(CNN) — Christmas is celebrated in many ways in many corners of the world, and the cuisine that marks the holiday is as diverse as the people who celebrate it.
Food traditions are comforting at a time when many of us have had another very difficult pandemic year. And Christmas dishes are particularly special in many homes.
Typical Christmas food can be different depending on the destination, but the idea of feasting, either the same day or the night before, is not.
Here we show you how the inhabitants of seven countries celebrate Christmas through gastronomy. We asked hospitality experts about these traditions, and they shared their perspective on what is typical for them, as well as their families and friends.
The French enjoy their hearty Christmas meal on December 24, says François Payard, the famed pastry chef who grew up in Nice and now lives in New York.
The French sit down to dinner around 8pm, he says, and savor a first course of seafood. That usually means a lobster thermidor (a baked dish of cooked crustacean mixed with mustard, egg yolks and brandy) or some prawns.
This is followed by a large capon (a male chicken renowned for its tenderness) and an assortment of garnishes including mashed potatoes and butter-sautéed chestnuts smothered in sage. “Chestnuts are a fixture in any holiday meal for us,” says Payard.
Dessert, the grand finale, is a Christmas log, or bûche de Noël, the French version of a Christmas cake. Two are often served, one chocolate and one chestnut. To drink, the best wine you can get, usually a Burgundy red that isn’t too full-bodied for capon.
On Christmas Day, the French savor a hearty brunch that can include creamy scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, and toast. The meal ends with an assortment of cheeses like Brie, Gruyere and Munster, Payard says.
As in France, the Italians celebrate Christmas with their greatest display on the eve of the big day. Luca Finardi, general manager of Milan’s Mandarin Oriental, says locals often attend midnight mass and enjoy a sumptuous meal before going to church.
Smoked salmon with butter crostini or a smoked salted cod is the precursor to the main meal. Italians in coastal areas like the Amalfi Coast can start with a crudo, like sea bass with herbs and sea salt, Finardi says.
The next dish is tortellini in brodo (stuffed pasta bathed in a hot chicken broth and Parmesan cheese), which must come from the homonymous region of Italy.
For the main meal, Northern Italians tend to eat stuffed turkey, while those in coastal areas can tuck into a large baked sea bass surrounded by potatoes and roasted vegetables.
“Panettone, a typical sweet bread, is the must-have item anywhere,” says Finardi. “The secret is to only heat it for a few minutes.” Spumante, a sparkling wine, is the drink of choice.
As for the famous Italian Christmas meal of the Banquet of the Seven Fishes, Finardi says it’s mostly confined to the Campania region, which includes the Amalfi Coast and Naples.
Christmas Day is more about connecting with family and less about food, Finardi says. “We eat the leftovers and recover from the day before.”
england and christmas
The British don’t usually indulge in their big Christmas meal on Christmas Eve. “The 24th is for cooking with our families and going to the local pub for a pint,” Nicola Butler, owner of London-based luxury travel company NoteWorthy, says of Christmas in non-pandemic times.
The real festivities begin on Christmas morning with a glass of champagne and a breakfast of smoked salmon and chunks of mince, he says. That same day, following the broadcast of the Queen’s annual Christmas speech, it is time for dinner.
That means a turkey or roast beef and a host of sides like roasted parsnips and carrots, buttered peas and Brussels sprouts. Some families include Yorkshire pudding, a savory baked product made from flour, eggs, and milk that is made from leftover meat.
Dessert is Christmas pudding, which is actually a thick, dark cake made with dried fruit, spices and usually a dash of brandy. “We have a lot of wine to go with the food,” Butler says.
Maria Loi, the celebrity Greek chef, says the country’s Christmas celebrations begin on Christmas Eve around 7pm.
“Families sit around the fireplace and eat a special wheat bread that is only made at Christmas,” he says. “In some homes, pork sausages are also eaten. It is the only [ocasión] in which the Greeks eat pork, because this meat is not common in our kitchen”.
After attending a morning communion on Christmas Day, Greeks come home for an all-day food festival, Loi says.
First up are the homemade honey biscuits with walnuts or almonds, followed by the chicken orzo soup. A few hours later, a roast chicken stuffed with chestnuts or variations of grilled or braised pork dishes are eaten. The main course is accompanied by side dishes such as sautéed wild greens, thinly shredded romaine lettuce with scallions and feta, and roasted lemon potatoes.
Dessert is light and can be baked apples with honey and walnuts or Greek yogurt covered in honey. To drink, Loi says that the Greeks prefer red wine.
Christmas meal in Mexico
Mexicans kick off the Christmas festivities on December 24, according to Pablo Carmona and Josh Kremer, co-owners of Hoteles Paradero, which is opening a location in Todos Santos, on the country’s west coast.
“Families start by breaking a piñata that is filled with all kinds of locally made chile and tamarind flavored candies,” says Kremer. Dinner normally follows between 7 and 10 pm.
The meal begins with pozole, a stew with large grains of corn and pork or beef that is accompanied by up to 20 seasonings, including parsley, cilantro, chili peppers, and assorted cheeses.
In a nod to the American influence in Mexico, the main dish, at least for Carmona and Kremer, is a turkey with all the trimmings, like mashed potatoes and green beans.
The final sweet is usually a creamy flan with strawberries and cream. But no meal is complete without tequilas and mezcals to wash it down.
On the 25th, many Mexicans heat up the leftovers from the night before. “We’re tired and we don’t want to bother cooking,” says Carmona.
Many Costa Ricans celebrate Christmas with a midnight extravaganza, says Leo Ghitis, owner of the Nayara hotels in the country’s northern highlands. “We go to midnight mass and come home and have a big meal at 2 in the morning,” he says.
Homemade tamales, stuffed with chicken or pork or vegetables and cheese, are the first course. Then, arroz con pollo, Costa Rica’s national dish made with green beans, peas, carrots, saffron, cilantro, and a whole chicken in pieces.
The third course is an assortment of grilled proteins. Costa Ricans living on the coast have shellfish such as marlin, tuna, dorado, prawns, and lobster, while inlanders eat beef, pork, and chicken. The sides are the same for both: rice with black beans, boiled palm fruit with sour cream, and hearts of palm salad with avocado.
The dessert is usually a coconut flan and rice pudding, that is, rice pudding, sugar and cinnamon.
“We capped off the meal with lots of rum punch and eggnog and didn’t finish until 4 or 5 in the morning,” says Ghitis.
Christmas Day itself is all about finishing up leftovers and hitting the streets for outdoor parties, he says.
Christmas food in the Bahamas
Christmas Day is the big foodie celebration for Bahamians, says Vonya Ifill, director of talent and culture at Rosewood Baha Mar. Locals throw in a big dinner that includes turkey, ham, macaroni and cheese, peas, and rice pudding with coconut milk. and potato salad.
“We do this feast at night and then at midnight we go out to celebrate Boxing Day with a Junkanoo Festival,” he says. “After dancing and parading all night and into the early morning, we end the party with a boiled fish or fish stew.”
Seafood, he says, is always accompanied by potato bread or Johnny Cake, a cornmeal flatbread.