12 of the Most Iconic Christmas Foods From Around the World
- Italy — PanettoneItaly — Panettone
- Philippines — Christmas HamPhilippines — Christmas Ham
- Australia / New Zealand – PavlovaAustralia / New Zealand – Pavlova
- Spain – TurrónSpain – Turrón
- England – Mince Pie & Christmas PuddingEngland – Mince Pie & Christmas Pudding
- Japan – KFCJapan – KFC
- France – Bûche de NoëlFrance – Bûche de Noël
- Germany – Weihnachtsgans (Roast Goose)Germany – Weihnachtsgans (Roast Goose)
- Greece – Kourabiedes & MelomakaronaGreece – Kourabiedes & Melomakarona
- Mesoamerica – TamalesMesoamerica – Tamales
- Peru – Hot ChocolatePeru – Hot Chocolate
- United States – Pecan Pie & EggnogUnited States – Pecan Pie & Eggnog
This Christmas, take your taste buds on a gastronomic tour with these 12 holiday staples that include roast goose, thick hot chocolate, and almond butter cookies
The holiday season is fast approaching – and in many regions like the Philippines, festivities are already underway. If you’re looking to make your feast extra special this year, get some inspiration from these iconic 12 Christmas food traditions from across the globe: from Japan’s KFC meals to Peru’s hot chocolate, and a classic holiday glazed ham.
Italy — Panettone
Plump, round, and packed in large trapezoid boxes, panettone is a traditional Milanese bread featured in Italian delis and Christmas tables around the world. The sweet, yeast-leavened bread studded with candied fruit is regularly enjoyed as a holiday dessert and is often gifted as a present—a tradition as sacred as the bread itself. Today, authentic panettone from Italy must be comprised of 16 per cent butter; 20 per cent candied fruit; and eggs, which must be a minimum of 4 per cent yolk.
Philippines — Christmas Ham
Lechon may be the grand finale for Filipino celebrations throughout the year, but noche buena is never complete without tender, slow-cooked Christmas ham. While its historical origins are unclear, some propose that the glazed ham is a modern-day iteration of an English pagan tradition wherein families would offer a boar’s head to the Norse god Freyr. In the Philippines, this fruity, spiced ham is often enjoyed with some pan de sal or queso de bola the eve before the big day.
Australia / New Zealand – Pavlova
Although the origins of this festive meringue cake are much-contested, one thing is certain: the pavlova is a delicious, beautiful centrepiece dessert well-deserving of a spot on your holiday table. Topped with whipped cream and a colourful assortment of refreshing fruits, the Australian and New Zealand sweet is perfect for their Christmas summer heat. The base of the cake has a chewy marshmallow interior and an audibly crisp exterior, rousing the senses with every bite.
Spain – Turrón
If the thought of a honey-rich nougat bar filled with toasted almonds tickles your fancy, then the Spanish turrón de Alicante is the holiday confection for you. Unlike the soft, smooth turrón de Jijona, this thick candy has a texture more akin to peanut brittle, sandwiched within wafers so thin they are nearly indiscernible. Nowadays, you’ll encounter endless varieties of the Valencian snack including those with chocolates, yema, or other nuts, especially as the holiday season approaches.
England – Mince Pie & Christmas Pudding
While these English desserts are filled with what’s called mincemeat, modern iterations of the mince pie do not include meat (though the mincemeat may include suet). Rather, these miniature pies envelop a mixture of dried fruits, spices, sugar, and some brandy, producing a syrupy-sweet pastry treat that has become a non-negotiable English tradition for the holidays.
Another notable holiday dessert from England is the Christmas pudding: a dense, dark sponge cake packed with dried fruits and candied fruit peel. The dessert has a deep, warm flavour perfect for the holiday season thanks to the addition of brandy and festive spices. However, keep in mind that patience is a much-needed virtue with this ceremonial cake as traditionally, the pudding is cooked on Stir Up Sunday and reheated four to five weeks later on Christmas day, allowing for a much more flavoursome delight.
Japan – KFC
Yes, you read that correctly! Since 1974, Christmas in Japan naturally invoked buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a longstanding tradition that was born out of a (ridiculously successful) marketing campaign by the American fast-food chain. At the time, there was a visible lack of Christmas traditions in the country, which easily allowed “Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii” or “Kentucky for Christmas” to sweep the nation with its "party barrels". Today, these buckets have evolved into festive Christmas sets with potato gratin, cake, and of course, its signature fried chicken.
France – Bûche de Noël
Perhaps better known as the yule log cake, Bûche de Noël is a classic French Christmas cake designed to resemble the yule logs traditionally burned over the cold winter months. The rolled confection is made with a deep brown chocolate cake, a velvety white cream-based filling, and chocolate frosting, then oft adorned with festive forest-inspired decor like faux mistletoe.
Germany – Weihnachtsgans (Roast Goose)
Roast poultry is a popular celebratory dish around the world, but in Germany, Christmas means weihnachtsgans or roast goose in particular. Boasting an indulgent, distinct flavour, goose meat is fatty and rich, perfect for grand holiday feasts. The luxurious fowl is typically reserved for the Christmas season.
Greece – Kourabiedes & Melomakarona
Kourabiedes or Greek butter cookies are an easy-to-love, melt-in-your-mouth holiday staple that pair excellently with a strong cup of Greek coffee. Like most traditional fare, families will often have their own recipes for the best kourabiedes, but they generally start with a shortbread-like cookie base with slivered almonds mixed throughout, then sprayed with blossom water and generously blanketed in powdered sugar.
Although less popular throughout the year, the Melomakarona Christmas honey cookies are equally delicious, filled with festive flair. The tan cookie base is flavoured with orange, cinnamon, and clove then dipped in a honey syrup and topped with crushed walnuts.
Mesoamerica – Tamales
Throughout Mesoamerica, Christmas calls for the annual tamalada, an hours-long tamale-making party with family and friends. The style of tamales differs from country-to-country (and even within them, region-to-region; family-to-family), they are typically made with corn-based masa (with Puerto Rico’s pasteles being a notable exception, opting instead for plantain and taro masa), filled with sweet or savoury ingredients, wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks, and steamed.
Peru – Hot Chocolate
A cup of hot chocolate in the tropics may seem odd, but not in Peru, and certainly not on Christmas. Best enjoyed with a slice of the localised panettone, Peruvian hot chocolate is sinfully thick, verging on the consistency of a pudding, and made extra comforting with the addition of vanilla, cinnamon cloves, and some condensed milk. The beverage also plays an important role in chocolatadas, an annual holiday tradition where local governments, NGOs, and companies travel to disadvantaged communities and offer treats, toys, and hot chocolate to less fortunate children.
United States – Pecan Pie & Eggnog
In the United States, neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas is truly a feast without some pecan pie. Its origins trace back to the 1820's, with early recipes found in old Texas cookbooks of that era. Made with sugar, corn syrup, eggs, butter, and the native North American pecan, the sweet, gooey dessert is a celebratory must-have.
Although historians agree that eggnog stems from the medieval British beverage known as posset, the rich, creamy, boozy drink is best-knwon as an American holiday tradition. When the posset made its way to the United States, the beverage took on a life of its own amidst the colonies’ chicken and cow-filled farms, plus the ubiquity of cheap rum.