bed of lettuce and sprinkled with crunchy pine or peanuts and a creamy, citrusy dressing. Check into Casa Del Maya Bed & Breakfast in the foodie city of Mérida.
Stuffed cabbage, Hungary
Stuffed cabbage, or töltött káposzta, is a Christmas delicacy in Hungary
Stuffed cabbage, or töltött káposzta, is an age-old Hungarian Christmas delicacy, though each family makes it very differently with their own secret ingredients. The most important are tender sauerkraut and seasoned, lean minced pork. It also often includes Hungarian smoked bacon, which gives a charred flavour. It’s served with a sprinkling with paprika, a hunk of crusty bread and a dollop of sour cream on the top. Stay at the highly-rated, self-catered Apartment L&A and cook up a local Hungarian stuffed cabbage feast for yourself.
Gnocchi in butter and sage is served alongside seafood in northern Italy
In Italy, you’re supposed to fast ahead of the indulgence of Christmas Day with a light, meat-free dinner hosted on Christmas Eve. Known as ‘La Vigilia’ (although to Italian-Americans, it’s the ‘Feast of the Seven Fishes’), this traditional meal features delicacies like fried eel, octopus, sword fish, salmon, lobster and baccalà (salted cod), served in salads, simple pasta dishes and antipasti. In northern Italy, gnocchi in butter and sage is a popular dish, as is spaghetti in an anchovy, cream and onion sauce. Spend Christmas at the palatial Villa Longo de Bellis in Bari, an Italian seaside town known for its seafood.
Slovakia’s hearty Christmas dish, Kapustnica (sauerkraut soup)
The traditional Slovak Christmas dish of Kapustnica (sauerkraut soup) is so popular that you’ll find it in local restaurants all year round. Normally it is made with sauerkraut, mushrooms, pork, plums and spices including nutmeg and paprika. But the Christmas version (Vianočná Kapustnica) is cooked without meat and thickened with Halušky (dumplings), cream and potatoes, giving it a distinctive and delicious sour flavour. Treat yourself to Christmas at the grand Marrol’s Boutique Hotel in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava.