Feast of Seven Fishes
During La Vigilia, or Christmas Eve, many Italians and American-Italians refrain from eating meat, and instead dine on the Feast of the Seven Fishes. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a feast of various seafood dishes (sometimes 7, sometimes 13) including marinated anchovies, salmon rillette, salt cod with tomatoes and capers, and even shrimp masala.
Much like the Feast of the Seven Fishes, réveillon takes place on Christmas Eve. The feast, popular in French-Catholic countries like Belgium, France, Brazil and the city New Orleans in the United States, begins immediately after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Traditional dishes include turkey with chestnuts, foie gras, and oyster bakes.
In New Orleans, it’s often washed down with Café Brulot–a warming combination of lemon peel, orange and cloves, flambéed in brandy and mixed with black coffee–to keep the feasters up throughout the night.
Pavo Trufado de Navidad
The Christmas dinner’s traditional main course in Spain, pava trufado de Navidad, represents true holiday decadence.
The basic version is richer than Scrooge McDuck: turkey strips are stuffed with minced pork, veal, ham and pork belly marinated in brandy and sherry and baked. But what takes it to the next level are the slices of fresh black truffles that round out the stuffing. Each bite tastes like the holidays.
Kentucky Fried Chicken
Sometime it’s hard to remember that grabbing fast food for a casual dinner is a uniquely American tradition. In Japan, for instance, it’s a luxury.
Perhaps it’s because of KFC’s marketing of the Christmas Party Bucket, or maybe it’s just chance, but families in Japan have been known to order buckets of KFC chicken two months in advance for a Christmas Eve feast–just in case.
Similar to a tamale, this holiday favorite is considered one of the oldest dishes in Venezuela, where it’s served during Christmas. A combination of meats–beef, pork, chicken or seafood–are mixed with capers, olives and raisins, stuffed into cornmeal dough, wrapped in plantain leaves and steamed or boiled.
Just like any traditional dish, you'll find local variations across Venezuela and throughout Latin America. In Puerto Rican hallaca, for example, the stuffing is mixed with mashed bananas and served in a banana leaf.
Bratäpfel mit Walnusseis
Every December, German markets fill with the warm, spicy smell of bratäpfel mit walnusseis, which translates, simply, to “baked apples with walnuts.” That’s exactly what it is: apples slowly roasted in butter and wine until soft and decadent.
They’re filled with raisons, walnuts, rum, and brown sugar and drizzled with warm honey for a cozy holiday treat.
One of the staples of Hanukkah is a simple but delicious dish, perfect for shaking off the winter’s cold: crispy potato latkes. Potatoes are grated and mixed with egg and flour (and, sometimes, garlic and onion). Then, they’re fried in little disc shapes.
The oil they’re cooked in is, for Ashkenazi Jews, symbolic of the oil that keeps the Second Temple of Israel lit in the Hanukkah.