KFC, sheep’s head or seabird in a sealskin: festive culinary traditions from around the world


It’s the season here in New Zealand to start cleaning up last summer’s barbecue and prepare for arguments over who’s making the pavlova for Christmas Day.

As a member of the Northern Hemisphere, I have always found Christmas Day jandals and the beach here a bit odd, even after living in New Zealand for almost two decades.

Coming from Ireland, I was used to unusually heavy afternoon meals full of turkey and sweet potatoes, and desserts of Christmas puddings and trifles, before wallowing in front of the TV, slowly digesting my carbs. and my fat while watching soap omnibuses and any party movie was on (for those of a younger generation, that was life before streaming).

Many countries around the world have quite a different take on what to do and eat this Christmas, so here’s a look at some of the world’s most unique festive foods.

KFC is very popular in Japan at Christmas.

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KFC is very popular in Japan at Christmas.

READ MORE:
* Why Japan is obsessed with KFC at Christmas
* Santa Claus rides a camel? How the rest of the world celebrates the holidays
* Christmas parties around the world

Japan – KFC Bucket

Starting with the one that is probably closest to the heart and stomach of Kiwis: the KFC bucket. New Zealanders have loved crispy, salty delicacies since the chain opened here in 1971.

But while the obsession here lasts year round, in Japan it reaches a whole new level on Christmas Day. Restaurants can be booked months in advance and the reason why Japan has this original tradition is due to very smart marketing.

Queues form early at a KFC restaurant in Tokyo, Japan.  The chain launched its first Christmas campaign in December 1974 and continues to do so annually at all of its outlets nationwide.

Yuichi Yamazaki / Getty Images

Queues form early at a KFC restaurant in Tokyo, Japan. The chain launched its first Christmas campaign in December 1974 and continues to do so annually at all of its outlets nationwide.

KFC, or Kentucky Fried Chicken at the time, was one of the country’s first fast food chains in the 1970s. He noticed that few in the country had Christmas traditions, as only a tiny fraction of the population identified as a Christian, so KFC launched the “Kentucky for Christmas” campaign and hasn’t looked back since.

Years of drumming the message in Japanese television advertising and in newspapers means queues around the block on Christmas Eve.

Meals in Lithuania are meatless and in many cases dairy free.

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Meals in Lithuania are meatless and in many cases dairy free.

Lithuania – 12 dishes without meat and dairy products

While a Christmas day in New Zealand can be a meat festival, it is quite the opposite in Lithuania.

Here on Christmas Eve, or Kūčios, is the big day, and it’s a big family celebration. The 12 meals are said to represent the apostles of Jesus, although for some it means the months of the year. Some people fast all day while preparing meals.

The dishes are meatless, and in many cases dairy-free and also cold. Expect plenty of fish dishes including herring, pike, and salmon, as well as soup and dumplings. A hard sweet dough made from leavened dough and poppy seeds called kūčiukai is also a must.

Families also prepare an extra plate for loved ones who have died during the year or who were unable to prepare the meal.

Mopane worms are a nutritious sting.

Jeremy Jowell / Majority World / Un / Getty Images

Mopane worms are a nutritious sting.

South Africa – Fried caterpillars

This one might be a little harder to digest, but some South Africans love nothing more than a nutritious Emperor’s caterpillar for Christmas.

The insects are harvested just before the holiday season and are typically sun-dried or deep-fried and eaten throughout Christmas. They say these caterpillars bring you luck.

Malva Pudding or Lekker Pudding is probably a South African Christmas dish that can be a bit tastier. It has a caramelized spongy texture and is usually served with custard or ice cream.

Traditionally made puto bumbong is quite a laborious process.

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Traditionally made puto bumbong is quite a laborious process.

Philippines – Purple rice

One dish that immediately stands out is the eye-catching purple-hued puto bumbong, a Christmas favorite in the Philippines.

Translated as steamed sticky rice (puto) which is cooked in bamboo (bumbong), this sweet treat is served with butter, sugar and coconut in banana leaves. Traditionally made puto bumbong is a fairly laborious process of soaking the variety of rice called pirurutong overnight before pushing it through bamboo tubes and then inserting it into steamers.

Rice nowadays is usually dyed purple and is sold by street vendors to worshipers who leave mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Provence celebrates The Thirteen Christmas Desserts, or the 13 Christmas desserts.

iamericat / wikimedia commons

Provence celebrates The Thirteen Christmas Desserts, or the 13 Christmas desserts.

France – 13 desserts

Never one to fear gastronomic overload, a region of France has taken a sweet tooth to a whole new level.

The inhabitants of the towns and villages of Provence celebrate Les Treize Desserts de Noël, or the 13 Christmas desserts. Each is supposed to represent Jesus and his 12 apostles. Everyone has to try everything at least once, but luckily not in one session as it takes place over a few days.

Now, before you think it’s just a heart attack, many desserts are actually quite healthy with fresh fruit, dates, and nuts included. Others like the Yule log or the Yule log, fried pastries are undoubtedly less so.

The little penguin becomes quite a unique dish.

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The little penguin becomes quite a unique dish.

Greenland – Seabirds wrapped in sealskin

So I hope you don’t eat during this one. To describe Kiviak as “unique” is an understatement.

This Greenland Inuit delicacy sees up to 500 little penguins stuffed tightly into the skin of a seal which is then buried for months and left to ferment. It is then unearthed on important family occasions such as birthdays and weddings, but particularly at Christmas.

Nothing goes to waste because all the parts of the bird are consumed, the beaks and everything. Yum.

A Russian favorite is a layered salad with herring, beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, mayonnaise, and eggs.

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A Russian favorite is a layered salad with herring, beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, mayonnaise, and eggs.

Russia – Herring under a fur coat

Seliodka pod Shuboi, or “Herring under a fur coat” or simply “dressed herring” is an extravagant salad made with fish mixed with a multitude of boiled vegetables, grated cooked beets, heaps of mayonnaise, and sometimes topped with eggs. grated hard.

Traditionally eaten on New Years rather than Christmas, it is also popular in a number of other countries of the former USSR, including Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Smalahove, aka sheep's head, is a Norwegian Christmas culinary tradition.

PerPlex / wikimedia commons

Smalahove, aka sheep’s head, is a Norwegian Christmas culinary tradition.

Norway – Sheep’s head

Those people who gag when they are served prawns with their heads on it because they don’t want their food to “look at them” will probably have to give this Norwegian entry a big place on the list.

The smalahove is a salted mutton head, smoked then steamed. Traditionally, guests are given half a head and are served with mashed potatoes and rutabagas. If you cook it properly, you can eat just about anything on your plate, as local chef and expert Ivar Løne says.

“Only the bones and a quantity of leftovers the size of a matchbox should be left on the plate,” Løne said. Visit Norway. Apparently the jaw is the “softer” part. So now you know.