Figgy Pudding and 4 Other Holiday Foods From Around the World
'Tis the season to deep-fry caterpillars, hide a pickle in a tree, and order up some fast food fried chicken, right?
Around these parts, we've got more than just sugarplums on the brain. There are candy canes, latkes, gumbo, holiday ham, homemade cookies and lots and lots of pie. Cultures around the world develop unique traditional holiday foods over time (and you'll notice those who have immigrated to the US have brought a few of them along!). They may seem wacky to us, but they're certainly delicious, and worth gathering the family to feast on at least once a year. Please note: there's dozens of fun holiday food traditions, and the following are just a few of our favorites!
Christmas Pudding in England
Also called plum pudding or figgy pudding, this dessert isn't like the banana pudding you might picture on a Southern dinner table. It's more cake-like and consists of dried fruit, like raisins, prunes and figs, which are mixed with eggs and breadcrumbs and steamed on the stove for hours until cooked. It can be made weeks, months or even a year in advance before being served, and those who make it are supposed to make a wish or drop a coin into the batter for good luck in the new year (though that seems more like a very festive choking hazard in my opinion). In the Victorian Era, an innovative way to preserve meats and fruits during the winter involved combining them into mince pies, which would eventually evolve into the figgy pudding we sing carols about to this day!
Kentucky-Fried Chicken in Japan
As a brilliant marketing campaign turned nationwide tradition, over 3.5 million people in Japan will sit down to to a family meal of Kentucky-Fried Chicken on Christmas Day this year. They've all ordered weeks or months in advance, and the meal can include the classic red-and-white bucket as well as sides, cakes and wine. In 1974, Takeshi Okawara, manager of the first KFC in the country, dreamed up Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii or "Kentucky for Christmas" which launched a national phenomenon that still holds strong today. In fact, prior to the campaign, Japan didn't really have any winter holiday traditions; KFC sort of filled the space! Just as American families gather over turkey over Thanksgiving, Japanese families gather over crispy-fried chicken on Christmas. Sounds comfy!
The Christmas Pickle (or Weihnachtsgurke!) in Germany
Psych! This tradition is often attributed to the Germans, but there are several theories as to why this tradition exists and likely began in America. The practice is to hide the shiny green pickle ornament in the tree well enough for it to be camouflaged. On Christmas morning, the first to find it gets an extra treat! Over the last 20 years, this tradition has rocketed in popularity in US households, and German visitors have been introducing "weihnachtsgurke" to their homeland as well, though most admit they have never heard of the "Christmas pickle" before venturing Stateside. They are familiar with fruit and vegetable-shaped glass ornaments, however, which may be a clue as to how the myth got started. The small town of Lauscha in Thuringia, which is known for hand-blown glass ornaments, sent its first shipment to F.W. Woolworth (of Woolworth department store) in 1880, many of them in the shapes of fruits, nuts, and vegetables... and possibly a pickle or two! The origin story gets fuzzy from there, but Americans decorating their tree with the German-made ornaments may have assumed that the tradition came along with it.
Deep-Fried Caterpillars in South Africa
While many Americans find turkey, ham or perhaps a beef short rib as the centerpiece for their holiday dinner, South Africa takes advantage of the peak season for Mopane Worms, which happens to fall right in line with Christmas celebrations. These Emperor Moth caterpillars are a staple protein, usually dried and served year-round, but some are saved to be fried for the special occasion for the community to enjoy.
Christmas Carp in Poland
Tradition calls for twelve dishes - to symbolize twelve months of good luck - on the Christmas Eve dinner table in Poland, and at the centerpiece is a whole carp. What's most interesting about this tradition is that the carp is purchased alive a few days ahead of time, and kept alive until December 24th when a brave family member (usually the woman of the house) slaughters and prepares it for dinner. A scale or two is saved for good luck, typically stored in the wallet. Where do they keep the carp in the meantime? Why, the bathtub, of course! Polish people have been farming carp for over 700 years, even developing species of the fish that are certified high quality regional products. The culinary tradition became popular around the 1950s, after World War II ended. Nowadays, millions of Polish people enjoy carp for Christmas, though the bathtub tradition is waning in popularity; many take the prepared fish home from the market a day or so before dinner and find it delicious and fresh as ever.