As we are currently busy eating and celebrating Christmas with our families, I thought it would be fun to find out about our meals. Here is what is on the menu of each Culturaal’s blogger and guests. Enjoy this food journey and Merry Christmas, Buon Natale, Feliz Navidad, Feliz Natal, Joyeux Noël, Gelukkig Kerstfeest!
Christmas dinner in Spain
When I think about Christmas, a sweet image comes to my mind, my grandparents, my uncles, my aunts, my cousins, all of us around a long table decorated with my mother’s stylish Christmas centerpieces. There is always somebody faffing around, my aunties in the kitchen, my younger cousins running from one chair to the other sharing stories, laughing, too excited to be sitting down for a long period of time. My uncle Seve and my dear cousin Jorge wearing silly hats on top of their heads, Rudolf horns, or perhaps a tie fasted around their foreheads.
In Basque country, food is at the centre of human relations. It’s very common to belong to a group of men or women (never mixed) called “Cuadrilla” who meet periodically to cook, eat, and of course to drink, mainly wine from the neighbour region of La Rioja, and the delicious Patxaran https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patxaran.
My family is Basque by adoption, my grandparents moved to Bilbao when my mum and her siblings were very young so we have breathed the love for cooking since an early age.
The Christmas feast in the evening of the 24th December, always starts late, around 10 pm, with several plates of Iberico ham, cured cheese, cod croquettes, clams “a la marinera” (slowly cooked in an onion, garlic, parsley and white wine sauce), “gambas a la plancha” (grilled prawns) and some modern and unusual starter my mum, my sister and me would cook taking the idea from a magazine or a new restaurant we’d recently visited. These surprise starters would be received with great enthusiasm by my aunties and my cousins and with certain scepticism by my grandparents and my uncles, although they would always try them.
After the starters we would always have two main courses, the first one being fresh hake cooked in a seafood sauce, with king prawns and a light handmade mayonnaise, and the king main dish which would always be baked sea bream with potatoes and onions. This fish is a delicatessen when it’s freshly caught and not from fish farms, it’s so succulent that we would salivate only with the smell coming from the oven.
I miss those dinners so much, since my grandparents passed away we no longer get all together for Christmas; my mum, my sister and me would nevertheless always try to cook a similar menu to honour our beloved family. I love you all very much.
Christmas meal in Italy
Christmas meals in Italy are different for every region, so interesting combinations can happen due to the heavy influx of Southern families moving to the North. In the South it is more common to eat fish on Christmas eve, like cod or salmon. In Naples for example they eat eel (Capitone) and they attach to this Christmas eve meal the symbolic meaning of victory over evil. My father comes from Molise, the smallest region of Italy, and through my grandfather he picked up on this tradition. He would go buy a live eel, my mum would clean it and serve it with spaghetti with tomato sauce. Black olives with mandarin skins would be on the side. This would serve as a prelude to the heaviest of meals my family has on Christmas day. We would start with antipasti such as artichokes, pickled mushrooms, olives, Russian salad, parma ham, salami, mortadella and other types of cured hams, then move to an earthy serving of lasagna, to be followed by involtini, small wraps of meat with vegetables, and ham with salad. Local red wines from Piedmont such as Barbera, Dolcetto or Freisa would be on the table. Obviously, slices of panettone and pandoro would accompany a strong espresso and a final grappa would help with the digestion.
Christmas meal in the United States
Although I can’t vouch for the rest of the country, in Wisconsin we put on our ugly Christmas sweaters and eat layers of fatty food until we are stuffed and can’t move. Nothing healthy on Christmas! My mom is usually in charge of the Christmas dinner, which no one has a problem with because she is a great cook. While Thanksgiving is all about the turkey, Christmas is focused on ham as the main dish. One year I even worked for a company called Honey Baked Ham selling giant, glazed Christmas hams. It really made me hate ham, actually.
But besides ham we also eat cheesy potatoes (potatoes with cheese and something crunchy on top), green bean casserole (no one knows about this except Americans but it’s green beans mixed with mushroom soup), warm rolls (sooo good), sweetened cranberries, marshmallow fruit salad (yep, fruit mixed with marshmallow!), zucchini squares made by my grandmother, and whatever my mom decides to experiment with that year (a few years ago it was a brussel sprout casserole that was so good there were no leftovers).
No Christmas meal is complete without a dessert, and we have explored a variety of options over the years. In the past we have eaten truffle (a layered, chocolate cake), pumpkin pie, cheesecake, French Silk pie, and apple pie. Regardless of the main dessert we also eat homemade cookies, fudge, and my grandmother’s famous German sour cream rolls.
After dinner we all pass out in the family room and watch A Christmas Story on the television, even though we’ve all seen it a thousand times. Everyone sleeps well on Christmas night and wakes up with heartburn the next day (but it’s worth it). Merry Christmas!
Christmas meal in UK
Christmas in the UK, like in many countries, revolves heavily around eating and drinking.
Personally, I love grazing on all the snacks that are to be found such as the assorted cheeses and the whole range of nuts and goodies that are littered in every corner of a well-stocked home. But without question the centre piece of the Christmas period as far as food is concerned is the roast dinner on Christmas day.
Traditionally the roast dinner consists of Turkey (it’s certainly the time of year when Turkey’s should find a good place to hide and keep very, very quiet) but it’s not uncommon to have chicken, lamb, beef, duck or a combination of the above.
Being a vegetarian, I love a good nut-loaf, mostly because it complements the other ingredients in the roast dinner so well. I must be honest that even when I did eat meat, to me it was not the best food on my plate. For me the multitude of vegetables, the wonderful sage and onion stuffing, the delicious roast potatoes and the light and fluffy Yorkshire puddings all contributed far more to the roast dinner. Not to mention the aromatic gravy that tops it all off so well. Without question it’s a time to make sure that you use your largest plates because no matter how determined you are not to look greedy, with so many delicious choices to add to your dish you can’t help but end up with a very full portion.
Of course, a meal of this type is not meant to be eaten in the throw-away nature that many of us eat during the rest of the year. This is supposed to be enjoyed, and savoured without rushing or thinking about where you need to be later in the day. This is a meal for talking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company. For re-filling the glass and for second or third helpings of whatever you found to be the most delicious.
Sitting back down with a well-stocked plate and a big smile on my face I pick up my glass of succulent red wine, look around at my closest loved-ones and family, and say a silent thank you for the traditional roast Christmas dinner. Cheers!
Christmas meal in France
Traditionally, Christmas in France is celebrated both on the evening of 24th December and on 25th December. Every year, I look forward to the Christmas holidays, and the quality time spent with my family. When thinking about Christmas day, what comes to my mind is the taste of cinnamon biscuits, the smell of orange, the sound of a jazzy Christmas playlist, the feeling of unwrapping gifts and the smiles on the face of my loves ones.
I believe that my family reinterprets the traditional French Christmas meal with a modern & fancy twist. This starts with the table decorations. As for the meal, we usually distribute the tasks so that everyone contributes to the preparations its own way. In the days prior to Christmas, we are all busy ordering the best quality products to our favourite butcher, fishmonger, cheesemaker and baker – as it is very competitive at that time of the year!
Once the table is set, Michael Bubblé’s Christmas playlist is on and my grandpa arrived with the bottles of wine from his cellar, the feast can begin!
Selection of little snacks:
Mini quiches which my mum spent her evenings cooking
Creamy pumpkin soup verrine, my grandma’s new passion
Drinks: Champagne for the ladies, “un Ricard” for the gentlemen
Foie gras from the local market hall, served with a tasty onion & fig jam and toasted bread
Seafood platter (oysters, prawns, gambas, seashells, langoustine)
Snails (picked by my grandpa) cooked in garlic butter by my grandma
Drink: sweet white wine (Sauternes being the best)
Slow cooked meat (e.g. capon, dear or lamb) with a sauce
Served with greens and potatoes
Drink: Red wine
Cheese & Salad
Selection of cheeses from the local market hall:
Mont d’Or, Boursault, Tome, Comté, St Félicien, etc
Served with salad
Drink: Red wine
Traditional “Bûche” of the Year from the best pâtissier in town
Note: Bûche actually means log, this is why the cake looks like a chunk of wood
Fruit platter (clementines, litchis, hazelnuts, walnuts, etc)
Main picture: a still from the classic film “A Christmas Story”