05 UNIQUE CHRISTMAS FOODS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
In the U.S., Christmas dinner has a pretty reliable menu: roast ham, beef or turkey, potatoes, roasted vegetables, cranberry sauce, plus some fruit pies and sugar cookies for dessert. But come to the table outside of North America and you'll likely find a very different spread. As Christianity spread across the globe, different cultures integrated Christmas into their existing traditions to create some unique holiday dishes.
1. South Africa – Fried worms (Mopane)
For some in South Africa, the traditional Christmas feast includes a wriggly delicacy: fried Emperor Moth caterpillars. The Mopane “worm” is actually the caterpillar of the Gonimbrasia belina species. It is an important protein source in parts of the African content, and its harvest season tends to line up with Christmas. While most of the harvest will be dried or otherwise preserved for the winter, fresh specimens are fried right up for the holidays. Mopane has a dual reputation in many places, with some cherishing it as a delicacy and others dismissing it as bush meat.
2. Japan – Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)
Christian holidays aren't actually celebrated in most of Japan (the population is largely Shinto or Buddhist) but, thanks to an old advertising campaign, Japanese KFC franchises do some of their best business on December 25. Many restaurants begin taking reservation weeks in advance, and some even offer expensive packages complete with table service and alcohol. Expats craving a taste of home for holidays are unlikely to find a Christmas turkey, but they can always stop by KFC for a bucket of fried bird -- or at least watch this video so they know what they're missing.
3. Greenland – Raw blubber (Mattak) and Fermented birds (Kiviak)
Greenlanders mark the day with traditional Inuit dishes rarely seen outside the arctic. Mattak (pictured here) is raw whale skin (usually Bowhead, though beluga and narwhal are also used) diced or serrated before serving. Kiviak isn’t served totally raw, but its method of preparation is also unusual. First, a seal skin is hollowed out to make room for something like 500 auks, a seabird that looks similar to a small penguin. The auks, feathers and all, are stuffed into the seal’s body, which is then sewn up and sealed with grease. After seven months of fermentation, the birds are removed and served up straight from the seal for a very special feast.
4. Norway – Roasted lamb head (Smalahove)
Lamb is a pretty common protein, eaten in cultures from Greece to Australia to the United States. But in Norway, a special holiday dish skips the usual shank or rack of ribs and instead serves up the animal’s head. Smalahove is a whole sheep’s head, salted and dried, smoked, boiled or steamed as a holiday dish. The skin and fleece are always removed, but some leave the brains inside to cook before frying or eating with a spoon. As with a few dishes on this list, smalahove was historically eaten by the poor, who couldn’t afford to waste their meat, but has over time become known as a delicacy and sought out by tourists.
5. Sweden – Fish-potato gratin (Janssons frestelse)
This dish is a potato gratin made with pickled anchovies and named after a Swedish opera singer. No, wait -- it’s made with another fish, called sprats, and the name was made up by a woman and the chef she hired for a society dinner, who decided to name an impromptu dish after a popular film. Consensus seems to be that the original recipe called for sprats, but the Swedish word for that, “anjovis” was mistranslated as “anchovies” by English-speaking cooks; a search for the recipe these days will include anchovies, sprats or small herrings pretty interchangeably. An easy enough explanation, and far less confusing than the matter of how the dish got its name. Either way, “Jansson’s temptation” has become a Christmas favorite for Swedes and amateur Swedish cooks around the world.