Planning to be away from home during the holidays in December?
Here is a peek at some culinary customs and holiday food traditions from around the world.
Learn about the festive culinary delights that await you while on your next winter vacation.
While turkey and mashed potatoes may be the traditional Christmas meals served in the United States and the UK, that is not the case in the rest of the world.
Find inspiration for where you want to travel for the holidays.
Pies have played a part in holiday food traditions for thousands of years.
Savory or sweet, without doubt, they have stood the test of time.
Mince pies were introduced to England during the Crusades. Since the 13th century through the present day, it has been a holiday treat.
Originally made with meat, but today made with dried fruit and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg.
At one time, large displays of mince pies at the holiday table were seen as a status symbol in society. Visitors would judge your wealth on how large and elaborate your offering was.
Today, children in England leave out a drink and some mince pies for Father Christmas to taste as a thank you. But most importantly, to energize him on his Christmas Eve travels.
Any visit to the UK at Christmastime and mince pies will be quite easy to find.
Additionally, your traditional holiday meal will most likely end with a Christmas pudding.
The pudding is another centuries-old tradition in the UK.
Originally made as a porridge, Christmas Pudding has naturally evolved and is currently made with bread, fruit, nuts, eggs, and sugar.
Made days in advance, the ingredients are combined then steamed in a dish or mold for as long as 8 hours. On the day of, it is once again steamed for 2 hours before serving.
Often a coin or token is hidden within the pudding and the person who finds it is given a gift.
Long and Leisurely Holiday Dining
Both Italians and the French devote long hours to consuming a Christmas meal. Savoring the food along with time spent with family.
The French eat only the best seafood of oysters and langoustines.
They also indulge in a rich pate of Foie Gras.
French Christmas meals end with a traditional Yule Log, the Buche de Noel, literally the branch of Christmas.
It is a rolled cake coated in icing and decorated like a wooden log.
Sometimes it is embellished with candy mushrooms or other woodland-themed pieces.
On Christmas Eve, Italians fast all day and then break their fast with the Feast of the 7 Fishes before heading out to attend a midnight mass at church.
Originating in Sicily, it has become a loved custom of Italian Americans and is practiced more in the U.S. than in Italy today.
All types of seafood such as calamari, shrimp, and cod are used.
Christmas Day is a long day of multiple courses and eating.
The holiday meal may consist of antipasti, lasagna, beef, and veal.
Italian holidays always include Pannetone, a dome-shaped sweet, fluffy bread made with raisins and candied orange.
It is often eaten at breakfast and dipped in coffee.
Another way is to enjoy panettone later in the day with a glass of sweet wine such as Moscato.
If you are in Italy to Celebrate the New Year you may be feasting on lentils.
A traditional holiday food to represent money and prosperity.
Holiday Food in the Snow
Are you are traveling to where it is cold in hopes of a White Christmas?
In that case, these locations may just be right for you.
When partaking in the ‘Yule Meal” in Iceland you will be eating roasted, smoked lamb called Hangikjot. This traditional favorite has been served at Christmas for hundreds of years.
Icelandic lamb is the pride of the country. To find out why or to read more about Iceland’s culinary treats click here.
You will also eat bread made of thin layers of dough and then delicately cut into shapes. This holiday food is called Laufabraud, or Leaf Bread.
In Sweden, people look forward to the Christmas Eve buffet called Julbord.
The tables are filled with hot and cold holiday food that includes meatballs, herring, ham, cheeses, and pickles.
Christmas side dishes include hot kale, cabbage, and vegetable casseroles.
Christians in Poland will fast all day on December 24th then in the evening start their meal with a sweet bread called babka.
The meal will consist of 12 dishes and there will be an extra place setting for anyone who may show up.
Traditional Polish holiday foods will include perogies, Barszsz, (beetroot soup) and Golabki (stuffed cabbage rolls).
Looking for Christmas BBQ?
Are you looking for a warm place to celebrate Christmas?
Here are some locations where the sun will keep you cozy.
Argentina’s temperature will most likely be hovering around 80 degrees fahrenheit during Christmas Eve dinner.
As a result, Argentinians are very likely to have their festivities outside. Turkey, pork, and even goat may be on the grill.
A traditional dish not to miss would be Vitel Tone, veal covered in a tuna sauce.
I spent one gorgeous Christmas morning sitting on a local beach in Old San Juan.
We made a point to feast on some Lechon Asado (pork) and tried some pasteles which is meat wrapped and cooked in banana leaves.
Don’t forget to taste the delicious milky rum drink called Coquito.
Another warm place to spend Christmas day is South Africa.
A summertime Braai (bbq) will surely happen with ham, meats, and seafood to grill.
The favored holiday dessert is pavlova. A light, sweet treat made with meringue and fresh fruit.
Let Them Eat Cake!
Cake is always a good idea and it is a big part of many holiday food traditions.
Chances are just about anywhere you travel during the holidays that cake will be a part of the celebration.
If you spend December 25th in Ireland, expect to receive your own little Christmas cake.
Historically, each member of the family would be given their own little cake baked with caraway seeds.
Today it is more likely to be filled with fruit, marzipan, or icing and yes everyone still gets their own individual one.
Peruvians are also sharing cake at Christmastime. Pannetone is abundant, not shared with the family necessarily, but instead given to the poor and less fortunate.
Hot, spiced chocolate for drinking is also served with the cake for weeks leading up to Christmas Day.
Although a very small percentage of the Japanese population is Christian, that doesn’t stop them from eating cake.
It is a fun custom for people in Japan to eat a light sponge cake with cream and strawberries called “Christmas Cake”.
Christmastime is thought of as a season of goodwill almost in a romantic way and so couples will go out to dinner.
Surprisingly, the traditional Christmas food in Japan is KFC!
Traveling During Hanukkah?
The celebration of Hanukah and Christmas usually fall very near to each other.
If they do not overlap, most of my Jewish friends in the United States celebrate Christmas by eating Chinese takeout and going to the movies.
If you are traveling during the Channukah season in Israel you will want to eat Latkes. Fried potato pancakes that are a classic holiday food.
Don’t forget to start your day or end the meal with Sufganiyot. Yummy fried jelly donuts.
Unique Holiday Food Traditions
A unique holiday food custom that does not involve eating, but rather carving, takes place every December 23rd in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Giant radishes are carved and displayed for what is known as Noche de Rabanos, or Night of the Radishes.
Most of the carvings are of the Nativity but the designs vary greatly.
This festival is one of a kind and a great excuse to travel to Mexico for the holidays.
It all started in 1897 as a way to draw people to the markets. Today over 10 tons of giant radishes are carved and the festival draws a big crowd to enjoy the sculptures, food, and music.
Nothing speaks to me more as iconic holiday food as the Christmas cookie.
Our family has been hosting an annual Cookie Day for over 20 years and we all look forward to it!
It involves every available Aunt, Uncle, and cousin and dozens upon dozens of cookies.
We gather early and after about 12 hours of mixing, spritzing, cutting, and baking we all go homes with multiple tins of confections for sharing.
We always bang out our favorite classics and try a few new varieties each year.
In Canada Christmas cookie swapping is a popular holiday activity. Mass cookie baking in many kitchens occurs for the purpose of exchanging and sharing.
In the Netherlands, families create Pepernoot which are cinnamon cookies that are cut into stars, trees, and animals to hang on the tree as decoration.
Holiday Food Travel
Important to remember is what makes these recipes special is their availability.
Many of these festive dishes and food traditions only happen for a short time, so traveling during the holiday season is necessary.
So if you are like me and like to plan your travel around the food you want to eat, then this list may help you decide where to spend the winter holidays.