The 12 Tastes of Christmas
We’ve turned the 12 days into the 12 tastes of Christmas as we visit tables all over the world during the holidays. From KFC in Japan to injera in Ethiopia join us on a delicious culinary tour that has us wondering … does anyone have a recipe for roast partridge with pears?
In this story we explore the global traditions of 9 countries. Also in this series are:
Christmas in Chile isn’t complete without a creamy glass of monkey’s tail. Not literally of course. Cola de Mono is made from coffee, milk, cinnamon, sugar and two liquors: aguardiente, a traditional rustic spirit made by distilling the leftovers of winemaking after pressing the grapes, and pisco, a more refined spirit with lower alcohol content and regulated varieties of grapes.
House sitting in Mexico City over the holidays last year enabled a unique experience of local culture. Authentic Mexico displayed little of the commercialism seen in the rest of North America, but instead a focus on the religious story. The Reforma, a major traffic thoroughfare in the heart of the city, was lined not with decorated trees, but life sized nativity scenes built and sponsored by local businesses. Twelve days of Christmas begin on December 16, with family and friends parading through the neighbourhood every evening, gathering in each other’s homes to share food, drinks and celebrate the season. These processions, called Las Posadas, represent the journey of Joseph and Mary, looking for a place to stay for the birth of their baby. They culminate on December 24, when everything shutters by 3 p.m., allowing families to gather for the main celebration of Christmas with a traditional meal – bacalao (salted cod), mole with romeritos (a green herb resembling rosemary), ensalada de nochebuena (beet and jicama salad), and maybe turkey (which we were pretty sure was wild as the one we bought in the local market was huge and very tough!)
Christmas in Mexico felt genuine. We stayed in Condesa, an upscale residential neighbourhood near the Centro. For street vendors selling everything from tacos to trinkets, normal life resumed by the morning of December 25. Our two French bulldogs woke us early, eager to play in the dog park across the street. The sun not yet up, we felt sorry for the woman who appeared to be arranging her stall just across from the park entrance. We watched as she selected some packages and walked away. Curious, we made our way over and upon reading tags on packages labelled with names and descriptions, realized they were not items for sale, but gifts left by someone under a wooden tree as a random act of kindness. That day, we missed our own families and traditions, but witnessed a different community holiday spirit.
By BJ Oudman
Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, who make up just under half of the country’s population, celebrate Genna (Christmas) on Jan. 7. Many Ethiopian Orthodox Christians participate in 40 days of fasting before Christmas, in which one vegan meal is allowed daily. As religious fasting occurs on multiple days throughout the year and requires abstaining from meat, dairy and eggs Ethiopian cuisine includes a variety of tasty vegan dishes.
Calgary’s Yegna Ethiopian Cuisine (#100, 3515 17 Ave. S.E.) offers yetsom beyaynetu, a fasting vegan platter filled with a wide selection of wat, or stews, all laid out on a hefty injera. Injera is a fermented flatbread which is the basis of Ethiopian meals, and serves as a plate, utensil and accompaniment.
Injera also goes well with doro wat, Ethiopia’s national dish and a Christmas Day favourite. Doro wat is a welcome end to fasting; it is a rich chicken stew that includes boiled eggs and is flavored with berbere, a unique Ethiopian spice blend featuring chili peppers, cardamom, and fenugreek, among other spices. Abyssinia Restaurant (910 12 Ave. S.W.) offers a delicious doro wat, and the best part is that you can order it year-round!
By Grace Wang
Much like their Muslim brothers and sisters, Egyptian Christians fast for a month before their holy day. Also like their Muslim brothers and sisters, Egyptian Christians feast on all sorts of wonderful things when the fasting is over. And whether it’s Eid or Christmas, Egyptian feasters won’t be without their kahk cookies. These buttery cookies with a sandy texture are filled with all manner of fillings from honey to date paste to pistachios and are rolled and stamped or otherwise decorated so they’re as beautiful as they are tasty. Finished with a dusting of icing sugar, Christmas kahk cookies bring a little bit of snow to the dessert as families gather to eat and celebrate.
Our Christmas food (or should I say drink?) tradition begins about eight months before Christmas when we plant the sorrel (hibiscus sabdariffa) seeds. In early December, when the plant is mature we remove the petals from the plant and then remove the seeds from the petals. That part is torturous as it is itchy, but we know the reward so we press on.
To get the perfect flavour we steep the sorrel petals, pimento and ginger for hours, usually overnight, then we strain it and sweeten to taste. The drink is usually prepared just in time for Christmas Eve and we have it through to New Year’s Day. Some people add rum or wine to the drink as well. Judging by how sleepy we felt after drinking it as children, my bet is that my parents were those people.
By Shawna-Kay Thomas
Growing up, pepperpot was the Christmas morning breakfast tradition. Slow-cooked on the stove for days leading up to Christmas, pepperpot is a sweet and spicy beef stew cooked in cassareep, which is essentially cassava (yucca) molasses. The Indigenous people of Guyana (where my paternal family is from) used it as a preservative, so you don’t need to refrigerate it. You just keep it on the stove and warm it up when you want to eat some. Pepperpot is the national dish of Guyana and is usually served with dense bread to soak up the sauce.
By Naomi Gracechild
Christmas in Japan is less a religious holiday and more a celebration akin to Valentine’s Day and the like. In the 1970s, Kentucky Fried Chicken capitalized on a Japanese tradition of eating fried chicken at Christmas with an aggressive advertising campaign. The Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii or, Kentucky for Christmas, campaign was so effective, eating KFC at Christmas has become an interesting tradition in and of itself! Fun fact: The shortcake emoji on your phone is Japanese Christmas cake. A much lighter and fluffier version than its European counterpart.
My Nagymama spent weeks preparing Christmas dinner for her gaggle of unruly grandchildren who were inevitably more interested in what was under the tree than on the table. As we grew, though, we began to see the amount of effort and love and tradition that went into these meals that brought the aroma of Hungary into their Knob Hill home each December — transporting her and my grandfather back to their own childhoods as they forged the future memories of our own.
Each meal began with csiga soup: a clear and beautiful chicken broth served in the best china (my mother harbouring well-founded fear of us breaking a $400 soup bowl.) The csigas themselves were hand-rolled shell noodles. Made from scratch. Every time. Turkey and all the fixin’s were certainly present, but no self-respecting Nagymama would be without some of the classics from the old country. My favourites included chicken paprikas and Hungarian wienerschnitzel. The real treats for me, though, came at dessert. My mom favoured the layered hazelnut Zserbó (or Gerbeaud) cake. Me, I still dream of the heavenly cream-filled pastry called krémes. With its very name meaning “creamy” krémes combines two layers of puff pastry held together with a generous amount of smooth pastry cream. Pro-tip: It’s almost better after a day or two of the cream softening the pastry… almost.
By Camie Leard
As the only Christian nation in Asia (86 per cent of the population is Catholic) the Philippines takes Christmas seriously. Celebrations culminate on Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena, where families attend mass at midnight and celebrate afterwards with a feast.
While the Noche Buena feast varies from home to home, there are a few dishes that frequently make an appearance. A common centrepiece is lechon, a show-stopping whole roasted pig. The ambitious carnivore can order a lechon in advance from Rolymie Bakery Restaurant (5008 Whitehorn Drive NE). Other traditional dishes include pancit, or fried noodles, in one of its many forms. There’s pancit malabon with its rich seafood and thick noodles. Also popular is pancit bihon, made with thin rice vermicelli and various meats and vegetables, and finished with lemon or calamansi. Max’s Restaurant (3581 20 Ave NE) offers an impressive selection of pancit.
But no feast is complete without dessert! Leche flan is a soft custard steamed with caramel and can be purchased at Angel’s Bakeshop & Restaurant (112-6800 Memorial Drive East). Finally, there’s bibingka, a traditional cake made of rice flour and coconut milk, featuring cheese, salted duck egg, or grated coconut. Fresh bibingka can be found at Pacific Hut Restaurant (3223 17 Ave. SE) during the holiday season. Happy feasting!
By Grace Wang