Holiday Dinner Tables All Around the World
By Sherri Eisenberg | Published on December 01, 2021
The holiday dinner table may look different depending on where you are in the world, but one thing remains true: Holiday food brings people together. Many famous holiday dishes from around the world can often tell a story of culture, family, and tradition. Not to mention nostalgic memories. From baking your grandmother's tried-and-true recipe to passing the mashed potatoes, unforgettable experiences are made when we share the joy of eating with the people we love especially when sharing some of the best food around the world for the holidays.
This decadent Caribbean treat is served at weddings and other celebrations, but it is most associated with Christmas. Filled with dried fruit soaked in local rum, Christmas black cake is then brushed with a syrup made with rum and Caribbean spices like nutmeg. The syrup keeps it moist and dense, and the unique blend of spices separates it from similar Christmas fruit cakes you might find in, say, Australia. The sugar in this recipe is caramelized longer than usual, resulting in a dark-colored cake — hence the name.
While black cake is most associated with Jamaica black Christmas cake, you can actually find it — served in small boozy slices or as a whole cake wrapped in plastic to take home — all over the region during the holidays, from Barbados to Nevis and St. John. In my experience, it packs a pleasing but boozier punch than the yellow rum cakes you find year-round.
In Mexico, these labor-intensive little bundles — which date back thousands of years — are served throughout the holiday season, starting in early December and celebrated all the way through February 2 on el Día de la Candelaria. As a traditional holiday dish, tamales are savory treats made of cornmeal whipped with lard (yes, lard) and stuffed with meat or vegetables. They are then wrapped in a corn husk and steamed. Making tamales is a true team effort as many Mexican families start early in the morning, designating jobs for each member. First comes preparing the dough, then cooking the filling and soaking the corn husks. Finally, the fun part, putting it all together! It's a repetitive task, but also a great way to work together with family during the holidays and build memories and a meaningful bond, as tips and tricks are passed down from generation to generation.
Take it from me: If you're in a cruise port in Mexico who’s local area specializes in tamales, go to your restaurant — or food cart — of choice first thing in the morning, as I've found this holiday dish essential is sure to sell out quickly.
Looking for holiday meal idea for the morning? Sunrise on Christmas in Honduras starts with torrejas, an eggy French toast served with panela syrup. This time-honored tradition is popular as a way to use leftover brioche, perhaps from the holiday dinner the night before. Many variations exist depending on where in Latin America you are, and the bread can either be soaked in milk, syrup, or sometimes wine.
Honduras is a majority Catholic country, so they take their Christmas traditions seriously and time spent with family is most important. Christmas Eve is often punctuated by fireworks, so prepare to celebrate into the night, and even enjoy some torrejas for dessert.
In Colombia, the Christmas season begins December 7 with the Day of Candles, but buñuelos — a round fritter made of cassava flour, cheese, cornstarch and dusted with powdered sugar — is one of the best holiday dishes to save for Christmas morning. These savory balls likely originated in Spain. In Colombia, they're paired with hot cocoa or coffee for breakfast and are often also served with a sweet custard called natilla for the perfect blend of salt, warm cheese, cold creamy custard, and cinnamon.
Buñuelos are enjoyed year-round in Colombia, but during the holidays, you can order them by the basket full in almost any bakery you wander into.
Mince pies date back to the Middle Ages, when it was thought that eating them each of the 12 nights of Christmas would bring you good luck in the new year. Today, they're as popular as ever. So popular as a holiday food, in fact, Brits have been predicted to eat nearly 800 million mince pies during the season.
These sweet little pastries filled with a spiced dried fruit mixture are so beloved that in some parts of the country individuals consume as many as 20 each year during the holidays. They're less popular in some areas, though. In Southampton and Glasgow, for example, they may be a bit harder to track down without researching the local eateries.
In France, one sure sign Christmas is coming is the arrival of these gorgeously constructed confections in patisserie windows. The tradition nods to a medieval one, when it was said that if your Christmas log burned for a minimum of three days, you would have good luck all year long. Constructed of rolled chocolate cake filled with whipped cream and slathered in chocolate frosting that is then meticulously sculpted to look like bark, they're often decorated with precious meringue mushrooms and marzipan leaves and dusted with powdered sugar to look like they have been kissed by snow flurries.
These holiday food beauties take some creative skill and can take multiple days to make. Since they are so intricate, they are typically put on display right in the center of the gathering table, and cutting into them is a ceremony in itself. I learned that when you walk into a shop, instead of choosing the most elaborate cake, you should ask which ones were baked that day so you're sure to get the freshest cake available.
While most Italian Christmas foods include fish, as an Italian-American Catholic tradition, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is something you won't find in Italy. However, eating panettone during Christmas season is popular in both Italian-American communities and in Italy itself. This dome-shaped, sweet, eggy bread — which dates back to the Roman Empire — is cured and often studded with nuts, chocolate, or fruit such as raisins or candied orange peel.
While the bread originated in Milan, you can now find it in bakeries all over Italy during the 10 days of Christmas celebrations. If you bring some home, you'll find it makes for a great post-vacation French toast. Just remember: Not all versions are created equal, so be sure to read the packaging to compare flavors.
Unlike traditional Christmas pudding — which is filled with dried fruits and suet and steamed — Malva pudding is a spongy dessert with a caramelized exterior and soft interior. Brought to South Africa by Dutch colonists, it's made with apricot jam so, while it may have some overlapping ingredients with Caribbean fruit cake, it has a flavor all its own.
Malva holiday pudding is a special treat during the annual season because in South Africa, cake is not an everyday indulgence like it can be in the United States. While the flavors feel homespun, you can often find this on restaurant menus around the holidays where it is topped with crème anglaise.
While coconut-dusted Lamington cakes are the dessert most associated with Australia, this whipped cream and fruit-topped dessert made out of meringue is the one most often set out on the Christmas table both here and in New Zealand. Named after the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who visited Australia in 1926, the dessert is as light as Pavlova was on her feet.
Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, it is often a berry lover's dream and may also be decorated with slices of kiwi fruit for a red-and-green effect. It also takes the shape of a wreath at Christmas time and can be used as a decorative piece. Since Christmas falls during the summer season in Australia, traditions include outdoor activities such as surfing or beach trips, followed by a family meal of shrimp and other seafood, which is often prepared on the grill or, as it's known here, "the barbie."