Traditional Holiday Foods from Around the World
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, The Holidays! A time to surround yourself with loved ones, exchange gifts and eat, drink and be merry.
Now, whether you are celebrating Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Hanukkah, what to eat and drink is certainly one of the most important decisions to be made, with people often planning out what spread they’re going to put on weeks in advance.
Traditions for each holiday vary all over the world, let’s take Christmas, for example. While in the United States celebrations are held around a Christmas tree with hot mulled wine, and hopes for a white snowy Christmas, over in Australia, they celebrate Christmas in the height of their summer, usually heading to the beach or going camping and they decorate a ‘Christmas Bush’ instead of a tree.
With the traditions differing from country to country, it stands to reason that the food does too. So let’s take a look at the most popular foods across the globe.
United Kingdom – Christmas Pudding
About The Dish:
Christmas Pudding, otherwise known as plum pudding or figgy pudding – is, without doubt, one of the most famous traditional holiday dishes in the country. Every family who makes it typically has their own recipe for it, which is then passed down through the generations.
It is said a Christmas Pudding should have 13 ingredients that represent the 12 disciples and Jesus. These ingredients typically include currants, raisins, brown sugar, suet, orange peel, lemon peel, citron, breadcrumbs, flour, mixed spices, eggs, milk and brandy.
There is also other symbolism in this dessert, The pudding is topped with holly which represents a crown of thorns and it is then doused in Brandy and set alight which symbolizes the passion of Christ.
History of the Dish:
The Christmas Pudding’s history starts in the early 15th century and it was quite different from the fruit-laden dessert we know and love today. It was known as ‘plum pottage’, and it was a savory mixture laden with meat and vegetables served at the start of a meal. Of course, the “plum” was a term for the dried fruit used in the mixture, usually currants and raisins, other candied or preserved fruit would be added when they were available. While Fruit seems like an odd choice for this concoction it was used as a preservative.
It was in the 16th century when dried fruit was much more readily available that the pudding transitioned from a savory snack to a sweet treat. By the mid-1600’s Christmas Pudding was synonymous with Christmas, then Oliver Cromwell came to power and in 1647 he had it banned alongside many other Christmas symbols such as carol singing and nativity scenes. Cromwell was a puritan, meaning that he sought to ‘purify’ the Church of England of Roman Catholic practices. Luckily for Pud lovers everywhere, the Puritans were deposed in 1660 and all merry-making Christmas traditions were restored!
The Victorian era is when Christmas Pudding truly became the treat we know today. There was a movement to have a standardized family-friendly English Christmas, and one element of this was helping everyone to have access to the ingredients to make pudding.
Families across England would gather together to celebrate the last Sunday of Advent, and it soon became known as “Stir-up Sunday” where the family members would take turns stirring up the Pud’s ingredients, and then they would form the puddings, wrap them in cloth and boil them, and set aside to mature until Christmas day.
While it is traditional to enjoy A glass of port with Christmas Pud, it is not the only thing that pairs beautifully with the dessert. A glass of Spanish Moscatel de Valencia pairs exquisitely with this rich dessert. The notes of fresh apricot in this delicious dessert wine is a beautiful bright contrast to the deeper-flavored dried fruits, and the honeyed sweetness of the wine is a great pairing with the booze forward brandy in the dessert.
Israel – Latkes
About The Dish:
Latkes are potato pancakes that are eaten in celebration of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Latke actually means “pancake” in Yiddish. These pancakes are eaten to celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah. They are fried in oil, to symbolize the oil of the menorah in the Second Temple of Jerusalem after it was ransacked, and the oil burned for a duration of 8 days despite there only being enough oil to burn for 1 day.
Making Latkes is one of the biggest traditions in the celebration of Hanukkah.
Unsurprisingly, the main ingredient in this dish is Potatoes! Latkes are made by mixing potatoes with onions, flour, seasonings, and eggs. You can add many different things to latkes, as long as it fries well. Common things to add include cheese, zucchini, and carrots.
While they are deliciously tasty on their own, Latkes are traditionally accompanied by sour cream or applesauce.
History Of The Dish:
Latkes are of course a huge part of Hanukkah celebrations, but they actually descend from an old Italian Jewish custom and is documented way back in the 14th century. This is believed to be the first occurrence of eating fried pancakes in celebration of Hanukkah, but there was a pretty fundamental difference in those pancakes and the ones that are eaten today – they were made of cheese, not potatoes!
They were actually originally deep fried ricotta pancakes, which honored the custom of eating dairy products in honor of Brave Judith.
When she heard the news that General Holofernes was approaching with his army to annihilate the Jews, she decided to pretend to seduce him. She dressed in beautiful clothing and brought him a tray of salty cheese and a jug of wine. Of course, the saltiness of the cheese made him quite thirsty and he drank almost the entire jug of wine, eventually passing out from being so drunk. It was then that Judith Decapitated him, took his head and presented it to his army who was awaiting his orders. They were petrified and immediately retreated.
Over the years the Latke evolved into the potato pancake we know today, but it is still served alongside a dairy ingredient – sour cream – to pay homage to Brave Judith.
As we have now learned, the oil latkes are cooked in is not only what makes them mouthwateringly tasty, it is a very important symbol. It also makes them quite oily and rich, so when looking for a wine to pair alongside them we have to keep this in mind.
A crisp and refreshing Italian prosecco is a match made in heaven for this dish. The bubbles will really pop alongside the crispy deliciousness of the Latkes and the refreshing acidity is perfect to compliment to saltiness. Prosecco will also stand up nicely against the sour cream.
Germany – Lebkuchen
About the Dish:
Lebkuchen – pronounced leyb-koo-kuh is a German spiced sweet treat often baked during the winter holiday months that dates back centuries. It is often translated to Gingerbread in English.
That being said, it’s fair from the American definition of Gingerbread! When the gingerbread is mentioned we tend to default to images of happy little gingerbread men or elaborately decorated gingerbread houses, but lebkuchen is quite different. It shares many similarities such as the spices used including cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves but the biggest distinction is its texture. Lebkuchen is more delicate, soft and dense and has a somewhat nutty flavor. It is less of a biscuit, and falls somewhere between a cake and a cookie.
There are a few different variations of Lebkuchen, and the different types usually depend on the nut content which influences the price of the cookies.
One of the central ingredients in these sweet treats is Lebkuchengewürz, which is a blend of all the most festive spices. This is extremely common in Germany, it is very difficult to find outside of Germany. Luckily there are many recipes out there to make your own using a mix of rather common spices including ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground allspice, ground coriander, ground star anise and ground mace.
Once you have your festive spice mix together, you will also need brown sugar, honey, nutter, egg, flour, and ground almonds. Depending on what type of Lebkuchen you are making you may need additional nuts.
Even though there is no butter in these cookies they are still incredibly decadent.
Lebkuchen also has a wafer-like substance at the bottom. Back at the time of Lebuchen’s creation, The Franconian monks used communion wafers to help stop the dough sticking to the baking sheets. Known today as Oblaten, this wafer evolved and was inspired by the communion wafer originally used.
History of the Dish:
While Lebkuchen, as it is today, was created by Franconian monks back in the 13th century, it is said that it has ancient roots in honey cake baked by Egyptians thousands of years ago as an offering to the gods.
Lebkuchen was created in the region we know today as Bavaria, with Nuremberg as the hub of its production. This was largely due to the dense forests surrounding the city, which were a great source of honey which is one of the star ingredients in the treat. Another big reason is its location was an intersection on ancient spice trading routes, meaning that the plethora of spices required for this sweet could be easily found, as back then some of these spices were quite exotic.
Lebkuchen is traditionally enjoyed with a coffee or tea, but it is becoming more and more common to enjoy it with a glass of wine, Especially wine from the same country! German wines are a perfect combination with these delectable cookies. Now I know what you’re thinking,Sweet wine with a sweet dessert?? Craziness. And yes it is a common assumption that all German wines are inexplicably sweet, and while some of their wines are sweet they do make drier wines also, and German wine tends to be wildly underestimated so trust us, give it a go!
In this case though we would actually recommend a sweet wine, as when paired with sweeter food the wine will actually lose some of its sweetness – so it won’t be the sweetness overload you would first imagine! The wine will also keep its texture and mouthfeel.
Gewürztraminer is a perfect choice to pair with these glorious gingerbread cookies. This wine is incredibly aromatic, with aromas of lychee and tropical fruit. On the palette it is low in acidity, full texture and bursting with stone fruit flavors. This wine is a stunning pairing with spices, so the festival’s spices in the Lebkuchen will come to life when paired with this wine.
Bûche de Noël Yule Log – France
About the dish:
A Bûche de Noël is a traditional Christmas cake that is served as a dessert around Christmas time in France, as well as Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. It is also served in French colonies dish as Canada and Vietnam, and there are variations of the dessert commonly served in the USA.
The most common variety of a Bûche de Noël is made up of a sponge cake, that is topped with icing and then rolled to form a log cylinder shape and iced again all over. Typically it is a plain yellow sponge cake, with chocolate buttercream icing.
There are many variations and people add ganache, and liqueurs, and use chocolate cake instead of plain.
History Of The Dish:
The Bûche de Noël is believed to date back to 1870. During these times a log of wood, usually from a fruit tree would be brought into the home to ensure a bountiful harvest for the next year and placed in the hearth. In some regions, they would sprinkle the log with holy water, wine, or even salt and it would then be lit on fire. Wine in particular was believed to ensure the next year’s grape harvest would be plentiful.
In 1870, A Parisian pastry maker was enjoying his Christmas eve, and suddenly he was struck with inspiration by this burning log in his fireplace. The practice of burning logs was actually beginning to die out as fireplaces were becoming smaller, so it was a great time to bring the log out of the fire and onto the kitchen table! (Not the burning one of course.)
The “log” that now lays at the center of every table at Christmas time in France is actually a rolled sponge cake, decorated with plenty of chocolate and dusted with sugar to appear as a shimmering snowflake-covered log.
As the tradition has evolved, today Parisian pâtissiers compete to come up with the most extravagant Buche- you will see them in all shapes and sizes and with various bells and whistles! But the traditional Log is scrumptious just as it is.
While there are many different types of this dessert out there now (people incorporate all sorts of different flavors into them these days such as almonds, orange ,cherries) it will always remain a rich chocolate dessert. So we will focus on the more “traditional log” when wine pairing.
When we say traditional we of course mean the rolled sponge cake with the butter icing. This devilish combo is lusciously rich, and needs a wine that has a floral nose and fruity flavors to complement the creamy buttery icing of the dessert.
We do not want a dry wine – there is too much risk of an unpleasant bitterness, so a great option will be a naturally sweet wine. Sauternes is a truly excellent choice here. It is a classic to pair with chocolate. With its aromatic nose of apricot and peaches, This renowned dessert wine from Bordeaux will be a glorious fruity accompaniment to the decadent Buche de Noel. Its honeyed sweetness alongside its balanced acidity make it truly a harmonious pairing.
We hope you have enjoyed some ideas of fun things to make this year, and Happy Holidays to one and all!!!