The World’s Christmas Menu
Mattak in Greenland: https://guidetogreenland.com/travel-blogs/lisa-germany/food-tasting-whale-blubber-and-mattak-are-you-brave-enough/?affiliate=5
Chinese peace apples: https://news.cgtn.com/news/7a41544d31457a6333566d54/index.html
Depending on where you live, it could involve a sheep’s head… whale blubber… or throwing food at the ceiling! This is your Squiz Kids Shortcut to the World’s Christmas Menu—the podcast where we dive into the who, what, when, where, why and how of the big news stories. I’m Amanda Bower.
And I’m Bryce Corbett.
Now Bryce, I know not everyone celebrates Christmas… but as with most holidays around the world, it involves FOOD. And you know I love to talk about food!
Oh, me too. And believe it or not, in many countries of the world, they find our Australian Christmas menu – which often features seafood, salads, barbecues, and other summer stuff – extremely exotic! So we thought it would be fun to learn about how some other cultures celebrate. Today, we’ll take you through WHERE you can find some of the most unusual Christmas dishes—to our Aussie palates, at least; WHY some families sit down to a 12-course meal; and WHAT is on the menu for dessert.
Dessert! My favourite. Remember to listen carefully – there’s a Squiz at the end!
Bryce, it’s probably not surprising to you that each culture eats foods at Christmas that are found in their local environment. Christmas traditions evolved LONG before there were planes that could fly in out-of-season fruits and vegetables! Let’s start our journey in Greenland… one of the coldest places on the planet.
Probably no fresh tropical fruit salad on their Christmas table, then…
The Inuit, who are the indigenous people of Greenland, serve something called mattak. It’s a strip of skin that’s taken from a narwhal or white whale!
The blubber is still attached—keep in mind that in cold temperatures, people need to eat a lot to keep their strength up, so whale fat would be a great way to get some extra calories! The mattak is served carved into bite sized chunks, and it’s actually supposed to take like fresh coconut. Which, if true, is delicious.
And what do they serve with the mattak?
A dish called kiviak. It’s meat from a small arctic bird called an auk, but you don’t eat it fresh! Up to 500 auks at a time are stuffed inside a sealskin, surrounded by seal fat, then sewn shut and buried in the ground for a few months to ferment. Now before you say that’s gross, I must point out that fermentation is what happens when you make yogurt; or cheese; or sourdough bread.
Although… none of those things ferment inside a sealskin.
That is true. Taking off from Greenland, we’re going to travel now to Norway, to sample the dish Smalahove. Bryce, in Norwegian, “smala” means sheep, and “hove” means head.
So… people there eat sheeps heads for Christmas?
Well, traditionally it was served the Sunday before Christmas. Nowadays, there are towns in western Norway that serve it year-round, because tourists want to try it. Now, you’re not eating the brain. It’s prepared by splitting a lamb’s head in half, soaking the halves in water for two days, then salting it, drying it, and smoking it. Then, the head halves are boiled or steamed before eating.
So you get half a sheep’s head on the plate?
Yep! I’ll put a picture in your episode notes. Traditionally you eat the eyes and ears first… and it’s served with potatoes.
Potatoes… now you’re talking! Amanda, you mentioned that in some countries, 12 course meals are served for Christmas. WHERE do we go for that? And… will sheeps head be on the menu?
Don’t worry, I think you’ll be safe…
Bryce, let’s head to Ukraine… where a lot of people will be having a very different Christmas this year, because of the war with Russia. Both Russian and Ukranian Christians follow the Orthodox calendar, which means their Christmas falls on January 7. They traditionally prepare 12 different courses, because that symbolises the 12 apostles who followed Jesus Christ – as a reminder, it is his birth that’s celebrated at Christmas!
Which one of those 12 dishes would you most like to eat?
Well, the kutya is apparently the most anticipated dish. Christmas is the ONLY time that this sweet wheat, raisin, honey, and nut pudding is made, and it takes up to six hours to cook it.
I bet everyone wants a big bowl of it, if it took that much effort!
Actually, everyone eats from the SAME bowl, to symbolise unity… and they leave some behind, no matter how delicious it is, to remember loved ones who have died. And in possibly the best part… they also traditionally throw a spoonful at the ceiling.
If it sticks, there’ll be a good harvest that year! People in Lithuania also serve a 12-course meal, although they have theirs on Christmas Eve. And get this – traditionally there’s no meat, dairy, or hot food in the meal.
So fish, vegetables, fruits, breads?
Exactly. Now Bryce, I think we should take a quick trip to Poland, because they have a Christmas tradition that I absolutely love. Families always set an extra seat at the table, in case someone arrives last-minute in need of a meal. And they wait to eat until the first star appears in the sky.
That’s fine if you’re in the middle of a Polish winter… we’d be eating really late here! I’d be asleep by the time we got to dessert… and I never want to miss dessert! Speaking of which – WHAT are some sweet treats on the world’s Christmas menu?
Bryce, I’m a big fan of spreading out my dessert consumption for as long as possible… so you can imagine how much I loved living in Germany, where traditionally people will bake a different kind of Christmas biscuit, every weekend for a month leading up to Christmas.
And I loved living in France, home of the Bûche de Noël.
Oh, creamy, chocolatey yumness! “Buche” in French means log, and the Bûche de Noël is made to look an awful lot like a log of wood. Some people even make little marzipan mushrooms to grow out of the log! This tradition comes from the old French practice of carrying a wooden log into the home on Christmas Eve, sprinkling it with wine, and then burning it. In the 1940s, as that practice faded – probably because fewer people had wood burning fireplaces – the dessert took the place of the real log.
And of course in England, there’s the very old tradition of the Christmas pudding… my grandmother always used to put a coin in hers.
Mine too! These puddings started way back in the 1400s as a porridgey meal, full of fruit, nuts, and oats, and it was considered good luck for everyone in the family to have a stir of the mixture. But they also added coins, wishbones, thimbles, and rings – and whoever got something in their serving of the pudding would supposedly get rich, or married, or something else exciting in the coming year. I can’t find any statistics on the number of people who choked on puddings filled with wishbones and thimbles, but I’m betting it’s not zero!!
That’s one way of making dessert REALLY unhealthy!
Speaking of healthy, in China—where most people do not celebrate Christmas, and it’s not a public holiday—people have lately started sharing apples on Christmas Eve. They’re not really for eating, though… they’re carved with a message or design, and are known as “peace apples”. I’ll put a link to some pictures in your episode notes, as well as pictures and recipes for everything we’ve talked about today.
I’m guessing no recipe for Smalahove, Mattak, or Kiviak though, right?
Too hard to get the ingredients…
This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening…
1. What is a Buche de Noel shaped to look like?
2. Polish families wait to eat their Christmas dinner until what has happened?
3. We think you’ve learned some Norwegian today. What does smalahove mean?
4. I know! We never do a fourth question. But Bryce and I are wondering… what’s on YOUR family’s Christmas menu? Any traditional favourites from other countries? Have a chat about the history of your family’s traditions…