As the year slowly creeps to a hazy end, it’s time to start panicking about presents, shopping for the perfect outfit to show off at the office party, and generally getting into the festive mood. In Singapore, influenced by the British and American traditions, we’re often looking forward to feasts of turkey, ham, roasts, cheeses, fruitcakes, surrounded by merry-making friends, colleagues, and drunken family members you see maybe once a year.
Elsewhere in the world, however, traditional Christmas foods can take on quite bizarre twists. Here are a few that you’ve probably not known about. Cheers!
“Jansson’s Temptation” is a traditional part of the Swedish Christmas smorgasbord. It’s a potato gratin flavoured with pickled sprats or anchovies. Opinions are split as to its origins, whether it’s named after a famous Swedish opera singer, or a popular Swedish film. Most Swedes will agree, however, that the original recipe called for “ansjovis”, which refers to sprats, but was mistranslated to mean anchovies. Either way, it’s supposed to be a creamy dish with a tiny hint of the ocean.
Like lamb? Then you might want to go ahead and dig into this holiday dish. This is a whole sheep’s head that is salted, dried, smoked, boiled or steamed as a holiday dish. Naturally, the skin and fleece (such a nice term for hair) are removed, but the creamy brains are left inside to cook before frying or eating with a spoon. It used to be that smalahove was a poor man’s dish, because the meat was too dear. But, as with all things weird and wonderful, it has become known as a “delicacy” and is now sought after by tourists visiting Norway over the holidays.
Trust the Greenlanders to serve up something utterly unimaginable outside the Arctic Circle. If you’re celebrating Christmas the traditional way, you might want to steel yourself, and your stomach. First on the menu is mattak, which is raw whale skin and its accompanying layer of blubber, diced or serrated before serving. Think of how we eat mangoes, but whaley-er, and blubbery-er. Next is kiviak. Sounds lovely, and so is its preparation: a seal skin is hollowed out, stuffed with 500 auks (a seabird), feathers and all, then sewn up and sealed with grease. The unusual package is left to ferment for seven months before the birds are removed and served straight up from the seal. Yum.
Why go through the trouble of finding that decent turkey when you can rear your own main course in the family bathtub? Since eating meat is banned in many Orthodox Christian countries, the Slovaks have come to love their carp, much as other traditions obsess over their turkeys. In fact, families would often buy a good-looking (and hopefully good-tasting) one and keep it alive in a cold-water tub with fresh flowing water. The kids might play with it, and even name it. Then come Christmas Eve, it’s unceremoniously yanked out of the tub, lovingly hammered on its bony head, sliced into steaks, soaked in milk, breaded, and fried, before the family sits down to eat it along with a hearty potato salad.
Some call it a delicacy, others bush meat. Either way, it’s a caterpillar. Yes, it’s the wriggly larvae of the Emperor Moth. An important source of protein in parts of Africa, its harvest season coincides with the Christmas period. The fresh grubs are prepared for eating by squeezing out the contents of their guts before being fried in their own body fat. They may be served with pap (maize meal porridge), onion and tomato gravy and atchar (chili sauce).
This tradition isn’t as bizarre as it is quaint. Thanks to a very successful advertising campaign in the 1970s, the Japanese began to associate the white-haired Colonel with a white Christmas. Even though only 1% of the population are Christians, the ritual of sharing a meal of finger-licking good fried chicken with family and loved ones has passed on for the last few generations, and the Japanese will gladly queue for hours to get their festive buckets.
Back in Singapore, while not as bizarre, our Christmas food traditions tend to be influenced by a mix of cultures. So it’s not uncommon to find families dining on home-cooked meals with a hint of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, and Peranakan flavours.
Of course, if you’re not in the mood to cook, then Millenia Walk has a spread of restaurants that will cater to whatever you’re in the mood for. There’s Bel Mondo Italian Kitchen (Southern Italian), Outback Steakhouse (American), Parrilla (Spanish), several Japanese restaurants, Madam Saigon (Vietnamese), Paulaner Brauhaus (German), Fika Swedish Bistro and Cafe (Halal) (Swedish) and even a vegetarian option at Elemen.
So maybe it’s time that you started your own Christmas food traditions. And you can do that right here at Millenia Walk. Happy Holidays!