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Beyond Christmas Hams: Holiday Mains From Around the World

Bacalhau (Salt Cod)
Olivia’s Cuisine

In the U.S., Christmas dinner tends to be synonymous with ham, turkey or rib roasts. But Christmas is celebrated throughout the world, with each unique culture adding its own festive flair. Whether it’s fast-food fried chicken or fancy filets of fish, there’s no end to the variety of holiday feast favorites!

South America

South America enjoys a warm holiday season. The tropical sunshine is perfect for seafood, sweet corn, and dishes best served cold.

Humitas: At first glance, many North Americans think these are tamales, but this traditional Mayan dish is a little different. Humitas are made with fresh corn rather than masa. And, rather than a spicy, meat-filled center, humitas are traditionally stuffed with mild seasonings and cheese. Top them with a traditional salsa for extra flavor and depth.

Get the Recipe: Laylita’s Recipes

Vitel Tone: Veal with tuna sauce is a traditional Italian dish. But, many Argentinian families have adopted it for their Christmas dinner. It consists of cold, thin-sliced veal, hard-boiled egg, and a sauce made using tuna fish. While it may seem like an odd dish to many North Americans, it’s a great way to stay festive and keep cool on Christmas in the southern hemisphere.

Get the Recipe: 196 Flavors

Bacalhau: Salted cod, or bacalhau in Portuguese, likes to show it’s face on Brazilian holidays. This dish is soaked overnight to remove the excess salt, rolled into balls, and then deep-fried before being added to the Christmas feast.

Get the Recipe: Olivia’s Cuisine


mincemeat pie

A lot of Europe serves dishes that are familiar to American palettes. Many serve turkey, ham, or a standing rib roast. But, much of the east and the far north have retained customs that are slightly less recognizable.

Fried Carp: Austria, the Czech Republic, and even parts of France all opt to include fried carp in their holiday feasts. In Czech, many choose to buy the carp alive a few days before Christmas. They keep the fish in their bathtub to help cleanse it, which must come as quite the surprise for any overnight guests unfamiliar with the custom!

Get the Recipe: Cooking Channel TV

Hanjikjot: This Icelandic dish directly translates to “hung meat.” While it was traditionally horse meat, many now use lamb or mutton. The meat is smoked, boiled, sliced thin, and then served with potatoes and a creamy béchamel sauce.

Since the meat is traditionally hung and smoked for a lengthy two weeks to get the desired flavor,  this is a tough one to replicate in an American home, but you can come incredibly close using the following recipes for a spiced leg of lamb and bechamel sauce.

Get the Recipe: The Kitchn’s Spiced Leg of Lamb

Get the Recipe: Epicurious’s Bechamel Sauce

Mince Pies: An old wives tale says that mince pies were once banned on Christmas as a way to tackle gluttony. We’re glad it’s just a wives tale though because nothing says Christmas in the U.K. like these traditional treats.

Get the Recipe: Pillsbury


fish and pork Chinese dumplings
The Woks of Life

Lechon: In the Philippines, they’ve perfected the art of roasting pig. But, Lechon Asado isn’t your American spiral ham. This dish is made using the pork shoulder, which is slow-roasted in its own fat, often using minimal seasoning. The final meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender and perfect served alongside tangy, mojo sauce.

Get the Recipe: Panlasang Pinoy

Jiaozi: In China, many of the foods served on Christmas come from traditional Chinese New Year dishes. Jiaozi, or Chinese dumplings, are no exception. Filled with beef or pork, they’re best with a soy-based dipping sauce or chili oil.

Get the Recipe: The Woks of Life

The Fried Chicken Party Bucket: In 1970, the American company, KFC (as in Kentucky Fried Chicken), opened its first store in Japan. Takeishi Okawara, the store’s manager, was inspired by American holidays to offer a festive party bucket full of fried chicken rather than turkey.
It was a huge success, and today Japanese citizens will wait upwards of three hours to get their hands on their “Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii”, also known as Kentucky for Christmas.

Get the Recipe: Tablespoon

Australia and New Zealand

Grilled prawns
Nagia at Recipe Tin Eats

In the land of down under, Christmas is a summer holiday. And that means cold dishes and those cooked outdoors are better suited than full-blown roasts and mince pies.
Of course, that doesn’t stop everyone. Many a Kiwi or Aussie has been known to turn on their oven in celebration of the holiday. Roasted lamb maintains a favored position on holiday tables throughout the region.

Prawns: According to the Australian Prawn Association, upwards of 40% of prawn consumption in Australia occurs over Christmas. And why wouldn’t it? Prawns are a perfect way to celebrate, and we all know Australian’s love their shrimp on the barbie.

Get the Recipe: Recipe Tin Eats

Lamb Roasts: There are about ten sheep for every one person in New Zealand, so it’s no wonder lamb roasts are a go-to for special occasions. While many Kiwis stick to grilling steaks or seafood for the summer holiday, there are still those who can’t imagine Christmas without the full-blown roast.

Get the Recipe: Epicurious

We’re not saying you should shy away from your traditional Christmas dinner, but you could consider adding an international component. Chinese dumplings, Chilean Humitas, or Australian Prawns, although easily main dishes on their own, would be excellent alongside your typical spiral ham.

And, if you’re not down to spend extra time in the kitchen, you could always take a cue from Japan and order some KFC. Friends and family are sure to be impressed with your homage to the world’s interpretation of Christmas. Just, maybe keep the carp out of your bathtub. No one wants to run into that on Christmas eve!

Lauren Sakiyama Lauren Sakiyama
Lauren Sakiyama is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry. She has managed restaurants, country clubs, and large-scale event operations, but her passion has always been about the food. Read Full Bio »
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