Christmas dinner traditions from around the world — and where to find them in London

Dec 18, 2019

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Ever tire of the usual roast turkey with all the trimmings? According to a YouGov poll, 10 million turkeys are consumed on Christmas Day in the U.K. and probably a lot more in the lead up if you count office parties and all the festive sandwiches eaten during December.

It is said that the tradition of eating turkey began after Henry VIII started scoffing it at Christmas and it was also made popular by being referenced by Charlies Dickens in his book, “A Christmas Carol”.

However, turkey isn’t the food of choice for everyone — various countries have various culinary traditions from a bucket of fried chicken to salted cod to curried goat. Below, we show you different traditions around the globe and when you can sample a taste of the cuisine in London.

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Sweden

Swedes tend to celebrate similarly to other Nordic countries. The menu will be smörgåsbord-style, with a julbord — or buffet. Typical dishes include pickled herring, cold cuts of different meats, sausage and meatballs, red beet salad, cheese and cabbage.

Where you can enjoy: Lisa’s Kitchen, Notting Hill.

Swedish Christmas Buffet
(Photo courtesy of Lisa’s Bar & Kitchen)

Read more: Best spots for Christmas Day dining in London

Poland

Usually Christmas dinner (Wiglia) is a meat-free affair and happens on Christmas Eve. People break wafers with one another before tucking into dishes such as red beetroot borscht, dumplings, cabbage rolls, carp, herring, pierogi and braised sauerkraut. For dessert, there is usually gingerbread, poppyseed cake and dried fruit.

Where you can enjoy: Mamuska, Southbank.

Japan

Japan doesn’t have a traditional Christmas by any means. In 1970, the first KFC fast food chain opened in Nagoya where the owner sold a “‘party barrel”, which was similar to the traditional Christmas turkey dinner. This proved so popular that now orders have to be made two months in advance.

Where you can enjoy: There is a KFC on every high street but if you’re looking for a more gourmet fried chicken experience, try Clutch Chicken in east London’s Shoreditch.

(Photo by Getty Images/Taro Karibe/Contributor)
(Photo by Getty Images/Taro Karibe/Contributor)

Venezuela

Venezuelans have a tradition of serving hallaca, which takes a long time to prepare. It’s a meat dish that typically includes pork and chicken with raisins, olives, capers, onions and chilli folded together in corn dough and wrapped in a banana leaf.

Where you can enjoy: Arepa & Co, Haggerston and Bethnal Green.

Germany

Medieval tradition saw Germans fasting between St. Martin’s Day on November 11 and Christmas, breaking their fast with goose — leading to it being the traditional bird on Christmas Day. Goose is usually served with späzle (a type of pasta), knödel (dumplings) and red cabbage. Gingerbread cookies called lebkuchen are usually on offer for dessert.

Where you can enjoy: The Christmas markets in Southbank or feast on a German menu at Zeitgeist in Lambeth.

(Photo by Getty Images/Travelpix Ltd)
(Photo by Getty Images/Travelpix Ltd)

Read more: 12 festive afternoon teas yule love

Jamaica

Christmas dinner there consists of curried goat, stewed oxtail, fruits, meat and punch, which is all prepared the night before. Dessert can be rum cake with brandy custard.

Where you can enjoy: Ma Petite Jamaica, Camden or Turtle Bay, Brixton.

France

The French have similar dinner to the U.K. but also a traditional dessert called La Bûche de Noël, which is a version of the Yule Log. It looks like a real log and is made from sponge cake and chocolate buttercream.

Where you can enjoy: Boulangerie Jade, in four locations across southeast London.

Boulangerie Jade Christmas Yule Log
(Image courtesy of Boulangerie Jade)

Brazil

Brazilians have a feast on Christmas Eve, which continues into the early hours of Christmas Day. Bacalhau (salted cod) is usually served alongside a roasted chicken with dishes of palm heart stew and cassava salad.

Where you can enjoy: Tia Maria Bar and Kitchen, Vauxhall.

Italy

Italy is divided when it comes to traditions. Southern Italians and Italian-Americans have what is known as the “Feast of the Seven Fishes”. This is seven different fish dishes served in soups, pasta, starters and mains. Meanwhile, those from Piedmont region near Switzerland celebrate with pasta filled with meat, known as agnolotti, and people from Rome have a fish-based soup known as minestra di pesce. A common tradition shared throughout the whole of Italy is panettone — a sweet bread with sultana, raisins, candied peel and other dried fruits.

Where you can enjoy: Lina Stores Delicatessen and Restaurant, Soho.

(Photo by Getty Images/Peter Williams)
(Photo by Getty Images/Peter Williams)

Spain

Traditional Christmas meals in Spain consists of various tapas dishes, which include a seafood soup before a main course of fish and lamb. Turrón, a nougat mix of honey, sugar, egg whites and almonds, is a tradition for dessert.

Where you can enjoy: Ibérica Restaurants, Marylebone, Canary Wharf, Farringdon and Victoria.

Puerto Rico

Roast suckling pig is traditional in Puerto Rican households, which is slow cooked and served with a coconut rice pudding called tembelque, meat pastries called pasteles and coquito, which is similar to eggnog with a coconut taste.

Where you can enjoy: Papi’s Cucina delivers to central London.

Peru

Like Puerto Rico and many other South American countries, roast suckling pig is a big part of the Christmas feast. Peruvians also includes panetón, similar to the Italian bread and a spiced hot chocolate made with cloves and cinnamon, which is enjoyed at chocolatadas, an event where family and friends gather to drink hot chocolate.

Where you can enjoy: Lima, Fitzrovia and Covent Garden.

Philippines

Christmas dinner is known as Noche Buena in the Philippines. Celebration dishes include puto bumbong (a sweet black and white rice with shredded coconut), buko pandan (pandan-flavoured gelatin mixed with coconut and cream), lechón, which is spit-roast pig and quesa de bola (cheese balls), and lumpia (spring rolls).

Where you can enjoy: Romula, Kensington.

(Photo by Getty Images/Pacific Press/Contributor)
(Photo by Getty Images/Pacific Press/Contributor)

Greece

Many people fast before the Christmas meal in Greece. The first meal is usually avgolemonon which is a chicken and rice soup with egg yolk and lemon. Pork with cabbage is also on offer with Christopsomo (Christ’s Bread), baklaca and melomakarona for dessert — a cookie made with cinnamon, cloves and orange in syrup with nuts.

Where you can enjoy: Athenian Grocery, Bayswater.

Lithuania

Kūčios is Lithuanian Christmas dinner, which is served on Christmas Eve. Twelve dishes are usually presented to represent each apostle. The menu contains no meat or dairy and is cold. Typically on the menu are many herring salads, smoked eel, sauerkraut, mushrooms and kūčiukai (small dough cookies with poppyseeds).

Where you can enjoy: Smiltė, Leyton.

Bottom line

When you think of Christmas dinner, it doesn’t have to be turkey. London is a melting pot of cultures, so if you’re not hosting at home (and even if you are), take some inspiration from around the world ands gorge on something different.

Featured photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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