From Brazilian rabanada to Norwegian gløgg – Festive food around the world

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I love food. I love talking about it, making it and eating it. I also love Christmas, so combine the two and you have my full attention. I’m from the UK, and I’ve only ever experienced one kind of Christmas: you know, stuffing, brussel sprouts, mince pies (not all at the same time)… But working in such an international company like busuu, I know that each country celebrates Christmas in its own way. So, I got chatting to a few of my friends here about Christmas in their country and what they like to gorge themselves on…

I’ve always dreamt of experiencing a magical, snowy, Scandinavian Christmas. Chatting to Kirsten (Head of Education) and Olivia (Acquisition Manager) about Christmas in Norway, I learnt that gingerbread houses are a huge thing there. Families build some pretty impressive, intricate structures out of gingerbread and decorate them with sweets and icing. In fact, cake in general is a must for the festive period in Norway. Some families make 12 – one for each day of Christmas! And why not glugg on some gløgg (mulled wine) while you’re doing all that baking!?

The main event is Christmas Eve, and whilst some families eat seafood and fish for their Christmas dinner, the two typical dishes are ribbe (roasted pork belly) and pinnekjøtt (dried lamb cutlets). Pudding is risgrøt, which is essentially porridge with lots of butter, sugar and cinnamon (all the best things).

A Norwegian gingerbread house

Sonia, one of our data analysts, spends Christmas in Singapore, and her family have some great foody traditions! The Christmas day feast consists of devil’s curry and roti jala. “What is that?”, I hear you ask. Devil’s curry is a hearty, spicy curry flavoured with candlenuts, galangal and vinegar, which is popular around the festive season. They eat it with roti jala, which is like lacey pancakes, made by “scribbling” pancake batter into a pan.

Devil’s curry

Germany is definitely associated with Christmassy feelings. It’s hard to think about Christmas without thinking of sipping Glühwein (mulled wine) at a German Christmas market. But there is more to a German Christmas than Bratwurst and gingerbread… Everyone I spoke to about Christmas in Germany told me a slightly different story about what they like to eat. Some eat Wiener Würstchen (frankfurters) with potato salad or Kassler (gammon) with Sauerkraut; some eat goose, duck or steak with Klöße (potato dumplings), red cabbage and brussel sprouts; some eat fondue or raclette! And as if that wasn’t enough, don’t forget to leave room for Stollen! I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind spending my next Christmas in Germany…

Glühwein (mulled wine)

Mateusz, our data analyst from Poland, told me about a family tradition that happens just before they eat Christmas dinner. They eat opłatek (rice paper or wafer). The oldest person at the table stands up, says a few words, and passes it around so that everyone has a piece. Then each person shares their piece with every other person, whilst also taking a bit of theirs.

For the meal itself, it’s tradition for families to prepare twelve (yes, twelve!) dishes. One of the most popular is carp, but Mateusz’s favourite is barszcz czerwony z uszkami. If you’re like me and can’t speak / read Polish, all you need to know is that it’s a kind of beetroot soup with dumplings, which tastes even better than it looks!

Barszcz czerwony z uszkami (Beetroot soup with dumplings)

In Brazil, people celebrate Christmas in summer, so you’d think that the food is a little different from your classic roast turkey and stuffing…

Well, Juliana, our Portuguese Language Expert told me that whilst different regions have their own traditions when it comes to Christmas food, perhaps surprisingly turkey is the main traditional meal in Brazil, served with arroz de Natal (Christmas rice, often made with raisins). However, in Juliana’s family, it’s hog roast on the menu; they cook a whole pig, with an apple in its mouth and eat it with various cold salads; a popular one is chicken (yep, more meat) and apricot. On Christmas morning, they eat rabanada, which is like a more sugary, cinnamony version of French toast, almost like a delayed dessert after the feast the night before. 

According to Katya, our expert on all things Russian, in Russia, the main festive celebration happens at New Year. Christmas is a more low-key affair. However, I think, of all the festive celebrations around the world I’ve learnt about, Russian New Year is currently my favourite. Why? Well, in Russia they make a variety of things for their New Year’s party, one of them being this…

Селёдка под шубой (Herring under fur coat)

LOOK AT IT! Is that not the coolest-looking plate of food you’ve ever seen!? It’s called Селёдка под шубой (herring under fur coat) which consists of herring, potatoes, beetroot and other vegetables, layered on top of one another and shaped and decorated into masterpieces like this one! Not everyone goes quite this far, but it is custom to make it look as impressive as possible to show off your mad kitchen skills. Incredible.

What an amazing array of foody traditions! I don’t know about you, but it’s made me hungry! More than 160 countries around the world celebrate Christmas, and one thing is for sure: however and wherever you celebrate Christmas, it seems like food is always at the centre. Maybe some of these tasty treats have tickled your taste buds; maybe you’ll have a go at making some yourself… or maybe you know another (even more!) interesting dish that you want to share with us. 

Wherever you are this Christmas, eat, drink and be merry! Happy Christmas! 

Harriet is busuu’s Senior English Language Expert. She is from a little village near Stratford-upon-Avon, England, and studied French and Spanish at university in Southampton. Then she went to live in France where she started teaching English. She loves cooking and eating food from different cuisines and singing with her choir.