22 Festive Holiday Foods from Around the World


Flight Network Foodie   Hot off the Press  


The best part of the holiday season is the food. Traditional recipes that have been passed down through generations (and in some cases centuries) are prepared and enjoyed in gatherings of family and friends.

Different cultures celebrate their holidays in different ways, but cooking and enjoying special foods and drinks is a tradition that transcends all parts of the world and all religions. These 22 dishes from around the world are some of the most mouth-watering and interesting ways the holiday season is celebrated through food.

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#1. Tourtière — Canada


Tourtieres are a Christmas and New Year’s tradition in Quebec that will never fade. These tasty meat pies are slow-cooked and packed with cubed, minced or ground meat and plenty of spices. Common tourtiere condiments are ketchup, chutneys, mustards or fruit relishes.

#2. Toshikoshi Soba — Japan


Toshikoshi Soba, or “the year-crossing noodle,” is a Japanese dish of buckwheat noodles served hot in a soup or cold on a bamboo dish. The tradition is to eat toshikoshi soba on New Year’s Eve to ensure prosperity and good fortune in the following 12 months.

#3. Latkes — Israel


Crispy fried potato cakes, or Latkes, and other fried foods are traditionally eaten during Hanukkah celebrations. Hanukkah celebrates the Biblical miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting eight whole nights, so many of the holiday’s traditional foods are fried in oil. Latkes are often served with sweet sauces like applesauce on the side.

#4. Pasteles — Puerto Rico

Photo credit: Juanky Alvarez
Photo credit: Juanky Alvarez

Pasteles are one of the most time-consuming holiday dishes to make. Puerto Rican families often dedicate a day or two of the holiday season to gathering together to prepare these complicated but tasty treats. Pasteles consist of a root vegetable dough combined with meat (chicken, pork or fish), chickpeas, raisins and olives wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. Many families prepare the tamales in bulk, freeze them, then enjoy them from Thanksgiving to Three Kings Day.

#5. Sarmale — Romania


Bucharest‘s signature holiday dish sarmale is said to date all the wake back to the Ottoman Empire, so you can guarantee the flavors have been mastered.  Cabbage rolls are stuffed with beef, pork, onion and rice (and other ingredients if desired), then carefully boiled in tomato sauce and served on festive tables around Romania.

#6. Jansson’s Temptation — Sweden

Photo credit: Jani Laaksonen
Photo credit: Jani Laaksonen

If you’re headed to Sweden for the holidays, there’s no doubt you’ll see this dish on the table. Jansson’s Temptation is a creamy casserole of potato, onion, cream, herring and bread crumbs. And although the dish’s origins are still questionable, it’s said Jannson’s Temptation is named after the Swedish opera singer Pelle Janzon.

#7. Carp — Germany


Carp was once an expensive and sough-after fish in Germany, which is why enjoying it at New Year’s Eve dinner was a special event. It was such a special occasion that the head of the table would take a scale from the skin of the carp and keep it in his wallet to bring good fortune in the new year. Smoked, baked or fried carp still remains a staple part of many New Year’s Eve meals in Germany.

#8. Mince Pie — England


Mince pies date all the way back to 13th-century Christmas celebration in England, so you can guarantee the taste has been perfected. Mince pies traditionally consist of dried fruit, mincemeat and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. And although the exact ingredients vary from holiday table to holiday table, it’s certain the tradition isn’t changing anytime soon.

#9. Yebeg Wot — Ethiopia


The Christmas preparations start early in Ethiopia, where farmers often buy lambs far in advance to fatten them up for the holiday meal. Yebeg Wot is a hearty (and buttery) lamb stew that’s heavily spiced and served with flatbread.

#10. Tamales — Mexico


Tamales are so popular during Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in Mexico that the time spent making and enjoying them is known as “tamalada.” Tamales are portable corn-husk rolls filled with masa (a corn-based dough) and a variety of ingredients like meats, cheeses, vegetables and even fruits.

#11. Eel — Italy

Photo credit: Javier Lastras
Photo credit: Javier Lastras

Eel is a common catch on the Amalfi Coast in winter time and eating it on Christmas Eve is a tradition practiced across the country. According to Italian tradition, no meat should be eaten during the Christmas Eve meal, so don’t be surprised if you see an array of fish — including a big piece of deliciously fried eel — on your plate for Christmas dinner.

#12. Bûche de Noël — France


Buche de Noel’s literal meaning, “branch of Christmas,” doesn’t sound very enticing, but it’s the perfect way to end the night of Christmas Eve in France. As French tradition goes, this rich cake (that’s purposely rolled to look like a log) is served after the midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

#13. Babka — Poland

Photo credit: Brandon Koger
Photo credit: Brandon Koger

Bread is one of the most important parts of a Polish Christmas meal. Breaking bread is used to represent the breaking of the day-long fast on Christmas Eve, but you won’t just find Babka on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinner tables. This sweet and spongy yeast cake is eaten throughout the Christmas season and other holiday seasons in Poland too.

#14. Kutya — Ukraine


Those who follow the Ukrainian Orthodox church must stick to a strict diet excluding fats, sugars and meats. Kutya is a meat-free dish including wheatberries, poppy seeds, dried fruits and nuts sweetened with honey. Kutya is prepared days before the holiday to allow the flavours to develop. If you’re sticking to Ukrainian tradition, don’t dig into your kutya until the first star has appeared in the night sky.

#15. Pavlova — Australia and New Zealand


Pavlova is a dish so sweet and delicious, you’ll want to enjoy it all year long. Australia and New Zealand both over the origins of the dish, but they both agree that it was named after the Russian dancer Anna Pavlova. It’s a sweet meringue dessert with a crispy crust that’s garnished with fresh fruits like strawberries, kiwis and passionfruit.

#16. Tangyuan — China

Photo credit: David Tan
Photo credit: David Tan

Dongzhi is a celebration of the winter solstice in China, and it’s also a time when tangyuan is enjoyed. Glutinous rice flour balls are stuffed, cooked in boiling water, then served in a soupy broth. The fillings and broth can be sweet or savory, which leads to a wide variety of tangyuan ingredients and flavors.

#17. Spiced Hot Chocolate — Peru


Spiced hot chocolate is a Christmas tradition that spans Peru. Many churches accept donations during the month of December to produce giant batched of spiced hot chocolate to be given to those in need of a warm drink and some holiday cheer. It’s similar to the creamy hot chocolate we enjoy here in North America, but it includes spicy chili powder, cinnamon sticks and freshly grated nutmeg for a little bit more kick.

#18. Bahn Chung — Vietnam


The Viatnamese celebrate the new year with Bahn Chung, a large, sticky rice cake layered with mung bean, pork and a variety of other ingredients. The rice cake is then wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed. In addition to being served during New Year’s celebrations, it’s also a delicacy served during special occasions year round.

#19. Bibingka — Philippines

Photo credit: Shubert Ciencia
Photo credit: Shubert Ciencia

Christmas in the Philippines kicks off with a sweet bibingka. This traditional breakfast pastry consists of coconut milk and rice flour baked in a terracotta pot lined with banana leaves. The dish is topped with coconut shavings, a local white cheese or an egg before serving.

#20. Eggnog — United States


Drinking eggnog, sometimes mixed with spirits, is an American and Canadian Thanksgiving and Christmas tradition with English origins. Eggnog is a sweet, dairy-based drink made with sugar, cream and whipped eggs for a thick, frothy texture. Add bourbon, rum or brandy for a little extra kick, and don’t forget a dash of nutmeg or cinnamon on top.

#21. Curry Devil — Singapore


Singapore takes their Christmas leftovers seriously, and that’s exactly what the Curry Devil dish is. Traditional Christmas leftovers like sausages, chicken, cucumbers, cabbage and other vegetables are cooked in a spicy Singaporean gravy on Boxing Day. This flavourful dish definitely beats putting a plate of dry ham in the microwave.

#22. Melomakarona — Greece

Photo credit: Sofai Gk
Photo credit: Sofai Gk

Many Greeks fast before the Christmas holiday, and when it comes time to break the fast on Christmas Day, you’d better believe they break it with a sweet, festive treat. Melomakarona is a cookie that’s soaked in honey and topped with chopped walnuts. You won’t be able to eat just one.

About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey

Courtney McCaffrey is a travel writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C, Mexico and around the world. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and surfing new waves.

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