From pigeon pie and rooster stew to rice custard and rum-soaked loaves, here are 5 holiday foods from around the world: these sweet and savoury seasonal specialties will help make the season bright, wherever you are.
This savoury pastry must be made with at least 50% rye flour to officially be a pasty. It’s filled with savoury rice custard around which the edges are crimped, leaving the top partly open. It’s then baked then basted in butter and served topped with mashed hard-boiled eggs and more melted butter.
History: These pasties are essentially Finnish but only came to the country after World War Two. At that time, the pasties’ originators – the Karelians – fled their homeland after it was ceded to Russia, and the Finnish people welcomed 400,000 immigrants into their houses to help the newcomers. Before, these savoury snacks were found throughout the Russian empire. The traditional filling was barley custard, but now rice is the most popular ingredient, with potatoes, carrots or even berries as common variations.
Get it: Konditoria Hopia, Pohjoinen Hesperiankatu 9, Helsinki, Finland
There are two traditional versions of this French Canadian meat pie. One combines ground pork or veal with cloves and dried savoury in a flaky pastry, while the other – the deep-dish version – calls for cubes of pork, beef, turkey, veal, mutton or lamb with cinnamon, nutmeg and a stew-like assortment of vegetables.
History: Some say the name comes from a type of pigeon, a toure, which used to be abundant in the region and was added along with pork or another meat to the pie. Others contend it comes from the name of its baking dish. Though a Christmas mainstay, Quebeckers also enjoy the dish year-round. It’s often served with ketchup – though a more traditional accompaniment is pickled beets.
Get it: Any grocery store in the province of Quebec, but better is the homemade version at Le Coin Gourmand, 138 Atwater Ave., Montreal, Canada.
Ethiopian Doro Wat
This berbere-spiced chicken stew is a year-round specialty, but the Christmas version of the recipe calls for a rooster to be carved into 12 pieces to represent the 12 apostles. The slow-cooked dish is then served with 12 hard-boiled eggs on top of hula hoop-sized pieced of injera – a spongy, sour bread usually made from fermented teff. The cardamom-spiced butter and the cooking juices of the bird soak into the bread (and your fingers) as you wrap aromatic pieces around tender meat.
History: This dish traditionally breaks the 40 days of fasting – no meat, dairy, eggs, oil or wine – that lead up to Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas, or Genna, on Jan. 7.
Get it: Abyssinia restaurant, Brookside Grove, Nairobi, Kenya
This whole grain pudding combines slow-cooked wheat berries with poppy seeds, honey and nuts. It’s eaten throughout Eastern Europe and Russia and is similar to rice pudding, but at Christmas it usually comes at the beginning of the meal rather than the end. And while some versions call for milk and dried fruit, purists stick to the basics.
History: Kutya is traditionally served as the first of twelve vegetarian courses for Christmas Eve dinner (January 6th by the Julian calendar). It’s eaten either cold or warm. According to custom, a spoonful is thrown at the ceiling – the more grains that stick, the more prosperous the next year will be.
Get it: Nestor’s Bakery, 912 20th St. W., Saskatoon, SK
Caribbean Black Cake
Take a traditional British Christmas fruitcake and swap in molasses, rum and “browning” – caramelized sugar just this side of burnt – then drench it in more rum. The bittersweet molasses and caramel will give the cake its colour and rich treacle flavour, while the rum will add sweetness and island pride.
History: This Christmas cake is found throughout the Caribbean, with each island and each family having its own version. But the Trinidadian Naparima Girls’ High School Cookbook – the 1962 cookbook from the country’s most prestigious girl’s school – has the essentials: pounds of dried fruit soaked in rum and cherry brandy blended until thick and chunky and combined with allspice, lime zest and nutmeg-laced cake batter. The cake is eaten slice by thin slice over the course of the Christmas holidays, with more rum added each time the crust appears dry, making it both boozier and preserving the cake longer. If that sounds like a hangover waiting to happen, rum-free versions can also be made with sweet non-alcoholic red wine.
Get it: Taste the Tropics, 1839 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn, NY