Let’s just be honest here: the best thing about Christmas is undoubtedly food. Forget the presents, the ’80s guilty pleasure music and spending the afternoon watching your dad after he’s had one too many eggnogs – the Christmas meal is a guilt-free, perpetually delicious way to celebrate however you please. NOBODY believes in #cleaneating at Christmas, so don’t feel bad about those twelve roast potatoes you’ve just devoured – that’s what New Year’s Resolutions are for!
Christmas looks very different all across Europe. Some countries have their big meal on Christmas Eve, some on the 25th itself, and some even the day after. Dishes range from fish to the traditional Victorian-style roast, to a ‘soup’ essentially made from chocolate. Here are some of the most interesting ones that’ll send you trekking ‘round the continent just to test them all out:
Many Italians forgo the meat on Christmas Eve (stockpiling for the next day, no doubt) and embrace the Mediterranean culture, with the The Feast Of The Seven Fishes commemorating the anxious wait for Jesus to be born. From fried eel to calamari, prawn linguine, lobster and shrimp scampi, the Italians pretty much empty the sea for Christmas Eve – they certainly don’t do things by halves. Christmas Day, of course, brings back the meaty delicacies: read mountains of fat-laden sausage.
Also following the theme of a fishy Christmas is Slovakia and other Eastern European countries. After a thick sauerkraut soup called kapustnica, there’s carp on the menu. This fish is so central to Christmas in these countries that families will apparently keep the carp alive just swimming in the bath until it is time to…sacrifice it, or whatever. I think I’d prefer to peel the potatoes, thanks.
How’s this for a winner? A tradition in the French region of Provence is The Thirteen Desserts, which is as magical as it sounds. The big Christmas Eve meal ends with thirteen different desserts – each representing Jesus and all his disciples (and a lot of butter and sugar, also). From dried fruit and nuts to fresh melon, nougat and cakes, the dishes are set out on Christmas Eve and left on the table for you to gorge nibble at over three days. Délicieux!
There’s a myth in Germany that was DEFINITELY not just made up by a really hungry person that ‘those who do not dine well at Christmas will be haunted by demons’ – and we don’t want that, do we…so eat up! Germany’s traditions are a big old goose in the centre of the table, accompanied by red cabbage, and lots of stollen (a fruity bread).
Part chocolatey soup, part late-night beverage, Malta is pretty much winning Christmas with its Imbuljuta Tal-Qastan. Forget the mulled wine – this is the ultimate in warming winter drinks, made of cocoa, chestnuts, citrus rind, cloves and mixed spices. The Maltese drink it after Midnight Mass at Christmas and New Year, and we’ve decided we’re moving there just to get in on the action.
It may sound a bit funky, but Denmark’s Christmas dessert tradition risalamande is pretty hard to beat. Essentially a sweet rice pudding mixed with whipped cream and chopped almonds then covered with a cherry sauce, the dessert has been around for over 200 years – taking inspiration from the risengrød, a similar dish that replaces the almonds and cream with cinnamon and butter. Usually, one whole almond is chucked into the risalamande and whoever finds it gets an extra present. Win-win situation, really!
One for the carnivores out there, one of Spain’s Christmas dinner traditions – and often the centerpiece of the festive table – is Pavo Trufado de Navidad. Taking a cue from the traditional Western turkey dinner, the Spaniards have gone one step further, stuffing the turkey with truffles – and adding entire glasses of brandy and sherry to the mix, because WHY NOT? Feliz Navidad!
You know those delicious jammy roll pastries you used to eat as a kid? Yeah – well the Hungarians are waaaaaay ahead of you. One of their famed Christmas desserts is Beigli, which is not, in fact, a bagel, but a big rolled-up pastry filled traditionally with ground poppy seeds or walnuts, but in recent years chestnut purée and even Nutella have becoming fillings of choice. While you can buy them from a bakery before Christmas, it’s much more fun and challenging to make it yourself – go on, have a crack!
On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…Bigos from Poland. Traditionally eaten on the Second Day of Christmas (Boxing Day), Bigos is a Polish national dish, though it’s often served all around Eastern Europe. The meaning of the word “bigos” is actually ‘confusion’ or ‘big mess’ – which makes sense, when you think about it. The dish is basically a huge stew of various cuts of meat – whether it’s pork, venison, rabbit or beef – mixed with sauerkraut, puréed tomatoes, honey and mushrooms and often seasoned with red wine (in case you haven’t already had enough at Christmas).