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?

Doughnuts to Dosas: A Tale of Christmas in India

By Catherine Van Brunschot

It was 2003 and time for the talk. Like many propositions put forward to tweens, it might not go well. And the proposition we were making to our son and daughter? We wanted to take them travelling at Christmas.

The “being away” would not be the issue. My family had a long tradition of travelling at Christmas, since the year my own parents scraped together the funds to take my sister and me to Disneyland. Dad’s seasonal business shut down in winter; our grades could handle some absence in class. So, we scheduled the turkey for an early December day, and hit the road to California in a truck camper. On December 25, we attended Spanish mass in a beautiful church — speaking not a word of Spanish, but discovering Christmas Mass is Christmas Mass everywhere — and we went for a swim.

It was weird.

Weirdest was the big doughnut hole in the afternoon that would have been filled with cousins and aunties and uncles and grandparents playing games and building puzzles and eating way too many Christmas cookies. But the swim and the sun took the edge off the weirdness, and the travel adventures made it an experience worth repeating. Again and again. Over the years, we celebrated “early Christmas” on various convenient dates more times than I can remember.

We reverted back to December 25 when my own kids came into the world (Santa’s schedule being fixed and all). Even after a move to Indonesia, we celebrated our first Christmas Day in our Jakarta home. There were presents from Canada under the tree; an imported turkey steaming on the table; friends over for dinner accustomed to the geckos that chirped from the ceiling.

It was awful.

Thirteen thousand kilometres from the cousins and grandmas, in a country where the only signs of Christmas seemed to exist at the mall, that doughnut hole yawned cavernous.

We vowed to never repeat the mistake, scheduled subsequent turkeys and gifts for early December, and spent the holidays in nearby Australia or New Zealand. On December 25, we lit Advent candles in hotel rooms, decorated camper van windows with Christmas decals, or read Christmas stories by a condo fireplace while the air-conditioning kept summer temperatures at bay. It became less weird and more wonderful.

No, traveling at Christmas would not be the problem. It was the destination that might be a hard sell to the kids.

We wanted to take them to India.

Not an obvious choice for a couple of Canadian kids of Anglo-Dutch heritage. Especially for our daughter, who subsisted on naan and mango chutney whenever meals with our Jakarta friends consisted of Indian fare. But we promised turkey dinner. A comfortable hotel to retreat to whenever the cultural immersion got too intense. And the trip’s centrepiece adventure: a weeklong train tour to explore the exotic forts and palaces of Rajasthan.

They bought it.

Delhi brought fog and a biting chill – and a friendly stranger who led us to his brother’s carpet shop rather than the Connaught bookstore we were looking for. But it also brought the Red Fort and Gandhi’s Memorial, and another friendly stranger who explained the world of dosas as we queued up outside a buzzing cafe. Our daughter deemed the crispy crepe wrappers to be palate possibilities and our son devoured the savoury fillings in double-time.

In this country that embraced all things festive, Christmas was everywhere in twinkling lights and colourful stars. We found a cottage craft store offering wares from every corner of India: pashminas for the grandmas and aunties, mini Taj Mahals for the cousins, scarves for the uncles. Shopping for “Christmas in July” — when there was always more time with the cousins (our son’s observation) and less angst from the adults (mine) — had become the filling for our doughnut hole.

Check out Catherine’s recipe for Saag Paneer.