Seven continents, 195 countries, you are bound to find a dish or two that are outside of what you would consider the norm. Some have the Christmas turkey while others stick to their KFC or pickled herring. Yes these are what you might call unusual Christmas foods but for them it’s as festive as it can get. No matter the tradition, Christmas is all about sharing good food with your family and close ones.
1. Surströmming (Sweden)
Picture fermented herring that’s been canned. The strong, pungent smell of surströmming can be overwhelming, making you wonder why you would consume a fish that’s often referred to as the world’s smelliest food. Ideally you would have it minced and mixed in a salad or served on a flatbread.
2. Kiviak (Greenland)
Kiviak is a traditional Inuit dish where a small auk bird is stuffed into a seal skin, buried for several months, and then consumed during festive occasions. It’s like a fermented, bird-filled time capsule. The taste is an acquired one, with a unique blend of gamey flavors. Clearly one for the adventurous folks!
3. Kentucky Fried Chicken (Japan)
In Japan, KFC has become synonymous with Christmas. Many Japanese families order a “Christmas Chicken” bucket, a tradition that started in the 1970s after a successful KFC marketing campaign. It’s quirky but has become deeply ingrained in Japanese Christmas celebrations. A finger lickin’ festivity we’re down for, on Christmas and on any other day.
4. Tamales (Costa Rica)
Tamales are a Christmas staple in many Latin American countries, including Costa Rica. These are made with masa (corn dough), filled with meats, vegetables, or fruits, and then wrapped in plantain or banana leaves. Tamales are a labor of love, a love that also requires teamwork since there’s so many steps involved.
5. Janssons Frestelse (Sweden)
Translating to “Jansson’s Temptation,” this Swedish dish features layers of potatoes, onions, anchovies, and cream. The unexpected combination of anchovies and potatoes might seem unusual, but the creamy dish has earned its place at the Swedish Christmas table.
6. Mopane Worms (Southern Africa)
Hailing from Southern Africa, these critters are no ordinary snack. What do you get? Caterpillars from the emperor moth, plucked straight from mopane trees. Locals love ’em, and they’re not just a quirky treat – they’re packed with protein.
7. Red Borscht (Poland)
White borscht, or “barszcz wigilijny,” is a traditional Polish Christmas clear soup. Made with beets and several root vegetables you fancy, it makes for one colorful dish. The sour flavor from the rice and lemon juice combo might be an acquired taste for those unfamiliar with Eastern European cuisine.
8. Svið (Iceland)
Svið involves boiling and sometimes singeing a sheep’s head before serving it. It’s a delicacy in Iceland during the Christmas season, originating centuries ago when people tried to reduce their waste to a minimum, with locals appreciating every part of the animal for a sustainable and traditional celebration.
9. Cougnou (The Netherlands)
You get the body of Christ in dough form, a savory sweet bread form. It’s traditionally given to kids on Christmas and St. Martin’s Day and it pairs perfectly with hot chocolate.
10. Roast Cuy (Peru)
In parts of Peru, particularly in the Andean regions, roast cuy (guinea pig) is a Christmas delicacy. While it might be a beloved protein in Peruvian cuisine, for many from other cultures, the idea of feasting on these small rodents might seem unconventional.
11. Selyodka Pod Shuboy (Russia)
You have layers upon layers of holiday magic, starting with herring as the base and then potatoes, carrots, onions, beets, and mayo. It looks super fun but if you’re not into pickled herring this might be a stomach churning moment.
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12. Mattak (Greenland)
You get slices of raw whale – bowhead whale, beluga or narwhal are the top three choices – which is considered a delicacy with a unique melt-in-your-mouth texture. It’s a traditional dish that is usually consumed raw.
13. Carp (Poland)
Yep, the humble carp takes the spotlight. While now people hit the markets like they’re on a seafood mission, picking the freshest carp of them all, in the olden days things were a bit different. People used to buy live carp and then keep it in the bathtub until it’s time to cook it. Freshness level: expert.